Nearly 97 percent of Walnut Valley Unified School District students graduated from high school in 2009-10 compared to 74.4 percent statewide, according to California Department of Education data released last week.
The district posted a 96.7 percent graduation rate. The dropout rate for the district was 3.1 percent, while the state had 18.2 percent of students who started high school in 2006 failing to graduate.
Walnut Valley Unified Board President Cindy Ruiz said the district must continue to push.
“Even 3 percent is too high,” she said. “We shouldn’t have any dropouts. We have alternative education and alternative programs to help them with independent study.”
Superintendent Dean Conklin said developing personal relationships with students and a plan to help those who are struggling is key.
“One of the reasons why the dropout rate is so low is that in spite of the fact that each of our comprehensive high schools have roughly 3,000 students, we really value a comprehensive approach to teaching and learning,” he said. “We develop plans for struggling students.”
For the first time, the recent graduation and dropout rates were calculated based on four-year cohort information gathered using an identification number for each individual student. The state’s program is the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System.
“For far too long, the discussion about graduation and dropout rates has revolved around how the results were obtained,” said Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, in a news release. “Now, we can focus on the much more important issue of how to raise the number of graduates and lower the number of dropouts.”
The newest graduation rate should not be compared to previous years’ rates because the method of calculation has changed, according to the California Department of Education. The new rate also takes student mobility into account, an issue that had been previously discussed in debates about the dropout issue.
The 2009-10 dropout rate will serve as a baseline in 2011 for comparing future figures. The Department of Education also announced last week that it plans to include eighth and ninth grade dropouts from 2009-10 with the 2011 base Academic Performance Index scores in the spring of 2012, pending the approval of the State Board of Education. The idea behind that is to start looking at the middle school dropout problem, according to the news release.
More than 17,000 eighth graders statewide in 2008-09 dropped out of school before entering ninth grade, according to the data.
“Our research shows that chronic absence from school, even as early as kindergarten, is a strong indicator of whether a child will drop out of school later,” Torlakson said. “Clearly, we need to invest more in programs designed to keep elementary and middle school students in school.”
To download state, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates, please visit the CDE DataQuest Web site at DataQuest.