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Graduation Rates Up Slightly Across San Diego County

San Diego High School is situated on Park Boulevard in Balboa Park, Aug. 1, 2016.
Matthew Bowler
San Diego High School is situated on Park Boulevard in Balboa Park, Aug. 1, 2016.
Graduation Rates Up Slightly Across San Diego County
Graduation Rates Up Slightly Across San Diego County GUEST:Mario Koran, reporter, Voice of San Diego

A report on the record-breaking graduation rate for San Diego find some loopholes. We take on the issue of disconnected youth. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh it is Wednesday, April 12. Our top story on midday edition state education officials have confirmed a record high graduation rate for 2016 high school seniors and the San Diego unified school district. 91.2% of the class received a diploma. School superintendent Cindy Martin said it was the highest picked -- district graduation rate in the state. Some taken into the numbers reveals that the graduation rate is not as straightforward as it seems. The voice of education reporter Mario Karen joins me with the factors that went into San Diego's record graduation rate. Welcome to the program. Hearing that the high school graduation rate last year was 91% you might think that that met 91% of the kids that started out as freshman the night class graduated. That is not the case is it. The high graduation rate Sickles -- signals that everything is okay but all the things that graduation rate seems to reflect are doing well. We take a look at with his graduation rate actually measures we see that thousands of students left the district after the start of their freshman year and when they didn't leave their sort of just effectively removed from the equation. Like they were never in the graduate to begin with. We see a lot of student movement and when that happens we have seen San Diego unified benefit from that. 's students feel that they have to graduate. Did most of the students met the charter schools. We have seen some of them moved to charter schools almost 40% moved to other school district so between the two moving to other school districts and charter schools that is where most went. We may see some overlap in when we got charter schools for example if a student to a charter school they recorded is moving to another school district. The point is we could in fact see more students move to charter schools down the numbers reflect. San Diego officials said that the graduation rate is even more amazing because all of the 2016 class was required to take college prep courses. How did that stricter standard not lower the graduation rate. It is correct to say that the standards were raised. There are certain amendments baked into the system the hallway. For example. What the point was in raising these standards is that every student who graduated from San Diego unified would have had access to these classes. Early on they were worried that the graduation rate with one so what they did was allow students to pass with these so long as the overall grade point average stated that the to point out. That means that students are passing classes with these and those do you still help for the University of California or CSU schools. That was sort of the main point of raising the graduation standards to begin with. That is one way in which the graduation rate number does not tell the whole story. What are some of the other factors he found that seem to increase the graduation rate? One of them seems to have to do with the foreign language requirement. This was back in 2014 when I ran the numbers early on for how many students were on track for graduation. For English learners they were there just at risk of falling short of graduation. Amir 9% of them on track to graduate just two years ago. It turns out that the part of what kept them behind or off track was a foreign language requirement that every student had to take. District staffers argue that this already speaks another foreign language. That allowed students to test out of that time and that seems to have really helped English learners who are the furthest behind. You also mentioned that some students had access to online courses that help them get up to speed. Why do you think it is important to look behind the numbers? Again what we are seeing as we have not found any evidence that rules were broken or anything improper was done however there is a caveat in that the US Department of Education is auditing California's graduation rate. We do not know what they are going to find a house fire that has gone or what? Were there looking out but that is a caveat to think about. Setting that aside I think it was important just because a lot of times school district officials will tell these numbers without any real the context to understand what it means signals that we have an impressive public education system when we take a look at what this graduation rate is actually measure we see that there are certain games that school districts can play that can inflate their numbers seemingly artificially. If we were to take a look at the number of students who started versus number of student who ended the fact that thousands of student left the district certainly help with the graduation rate itself does not show that. We thought it was important from a public service standpoint to explain what the numbers mean. I've been speaking with education Mario Karen. Thank you.

The dropout and graduation rates among San Diego County students in the high school class of 2015-16 remained stable, compared to last year, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Education.

The dropout rate for San Diego County students who started high school in 2012-13 was 8 percent, down from 8.3 percent for the class of 2014-15. The graduation rate was 81.7 percent, compared to 81.8 percent for the previous year's class.

The San Diego Unified School District saw a continued decline in the dropout rate, 3.4 percent in 2015-16, down from 3.5 percent the previous year. Two years ago, the rate was 4.5 percent, and it was 5.2 percent three years ago.

The graduation rate was 91.2 percent, up from last year's 89.4 percent. The performance was the best among large school districts in the state.

"The students, parents and teachers of San Diego Unified should be immensely proud of this achievement," said Superintendent Cindy Marten.

"Not only did the Class of 2016 achieve the highest big-district graduation rate in the state, they did it while we raised the requirements to graduate," Marten said. "Our students have proven once again they will achieve more when we ask more from them."

She also noted the district's progress in closing the achievement gap between African American and Latino students when compared to the overall student population. The graduation rate last year for African Americans was 87.4 percent, while it was 87.6 percent for Latinos.

The district has come under fire for excluding from its tabulation thousands of students who left their district-managed schools for charter schools with lower graduation requirements. It's common for such students to be left out of graduation rates; advocates this week sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos saying they want that to stop.

Statewide, the graduation rate climbed for the seventh year in a row, according to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

A total of 83.2 percent of the state's students who started high school in 2012-13 graduated with their class in 2016, up 0.9 percentage points from the previous year, according to the state.

"This is great news for our students and families," Torlakson said. "Graduation rates have gone up seven years in a row, reflecting renewed optimism and increased investments in our schools that have helped reduce class sizes; bring back classes in music, theater, art, dance and science; and expand career technical education programs that engage our students with hands-on, minds-on learning."

The report also showed a statewide lowering of the dropout rate. Of the students who started high school in 2012-13, 9.8 percent dropped out, down from 10.7 percent the previous year.

California is among two states the U.S. Office of Inspector General began auditing last year for its graduation rates. It found the other, Alabama, had inflated its rate. The California audit is still pending.