July 17, 2008

New Data Shows Dropout Increase

By Tracy Garcia

The state's new, more accurate method of determining dropout rates shows nearly 13 percent of students at Whittier-area public high schools failed to complete their education and earn a diploma in 2006-07, according to figures released Wednesday.

But when compared to the 2006-07 statewide dropout rate of 24.2 percent - and a countywide rate of 19 percent - it seems Whittier- area schools are doing a better job of keeping students in school and on track to graduate.

"Twenty-four percent of students dropping out is not good news," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said in a statement.

"In fact, any student dropping out of school is one too many."

For the first time ever, these dropout rates were compiled using the new Statewide Student Identifier (SSID), which gives students a unique number that stays with them throughout their education, despite a change in schools.

As such, the state can now track whether students drop out, graduate, leave the state or country or complete their education in other ways, like earn GEDs.

"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," O'Connell said.

Locally, the lowest dropout rate was 9.3 percent at the 13,600- student Whittier Union High School District, which saw 328 students drop out in 2006-07, the most recent year for which data is available.

In the previous year - when rates were compiled using only data collected annually through the California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS) - Whittier Union's dropout rate was 8 percent.

"The adjusted rate with this new reporting system is higher than we have reported in previous years and we now need to track down students to make sure the data is correct," said Carlye Olsen, director of accountability, staff development and educational technology for the Whittier Union district.

"We need to verify if the students reported as dropouts really did leave the system or if they've re-enrolled at another school in another district," Olsen said.

"In the long run, the new reporting system will be better - but because the system is a new technology, there are still some issues (the California Department of Education) will want to perfect," she added.

The 2006-07 dropout rates for the El Rancho Unified School District in Pico Rivera and the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District didn't fare as well as Whittier Union's in the transition to SSID.

In 2005-06, El Rancho's dropout rate was 4.1 percent. With the use of SSID, that figure more than tripled to 13 percent in 2006-07 - or about 120 students.

Similarly, Norwalk-La Mirada's dropout rate was 7.2 percent in 2005-06 - but by using SSID, the rate more than doubled to 14.9 percent in 2006-07, or 273 students.

"For too long, we had to rely on complicated formulas to make educated guesses about how many students were graduating and how many were leaving school without a diploma," O'Connell said.

But with SSID, he said, it should "help ensure students in our education system don't fall through the cracks."

State officials calculated the dropout rates by comparing the number of dropouts over an entire school year against the total enrollment reported on CBEDS Information Day, the first Wednesday in October.

For individual district or student dropout data, visit http:// dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest.

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