In Partnership with 74

LAUSD’s graduation rate increases to 77 percent, closing in on state average

Sarah Favot | April 11, 2017

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Graduate 2016, 3D renderingThe state released its graduation rates Tuesday, pushing LA Unified’s Class of 2016 rate up to 77 percent, a 2 percentage point increase from the district’s preliminary projection in August and its biggest jump in seven years.

The difference comes from how students are counted, as the state has better tracking information.

The California Department of Education’s data showed the statewide average graduation rate for the 2015-16 school year is 83.2 percent, barely 1 percentage point higher than the previous year.

Independent charter schools are included in the state average but not in LA Unified’s. Last year, the graduation rate for charter schools in LA Unified was 84 percent, according to the California Charter Schools Association, which has not yet calculated the 2015-16 rate.

Not only did the district’s overall graduation rate increase 5 percentage points from last year, but students in nearly all ethnic and program subgroups made gains as well, although gaps remain.

The graduation rates for both LA Unified and the state have increased steadily since 2009-10 when the state changed how it calculated the measurement.

But even as rates have improved, less than half LA’s graduates last year were eligible for state public universities, many who do start at those universities have to pay extra to get caught up, and employers continue to say they aren’t finding enough qualified workers.

“We know that in order for students to be competitive in the 21st Century economy, they need to graduate from high school, college and career ready. However, only half of LAUSD students graduate qualified for college admission. Continuing to focus on the annual graduation rate as the ultimate indicator for student success shortchanges the potential for our students, perpetuates the cycle of poverty, and undermines the needs of our economy,” Nadia Diaz Funn, executive director of Alliance for a Better Community and leadership core member of Communities for Los Angeles Student Success Coalition, said in a statement.

LA School Report reported last week that more than half the district’s Class of 2016 graduates were not eligible for the public universities because they had at least one D in their A-G courses.

Advocates like the United Way of Greater Los Angeles and CLASS Coalition are calling for the school board to require a C or better in those classes in order to graduate.

Elise Buik, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, said in a statement that she congratulates the district for its work to increase high school graduation rates but said the district can do better for students.

“We urge district leadership to change their policy and make it a requirement for students to achieve a ‘C’ grade to graduate,” she said. “Only then will we deliver on the promise to ensure students can compete for college and jobs in the real world. They’ve had more than a decade to address structural needs and shift resources to address this level of rigor. Families, universities, and employers in Los Angeles cannot wait any longer.”

Last winter, the district calculated that just 54 percent of its high school seniors were on track to graduate, which prompted Superintendent Michelle King to declare it was “all hands on deck” to help students get across the graduation stage. The district invested $15 million in a credit recovery program, which included online courses that came under scrutiny by district observers and the school board president.

King said in a statement Tuesday credited the “all hands on deck” approach with the graduation rate increase for the Class of 2016.

“I am proud of the heroic efforts by our teachers, counselors, parents, administrators and classified staff who rally around our students every day,” King said. “We also thank our education leaders and partners who work with us to understand our challenges and celebrate our gains year after year.

“This data shows we are closing opportunity gaps and preparing more LA Unified students for college and careers, but we still have work to do. I expect these numbers to keep rising until we reach our goal of 100 percent graduation.”

King has not detailed her plan to get to 100 percent graduation.

UCLA education professor Pedro Noguera said the 100 percent graduation is a “very ambitious” goal that no urban school district in the country has ever achieved.

Cynthia Lim, who leads the district’s Office of Data and Accountability, said the difference between the district’s preliminary graduation rate of 75 percent, which King announced at the State of the District in August, and the official rate released Tuesday by the state is because the California Department of Education has more access to track student data.

The state calculates the graduation rate by dividing the number of students who graduated in four years by the number of students who started high school four years before (adding in students who transferred in and subtracting students who transferred out).

California’s Board of Education is also determining how it will comply with the new federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires states to hold school districts accountable for improving graduation rates. The state expects to submit its plan in September.

In LA Unified, black students were among the ethnic groups that saw the biggest gains with a 6 percentage point grad rate increase compared to the previous year. But gaps remain: 72.5 percent of black students graduated compared to 76.6 percent of Hispanic students, 77.3 percent of white students, and 87.3 percent of Asian students. Filipino students had the highest percentage of students who graduated with 90.2 percent.

The only subgroup that didn’t improve its grad rate was students who identify with two or more ethnic groups.

English learners saw a 6.5 percentage point increase in the percentage of students who graduated last year. Gains were also made for youth in the foster care system, special education students and students who are socioeconomically disadvantaged. But the district lags behind the statewide averages for students in these specialized populations. The average statewide graduation rate for English learners last year was 72.1 compared to LA Unified’s 56.8 percent. LA Unified has the largest English-language learner population in the nation.

The number of LA Unified students who have dropped out has also declined. The district’s dropout rate last year was 13.7 percent, a decrease from 16.7 percent the year before.

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