Work in Focus: High School Graduation Rate Tops 80 Percent


LOS ANGELES—For the fourth year in a row, California’s graduation rate climbed as the dropout rate fell, particularly for students of color, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today.

More than eight out of 10 students statewide, or 80.2 percent, who started high school in 2009-10 graduated with their class in 2013. That is up 1.3 percentage points from the year before (Table 1). Graduation rates among African-American and Hispanic students climbed faster than the statewide average, although the rates remained lower overall. Among African-American students, 67.9 percent graduated with their class in 2013, up 1.9 percentage points from the year before. Among Hispanic students, 75.4 percent graduated with their class, up 1.7 percentage points from the year before (Tables 2 and 3).

“For the first time in our state’s history, more than 80 percent of our students are graduating—a clear sign of their hard work and the support they receive from their teachers, families, and communities,” Torlakson said. “We are continuing toward our goal of graduating 100 percent of our students with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed.”

Along with the rise in the graduation rate, there was a dip in the dropout rate. Of the students who started high school in 2009-10, 11.6 percent dropped out. That is down 1.5 percentage points from the 2011-12 dropout rate (Table 1). Again, the decline in dropout rates among African-American and Hispanic students compared favorably to the statewide rates. Among African-American students, 19.9 percent dropped out, down 2.2 percentage points from the year before. Among Hispanic students, 14.1 percent dropped out, down 2 percentage points from the year before (Tables 2 and 3).

Another 8.2 percent of students in the total cohort are neither graduates nor dropouts. That group is up 0.1 of a percentage point from 2011-12 (Table 1). A cohort refers to a particular group of students tracked over a given time period. These students either are non-diploma special education students (0.5 percent), other students who elected to take and then passed a high school equivalency test (in this instance, the General Educational Development [GED] Test) (0.2 percent), or still enrolled in school (7.5 percent).

Graduation and dropout rates for counties, districts, and schools across California were calculated based on four-year cohort information using the state’s California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). This is the fourth time this four-year cohort information was calculated, meaning data may only be compared accurately over the four-year period from 2009-10 to 2012-13. Prior to 2009-10, graduation and dropout rates used different calculation systems and cannot be accurately compared to the cohort rates.

Cohort graduation rates are used to determine whether schools met their targets for increasing the graduation rate for Adequate Yearly Progress reporting under the federal accountability system. The cohort dropout rate is calculated for high school students grades nine through twelve, although some students drop out as early as middle school.

To view and download state, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates, visit the California Department of Education’s DataQuest. Downloadable data sheets are available on the Cohort Outcome Data Web page. Caution is urged when comparing graduation or dropout rates across individual schools and districts. For example, some county office schools, alternative schools, or dropout recovery high schools serve only those students who are already at the greatest risk of dropping out, compared with the broader population at traditional high schools. Therefore, these individual schools and districts cannot be directly compared.

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The California Department of Education is a state agency led by State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. For more information, please visit the California Department of Education Web site or by mobile device. You may also follow Superintendent Torlakson on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.


Fewer California Students Pass University Requirements



(repost from Daily News)

Fewer than 4 in 10 California high school students are completing the requirements to be eligible for the state’s public universities, fueling worries of a shortage of college-educated workers when the value of a bachelor’s degree has never been higher.To meet entrance requirements, high school students must complete 15 classes with a grade of C or better, including foreign language, lab science, intermediate algebra, and visual or performing arts.

At the current rate, educators and policy experts say, far too few students are finishing high school with the minimum coursework needed even to apply to a University of California or California State University campus. In 1994, 32 percent of public school graduates met the course and grade prerequisites, known as “A-G requirements” because they cover seven subject areas. For the Class of 2012, it was 38 percent.

“We need young adults to be successful in the future economy of our state, and to be successful, an increasing number of them will need to go to and graduate from college. And the A-G course completion share, while it’s going up, is not sufficiently high to meet that economic need,” said Public Policy Institute of California Senior Fellow Hans Johnson, who has estimated the state will have 1 million fewer college graduates than it needs in 2025, if current trends continue.

The sobering numbers do not tell the whole story, according to John Rogers, director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access. Once students who drop out or do not finish high school in four years are removed from the equation, the proportion of public high school graduates who met the UC and CSU entrance criteria in 2012 drops to 30 percent statewide, 20 percent for Latinos and 18 percent for African-Americans, Rogers said.

“They speak to a huge gap between the expectations that parents and students have, which is that if they complete a rigorous high school curriculum they will be college-eligible, and the sorts of outcomes that are emerging from our K-12 system,” he said.

Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have made a push in recent years to prepare their students for college by updating their high school graduation requirements to include four years of math and English, the course of study that Achieve, a nonprofit education reform group based in Washington, considers essential to post-secondary success.

California’s high school graduation requirements, which have not been substantially revised in more than a decade, only require two years of math, three years of English and no foreign language or science labs. Students hoping to study at one of the state’s 32 public universities must opt into the courses that make up the more strenuous A-G sequence and repeat the classes if they do not earn a C.

For families without previous higher education experience or living in communities without enough guidance counselors, chemistry sections or money for private tutors, “that’s a big hurdle,” said Michele Siqueiros, executive director of Campaign for College Opportunity. She said she often meets parents and students who are devastated to learn, in the child’s junior or senior year, that they do not meet the entrance requirements for the state’s public universities.

“I always tell folks that not everybody who works at a high school sees it as their responsibility to prepare your kid for college. They see it as their responsibility to get kids to graduate from high school,” said Siqueiros, whose group has examined the college achievement gap for blacks and Latinos in California.

With Latino children now a majority of California’s public school students, community groups increasingly are framing the problem as a civil rights issue and lobbying local school districts to put more young people on the college track by aligning their own graduation requirements with the A-G requirements.

Students in Los Angeles, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco, San Jose and several other districts now are expected to complete the 15-course sequence, although they can still earn a high school diploma even if they earn D’s. In Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, this year’s 9th graders will be required to pass each of the prescribed classes with at least a C by graduation.

“We are not saying every student will be guaranteed of going into college because there are additional requirements the colleges have, a certain GPA being one, a certain score on the ACT or SAT are another,” said Nader Delnavaz, LAUSD’s administrative coordinator for college and career education. “What we are saying is we are not having a two-track or three-track high school diploma.”

In June, San Francisco Unified School District will graduate its first class that had to meet the minimum college entrance requirement. Jessica Hernandez, 17, a senior at Abraham Lincoln High School, had hoped to attend UC Berkeley but got a D in geometry in 10th grade, had to repeat it, got behind in some classes and saw her grades slide.

Hernandez now plans to attend community college and hopes to go to Berkeley as a junior and become the first in her family to earn a degree. Meantime, she has offered advice to her younger sister who will start at Lincoln next fall.

“I’ve already been telling her that if she needs help, there is help here,” she said. “I’ve told her it is stressful, but if you keep up with all your work, it will pay off.”

Administrators say the switch to college-prep for all involves more than doing away with low-level math and science and is not a magic fix. Before San Jose Unified adopted the A-G course requirements starting in 1998, about 37 percent of its graduates were eligible for admission to a UC or CSU school. By 2012, it had risen only to 44 percent.

Thousands of students throughout the state are missing out on being deemed “A-G eligible” by virtue of one or two D grades, says Linda Murray, who was superintendent in San Jose when it updated its graduation requirements and now helps other districts.

That phenomenon suggests the problem is not standards that are out of reach for some but inadequate “safety nets” for young people, said Murray, now superintendent-in-residence for The Education Trust-West, an advocacy group addressing racial disparities in education.

“The right question isn’t: ‘Should every kid go to college?’ The question is: ‘Who should decide?’” Murray said. “It just seems to me the right thing to do is to make sure the doors are kept open so they have good choices when they are 18 years old.”


An Interview With GEAR UP Principal Esperanza Arce


Esperanza Arce is the Principal of the Vista Verde Middle School Cougars in Moreno Valley, CA.

Vista Verde has been a California GEAR UP school for 3 years.


Please tell us about how Vista Verde became STW-TCS redesigned model middle school and as an AVID demonstration school and what it means to you.

Vista Verde became STW-TCS  (California Schools to Watch™-Taking Center Stage) redesigned model middle school and an AVID demonstration school because of all the hard work and countless hours our teachers, staff, students, and community have dedicated.  Our teachers have common prep periods daily, so they have many opportunities to collaborate as a department and constantly share best practices and strategies.  Additionally, our district office is very supportive giving us numerous opportunities through minimum-day Wednesdays and  district-wide  CORE days to provide professional development to our teachers in best practices/strategies, RTI, PBIS, AIM Lesson Planning, and more.  Every student has Advisory in their schedule; a period of time allocated for school-wide announcements, extra time to complete classwork/homework, once a week anti-bullying lessons, fun activities such as March Madness, and much more. Furthermore, AVID is a priority to us; we offer 9 sections of AVID (3 in each grade-level).  77% of our teachers have received AVID training and soon we will be at 100%.  We also offer rigorous electives such as Spanish and STEM to all of our high-achieving and GATE students.  We provide significant support throughout the day to our various student cohorts.  Our Special Education students receive a Learning Strategies section where they are provided with the opportunity to learn or master study skills and complete assignments from their core classes.  Their Case Carriers have access to their caseload daily via the Learning Strategies and/or their Advisory.  Additionally, they receive support throughout the day.  Our ELD students receive 2 sections of ELD with experienced and expert ELD teachers who also incorporate GATE and AVID strategies.  With over 370 Chromebooks provided by our District Office, our students have access to technology regularly and our teachers incorporate the use of technology in their lessons on a daily basis.  One clear example is the use of these chromebooks during AVID tutorials in content-area subjects.  The aforementioned are only some of the reasons VVMS became a STW-TCS redesigned model middle school and an AVID Demonstration school.

 As a principal, receiving these recognitions can be the highlight of any leader’s professional career, so it means a lot to me.  Many times I try to find ways to validate the hard work of our faculty and staff, but our team is so humble that no matter how great I reiterate to them they are, they simply smile and continue doing a great job.  Therefore, getting these two recognitions, and most recently the CBEE Honor Roll mention, allows my team of faculty and staff to see how valuable they are.  It reinforces their hard work and shows them that others confirm their value.  Vista Verde Middle School is a unique place; there is a true sense of family, collegiality, support for each other, and uniformed vision and mission.  To be the principal of this amazing place is truly an honor.  Words cannot express what Vista Verde means to me; a school that provides a quality education to all students deserves to be recognized; I may be the face, but our staff and students are the heart.

Tell us a little about the community and school.

Our community and school are very diverse.  Vista Verde is in the middle of a large urban community in the center of Moreno Valley.  We are a Title 1 school consisting of students from many different backgrounds and a large range of SES.  The student participation in our various academic programs mirrors our school’s demographics.  We have strong parent support and an involved community.  Over 80% of our student population consists of Latino and African American students.  27% of our student population is in AVID.    Vista Verde Middle School feels like home to our students; they fit in and know we care about them.

Why be a principal?

Any individual involved in education can make a difference.  I am a principal because I wholeheartedly believe in making a difference EVERY DAY.  I help impact the structure of my school to positively affect the quality education we offer our students.  I am a principal because I enjoy working with teachers and staff who are in education, not because it is a job, but because it is a way of living.  We are a team who work together to provide opportunities for those who want to achieve and to change the minds of those who think “they can’t” achieve.  | am a principal because I once thought I couldn’t achieve, but was given the opportunity to do so.

What are some challenges your school community faces?

There are many challenges our school community faces, but some of the more prevalent are the social influences constantly facing our “at-risk” youth.  Vista Verde MS is in the middle of a large city with many pockets of unpleasant influences.  Our students, like many other students, are constantly tempted with these negative social influences.  As a school we are continuously implementing proactive interventions to guide our students through positive pathways, and hence, have the greater impact in their lives.  We do not want to lose our students to drugs, gangs, violence, etc., which are elements of any community, so we work closely with our Student Services department, community resources, and our teachers and parents to provide an environment in our school that we hope to have a long-lasting positive affect in the decisions of our students.  We have done this by creating strong academic programs like AVID, Jr. Scholars, AVID Keepers, SPED-LS, STEM, ELD, and rigorous electives.

Why is getting students to think about college in middle school important?

It is very important to get students to think about college in middle school because for many students thinking about college in high school may be too late.  I worked with high school students for over 10 years and it was very unfortunate to witness many of these students come into high school with little or no knowledge about the college entrance requirements (SAT, A-G, ACT, etc.).  Many high school counselors are servicing over 500 students in their case load; therefore, meeting the needs of their students may be very difficult. Many counselors tend to focus their attention on 12th graders because of priority and time sensitivity, so many 9th to 11th graders tend to get neglected.  Consequently, these students are minimally informed about college/university entrance requirements or options.  Therefore, we have to empower our middle school students to become their own advocates. 

It is never too early to teach our students about a decision that can affect the rest of their life.  The college verbiage should be a constant part of any school.  Every teacher should be talking about college.  I don’t believe that every student will go to college, but I do believe that every student should be given the opportunity to choose to go to college.  If we deprive our students of this essential information, I believe we are robbing them of their choice.  We can never “over inform” students of the college options they have and there is nothing that prevents us from starting in middle school.  As a former high school teacher and administrator, I would be grateful to the middle schools that make this a priority; it will not only increase college-going rates but provide more students with the knowledge of what it takes to make it (of course this is only part of the battle; we must also work on preparing students to be successful once they get to college).

How has the school changed with GEAR UP?

GEAR Up has been instrumental in Vista Verde’s most recent accomplishments.  It has given our teachers the opportunity to get AVID and College Board trained and use the strategies throughout their instruction impacting both AVID and non-AVID students.  GEAR Up has also increased our vertical and horizontal articulation within our school and between our high schools and our feeder elementary schools.  The GEAR Up site leadership team meets regularly and attends critical conferences where the information comes back to the site and is presented to the rest of our staff.  Our GEAR Up coordinator and regional coach/mentor work closely together and are constantly communicating about the latest college activities, updates, information, etc.

Why is an educated workforce important for strong communities?

An educated workforce is important for a strong community because it will contribute to a positive cycle.  The more productive citizens we help develop, the better the workforce, the stronger and more productive the community.  We see this in the research and in the practice.  Our goal as a school is to positively contribute to the community, so that the community can positively contribute to the schools.  It makes sense.  Not all students will stay and live in the communities that help raise them, but many will.

What are some of the challenges in preparing all students for career/college?

Some of the challenges in preparing all students for career/college include the lack of funds to pay for more school personnel.  Increasing the number of school counselors could greatly benefit students.  More funds could increase resources in the school and around the community.  Training and paying our teachers to become college coaches for our at-risk students could greatly benefit preparing students for career/college.  Although we have an amazing AVID program, many of our students could be classified as “transitional-AVID” students.  These students would be placed into an “AVID-type” program where students slowly gain the knowledge and skills to be accepted into the AVID program.  However, more AVID sections would mean the need for more funding.

 Anything else you would like to tell about yourself, your school, or your students?

Vista Verde is a wonderful school and I am so proud to be able to say “…it is ‘my’ school…”  :)  There are many special things happening and there are many more special things in the process of blossoming.  Our school is a GEAR Up School, an AVID Demonstration School, a CBEE Honor Roll School, and a Schools-to-Watch-TCS because our teachers, staff, students, and community work together, have ownership of the school, and truly care.

Vista Verde, besides  being a “School to Watch” for two years and and an AVID Demonstration School, has the good fortune to have a principal, Esperanza Arce, who not only has her vision of educational excellence but also has the wisdom to foster and support the creative efforts of her staff members in attaining this vision.  Except for commute time challenges, I would not hesitate a moment to enroll my seventh grade grandson at Vista Verde.     —Jon Sides, California GEAR UP Whole School Services Coach

For more information on AVID, STW-TCS, GEAR UP, or Vista Verde, check these links out.