High school graduation rate steady in SF, up in California, but minorities remain behind

| SF Examiner

Mike Koozmin/2012 S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO California’s high school
graduation rate rose above 80 percent this year for the first time,
coming closer to The City’s 81.6 percent rate.
San Francisco high school students continue to graduate at a higher rate than the state average, but that gap is narrowing.

While the San Francisco Unified School District’s graduation rate has stayed steady at about 82 percent for the past three years, for the first time the state’s rate climbed above 80 percent last year, according to results released Monday by the California Department of Education.

Yet even with the positive numbers, some minority groups in The City remain far behind their peers when it comes to earning a diploma.

For the past three years, the state graduation rate has continued to climb by about 1.5 percent annually, reaching 80.2 percent this year for students who started high school in 2009-10 and graduated in 2013, according to state Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

“There’s good news, but there’s a lot of work to do in front of us,” Torlakson said. “We can, we must, do better to help all our students graduate. We know it’s a huge disadvantage not to have a high school diploma.”

California’s graduation rate mirrored the nation’s, which also rose above 80 percent for the first time, according to Building a Grad Nation, a report released Monday by a coalition of advocacy groups and researchers at Johns Hopkins University.

Both The City’s and state’s dropout rates have decreased as well. The SFUSD’s rate dipped to 9 percent in the 2012-13 school year, down from 10.1 percent in 2011-12 and 10.6 percent in 2010-11. California’s rate hit 11.6 percent in 2012-13, a 1.5 percent drop from the 2011-12 rate of 13.1 percent.

Additionally, the district’s Superintendent’s Zone high schools — which include Mission, O’Connell and Thurgood Marshall, and are identified as such due to their overall low performance — increased graduation rates while decreasing dropout rates.

Galileo, Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, Independence and Washington high schools also saw a graduation rate increase coupled with a lower dropout rate.

However, graduation and dropout rates for black and Latino students in The City highlighted a continuing achievement gap, with 65.5 percent of black students and 68.4 percent of Latino students graduating last year.

The dropout rate in The City declined for nearly all ethnic groups, though it remained the same among Asians. Ethnic groups reporting the highest dropout rates were black students at 16.5 percent, while Latino students’ dropout rate was 13.7 percent.

A plan adopted earlier this year by the Board of Education to implement restorative practices instead of suspensions is helping the SFUSD mitigate the achievement gap, but a youth advocate in The City said the district needs to make an even greater effort to help minority students stay on track to graduate high school.

“SFUSD is still kind of suffering from an inability to direct resources in ways that matter to African-American and Latino students, as well as Samoan and Pacific Islander students,” said Kevine Boggess, director of civic engagement for Coleman Advocates for Children & Youth, a San Francisco-based child advocacy organization.

“Even though it’s one of the highest-performing school districts, it continues to under-serve those communities,” Boggess said.

SFUSD Superintendent Richard Carranza agreed that more work needs to be done, but said the graduation and dropout rates overall reflect strong schools in San Francisco.

“We are thrilled to see that fewer students are dropping out of high school,” Carranza said. “While we still have some concerns, our dropout rates are declining for many groups of students who historically dropped out in higher numbers than their peers.”

Torlakson touted increased efforts statewide to raise the graduation rate to a historically high number, including increased after-school programs as well as efforts to use technology at schools.

“After-school programs provide more learning opportunities, more ways to engage kids so they’re attached to school,” Torlakson said. “Education technology is a game changer in terms of individualizing instruction.”

State school officials used information gathered by following the same group of students who enrolled in ninth through 12th grades for its reports, referred to as cohort data. Because this is only the fourth time the four-year cohort information was calculated, data may only be compared accurately between 2009-2010 and 2012-2013.

Graduation and dropout data can vary widely from school to school, so state school officials urge caution when comparing the rates due to differences in how information is presented from district to district.