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Important facts about the district graduation rate

Important facts about the district graduation rate
Posted on 04/13/2017

San Diego Unified School District

“San Diego is changing the education conversation in the State of California by showing you can raise graduation standards and graduate more students at the same time. The fact that it is our children leading this change — by stepping up to meet the challenge — makes me incredibly hopeful for the future.”

San Diego Unified Superintendent Cindy Marten

Why does the graduation rate matter?

We deeply appreciate the trust parents place in San Diego Unified. Our commitment to families, in return, is that all students will leave our schools ready to attend college, start a career and fully participate in the communities where they live. The graduation rate is the most public sign of this commitment.

Why is a 91.2% graduation rate a big deal?

There are two reasons the higher graduation rate is an important achievement. First, it puts San Diego Unified students at the top of all large districts in the State of California. Second, this milestone was reached even as graduation standards were raised.

Did schools have to compromise quality to achieve the higher rates?

The Class of 2016 faced more rigorous graduation requirements than in past years. In order to earn a San Diego Unified diploma, students must now pass more than a dozen courses needed to attend a California public university. The stronger standards are designed to prepare more students for college and a career. A decade ago, only 40%of all San Diego Unified students achieved a C or better in their A-G classes, and today that number is 59%.

Another reason the Class of 2016 is more prepared academically for the future is the large number of advanced classes San Diego Unified now offers, many through partnerships with local colleges and universities. More than 1,600 students are taking college classes while still in high school, and many more students are benefitting from Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses.

Do people put too much emphasis on the graduation rate?

Students are more than numbers and test scores, and schools are more than their graduation rate. However, we believe a high graduation rate is proof that all of our students are receiving the academic rigor and support necessary to help them achieve their full potential.

The Class of 2016 achieved much more than a strong graduation rate. In many ways, these students were the most diverse and well-rounded in school history. Students had the chance to pursue their special talents in the arts, music and athletics. Indeed, at least a year of visual and performing arts is now required for graduation.

“I have no doubts about the bright future awaiting the Class of 2016,” said Supt. Marten. “Not only are they better prepared academically, they also understand how to follow their individual passions in an increasingly diverse society.”

How did San Diego Unified achieve the highest graduation rate of any California large district?

All of our students receive individualized academic plans to help them succeed. Our talented staff of professional educators work to make sure each and every student gets the support he or she needs when they need it, and in the way they need it. Most of all, our students and families have worked exceptionally hard to reach this graduation milestone.

How did San Diego Unified raise its graduation rate?

San Diego Unified is committed to the success of all our students, and we work with struggling students to take advantage of the many programs we have to help them reach their full potential. Some specific strategies put in place to help students graduate include expanded summer school courses and offering language course credit for students who speak languages other than English at home.

One major initiative in particular is showing tremendous promise in helping struggling students succeed. That is the introduction of online credit recovery courses. These courses allow students who previously faced difficulties to complete their work in an online learning environment. Last year, some 20% of the graduating class took online courses. These courses offer students more flexibility and the chance to work at their own pace, afterschool or on weekends. That said, all courses are approved by the University of California to ensure quality and academic rigor.

Is it true that many students were excluded from the graduation rate?

No. The graduation rate for each district is calculated based on strictly administered guidelines set by the California Department of Education. The state does not allow districts to include in their graduation rate the students attending charter schools within their boundaries. The reasoning is that charter school students do not receive the benefits of a district-managed school education, so their success or failure should not be counted for or against that district. Instead, charter schools report their own graduation rates, as do religious schools and secular private schools.

Thousands of students living within the San Diego Unified school district start and end their high school careers in charter schools. For that reason - based on state directives that have been in place for years - these charter students are not included in the San Diego Unified graduation rate. However, these students are not “excluded” from the graduation rate for district-managed schools any more than students who are home schooled or attending private and religious schools are excluded.

Would the graduation rate drop if charter school students were included in the results?

In general, the notion that large numbers of charter school students are failing academically and would be a drag on the school district graduation rate if they were included in the rate appears to be unjustified. However, there is no reliable data on this question. The only reporting on the subject was incomplete - based on only 5 charter schools, and inconclusive - the data was unverified by the state or any outside agencies.

Given the relatively small number of students moving back and forth between charter schools and district-managed schools, it is unlikely these students would have a large impact on the overall graduation rate. For example, of those students who started at district-managed schools in 2012, a little over 900 moved to charter schools. In return, another 137 students moved to district-managed schools from charters. Taken together, that is less than 1%of all the students in San Diego city schools.

Is it true some schools push out the low-performers to boost their results?

No, that would be both morally wrong and financially foolish for any school to push out its students. Public schools have a moral obligation to serve the public and help every student reach his or her full potential. Financially, the resources that any given school or school district receive from the state are based on student attendance. In fact, there is frequent media coverage of the fierce competition between schools and school districts to increase enrollment.

Is the graduation rate accurate?

Yes. The State of California Department of Education provides the final check on the graduation data submitted by individual school districts. That is because the state has unique access to data from all districts, and so they are in the best position to judge whether a student reported as having left one district went on to graduate or drop out from another district.

Are the state numbers right?

Most of the graduation data is generated by San Diego Unified and then submitted to the state for certification. The internal estimate submitted by the district was within a percentage point of the final result certified by the state. That level of consistency gives all involved a high degree of confidence in the numbers.

Weren't experts predicting a graduation rate drop?

The District recently raised the graduation standards for students, providing students access to the A-G curriculum. The new curriculum improves readiness for the UC/CSU systems, but it also makes graduation more difficult. For that reason, some experts, based on a snapshot at the end of the junior year and absent full information on supports provided to students, expected a drop in graduation rates. However, in the end, San Diego students stepped up to meet the more challenging graduation requirements.