The first statewide report on high school dropout and graduation rates tracking individual students revealed a high dropout rate for African Americans and Latinos compared to other ethnic groups, state educators said.
The data, released by the state schools chief, Jack O’Connell, last week, shows that one in four students dropped out of school last year, more than the State Department of Education had predicted before they began using the new student-tracking system.
The Statewide Student Identifier provides each student with an identification number and allows for more accurate information about how many students are or are not completing school.
Although the dropout rate for students at Berkeley Unified School District (15.6 percent) was lower than the countywide (18.7 percent) and statewide (24.2 percent) rates, the rate for Berkeley Technology Academy (59.3 percent) is more than three times the countywide rate and more than double the statewide rate.
The dropout rate at Berkeley High School was 12.3 percent, lower than both the countywide and statewide rates.
Berkeley Unified officials told the Planet that a number of factors were responsible for B-Tech’s high dropout rate.
“I don’t think you can compare B-Tech to Berkeley High School,” said Berkeley Board of Education president John Selawsky. “It should be compared to other continuation schools. It has a much lower attendance than Berkeley High. You are talking about a group of students who have not succeeded academically and many of them are discouraged. They find other things to do or get into the job market. It is mainly at-risk youth, but of course that is not an excuse.”
Selawsky said although attendance rates had improved at B-Tech over the last few years, the numbers still lagged below Berkeley High’s.
B-Tech Principal Victor Diaz said the poorly designed structure of continuation schools was a major factor behind dropout rates.
“Some kids who are sent to our school never show up,” he said. “Others spend a month, earn some credits and go back to Berkeley High. It really exacerbates the problem.” B-tech has around 160 students, up from 140 last year, Diaz said.
“A bigger issue is how efficacious are continuation schools,” he said. “We are all doing more poorly than the state average. Continuation schools can take students only when they are 16. These kids have one and a half years to make up for four to five years of sporadic education. Continuation schools were designed to be punitive. They were not designed to be graduation machines.”
Diaz said attendance was rising at B-Tech, as was the college enrollment rate—but he acknowledged a lot more work needs to be done.
The state also learned for the first time that there were 4,609 dropouts who completed all their requirements for graduation except one: the exit exam, which became mandatory in 2006.
There were several special education students who didn’t pass the state high school exit exam from B-Tech last year, Diaz said.
“The state needs to make modifications in the test for special education kids,” he said. “There are a number of kids who don’t have the skills to perform in that test-taking setting.”
In the 2006-07 school year, 67.6 percent of public school students in California graduated, the report said, with a four-year dropout rate of 24.2 percent.
“Twenty-four percent of students dropping out is not good news,” O’Connell said in a statement. “The data reveal a disturbingly high dropout rate for Latinos and African Americans. But the dropout rate itself is only part of the story. Now, using the new student-level data, we will have a much clearer picture of why students drop out. This is data-rich information that will be a powerful tool to better target resources, assistance and interventions to keep students in school and on track.”
According to the report, 42 percent of black students (19,440) and 30 percent of Latinos (69,035) quit school last year, followed by Native Americans (31 percent), Pacific Islanders (28 percent), whites (15 percent) and Filipinos (12 percent).
“Statewide the numbers are staggering,” Selawsky said. “And it’s one of the reasons behind the achievement gap.”
Selawsky said the district was hoping 2020 Vision—the new districtwide initiative recently launched by the school district and the City of Berkeley—would provide services to students at B-Tech to make them graduate. “Obviously kids with spotty attendance are not learning,” he said.
To view a school’s dropout rate, visit http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest.