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CALPADS releases four-year for first time on dropout rates

On Friday, August 11, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System released fouryear data regarding dropout rates. The statewide graduation was reported as 74.4 percent, with the dropout rate at 18.2 percent. Aragon High Schools adjusted 4-year derived dropout rate, which, according to the published CALPADS report, is an estimate of the percent of students who would drop out in a four-year period based on data collected for a single year, stood at 3.7 percent. The San Mateo Union High School District, on the other hand, had a corresponding figure that was over twice that of Aragons at 8.7 percent. Commenting on the released data, Assistant Principal Jim Coe said, What were trying to do is prevent students from failing. So the support classes, the tutorials, and all that stuff is designed to prevent students from failing a course. Usually, we do a good job with the counseling staff to screen students and prevent them from getting behind in credits. Encouraging them. Putting them in the right courses. Meeting with parents. All that kind of stuff to get them to turn their academic life around. Coe noted that the SMUHSD had formed committees in the previous year that focused on freshman students with regard to identifying and supporting failing individuals. He said, We still need to do work for the sophomores, and so a committee will be formed this year to look specifically at our sophomore program [and decide] whether we have something Peninsula-like where after the freshman year, if a student is still continuing to fail [despite] all the forces that weve put in place, maybe we do need an alternative program at that point. Not wait till junior, but start the alternative program the sophomore year because they need something different. ... The other piece is What are we going to do for students who have failed forty or more units? How are we going to meet that need? Speaking on support systems for students, Counselor Steve Allekotte said, One thing [counselors] do is monitor their success. Every six weeks, we print what we a call a D-F List: multiple Ds and Fs. And those are the kids that were monitoring, calling in, setting up parent

conferences sometimes. So were trying to keep kids from falling behind and having them go to Peninsula. Referring to the Aragons comparably low dropout rate, Allekotte added, I think weve got an incredible teaching staff And because each student has an advisor and a counselor, were able to monitor these kids more closely and more regularly. English teacher Genevieve Thurtle, who currently serves as Aragons professional development site coordinator and the San Mateo Union High School Districts professional development district coordinator, leant insight into current initiatives aimed at improving instructional strategies. She said, Were talking more specifically about struggling populations. For example, [for] many of our mainstream EL students, there was a significant drop in standardized test scores here at Aragon Pat Kurtz and I are looking at those numbers and those students and trying to figure out if those students are placed properly in support classes that they need in order to do well in English and in math. So one of the things that well be doing this year is doing professional development that is related to targeting that population: figuring out ways to incorporate teaching strategies that are most effective for those students because it tends to be those types of students that do end up dropping out of high schools - the ones that are struggling, who sort of have this habituation to failure in different classes. The released data as a whole was heralded for its improved accuracy, which was attributed to the use of statewide student identifiers. A unique, randomly-generated, 10-digit number assigned to each student, SSIDs enabled CALPADS to track students as they transferred from one public school to another within the state of California, and thereby more effectively identify the students who did dropout. In a news release published August 11, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson reportedly said, For far too long, the discussion about graduation and dropout rates has revolved around how the results were obtained. 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 same news release reported that The new cohort graduation rate will now serve as a baseline in 2011. Yet, not all met the announcement with optimism. In an article published on Silicon Valley Education Foundation, author Peter Schrag wrote, While far more accurate and reliable than anything weve had before, they cant capture all the uncertainties of student mobility or cut through all the fog of educational definitions. Nor do they tell anything about the quality of the education those students have gotten, another area where theres lots of numbers and even more fog.