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LA Unified graduation rates up for third straight year

Vanessa Romo | April 28, 2014

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Grad Rate State & District(3)* UPDATED

For the third straight year in LA Unified, the high school graduation rate increased and the dropout rate decreased, according to new state data released today.

Last June, the graduation rate climbed to 67.9 percent, or 1.3 percentage points higher than the previous year. And more students stayed in school: The dropout rate for the same group fell by 3 percentage points, to 17.3.

“Our rate of improvement is on par with the whole state, and considering we’re the largest district with a majority of it’s youth in very difficult circumstances, I’m very please with that,” LA Unified’s Superintendent John Deasy told LA School Report.

“I am particularly pleased to see this increase in the year of the worst effects of having cuts year after year after year. We had fewer resources than we’ve ever had in our life, and we’ve been cutting year over year over year and we’re still seeing increases, and I think that’s very good.”

Deasy also said he was pleased with the continuing decline of the dropout rate, but be insisted that overall, “This is good progress but it’s not enough. And I am very heartened that I have a proposed budget for investments that target exactly the population that are struggling to get to four-year cohort graduation rate. And I believe the tools to do that are within our means.”

Richard Vladovic, president of the LA Unified School board, said, “In the Los Angeles Unified School District, every child is worth it and the improvements shown in the past three years are indicative of the district’s hard work. This is only the beginning and we need to continue to do better and improve. I want to personally thank our district staff and ask them to keep up the great work.”

The graduation and dropout rates were included in the state results announced today by California schools chief Tom Torlakson.

Overall, performance for the state was better than by LA Unified, the nation’s second-largest school district. Of the students who started high school in California in 2009-10, 80.2 percent marched to the tune of “Pomp and Circumstance” last June. That was the same rate of improvement that LA Unified experienced.

“It’s the first time in our state’s history, that more than 80 percent of our students are graduating,” Torlakson said in a phone conference with reporters. “Despite the recession, despite the chaos of the five tough years, the focus on graduation rates and dropping the drop out rates have made a difference.”

Torlakson said he had “no scientific analysis” to explain the positive trajectory, but that districts are doing a better job in “helping English language learners gain important reading skills by the third grade” and “more funding has lead to better student outcomes.”

Across LA Unified, larger numbers of Hispanic students are continuing to graduate, the data shows. For the third year in a row, the number increased, to 26,820 last year, from 25,240 two years earlier.

But rates for African-American, Asian and White  students are down for the second time in three years.

While Deasy has repeatedly stressed that “the district’s most important goal is to have students graduate from LAUSD college ready and prepared for careers,” the needle on that measure barely moved this year.

Only 36.9 percent of district students completed courses required for admission to the University of California and California State University systems. That compared to a state average of 39.4 percent and represented only a slight improvement over the year before for the district, when 36.8 percent of district graduates were ready for the state universities.

The announcement by Torlakson coincides with another report, “Building a Grad Nation,” from America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit group founded by Colin Powell, that concludes the U.S. is on pace to reach a 90 percent high school graduation rate by the class of 2020  — only if California makes a major effort to boost the performance of English learners, low-income, and special-education students.

The Alliance report concluded: “As the most populous state and most diverse state, California needs to be a focus of national attention and work. With the highest poverty rate in the country, a median household income 20 percent higher than the nation’s, and a population that is 61 percent non-Anglo, California is key to reaching 90 percent graduation rate nationally.”


*This version includes comment from Richard Vladovic

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