SF high school grad rate drops below statewide average


by Laura Dudnick
San Francisco’s public high school graduation rate has dropped below the statewide average for the first time in at least five years, and its dropout rate is now higher than California’s.

Data released Tuesday by the California Department of Education shows 79.9 percent of students graduated in The City in the 2013-14 school year, compared to 80.8 percent of students statewide. Meanwhile, San Francisco’s dropout rate reached 11.9 percent while the state’s was at 11.6.

The graduation rate in San Francisco hovered at about 82 percent since 2010-11. But last year marks the first time it has dipped below California’s average graduation rate since 2009-10, when state officials began using cohort data to calculate the rates. Cohort data means the same group of students was followed for four years.

San Francisco Unified School District officials noted that 2014 was the first year graduating students had to complete the minimum required courses, called the A-G course sequence, to be eligible to apply for the California State University and University of California systems. Those requirements are not necessarily in place for other districts in the state.

“We were cautious about the possibility that this could hold back some students,” district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said of the requirements adopted by the Board of Education in 2008.

Consequently, a greater number – 56.9 percent – of SFUSD students graduated eligible to apply to a UC or CSU with a grade of C or better in 2013-14 than the statewide average of 41.9 percent.

“We want all of our students to graduate and have college and career options. The class of 2014 had to complete a more rigorous course sequence than graduates from years prior,” Superintendent Richard Carranza said in a statement.

“For the past several years we have seen our graduation rate climb to a rate higher than many urban school districts in the nation. I am proud of the great strides we have made and we need to do more.”

San Francisco’s dropout rate jumped to 11.9 percent in 2013-14 from 8.9 percent in 2012-13, but that data includes students who stayed in high school for a fifth year to complete the A-G course sequence or other requirements, an option offered by the district, Blythe said.

While the graduation numbers dropped for The City’s minority students, as well as English language learners, it rose slightly for Asian students, from 88.8 percent in 2012-13 to 89.4 percent in 2013-14.

Latino students saw a decline in their graduation rate, from 68.7 percent in 2012-13 to 61.2 percent in 2013-14. The graduation rate for black students dropped to 57.3 percent last school year, compared to 65.5 percent in 2012-13.

The majority of the district’s high schools experienced a graduation dip as well, with the exception of Burton, Lincoln, Lowell, Wallenberg and Washington.

Additionally, Thurgood Marshall, Mission and O’Connell – the Superintendent’s Zone high schools that receive extra support due to their overall lower performance – saw a reduction in graduation rates and higher dropout rates.

“Whenever we see a drop in graduation rates or increase in dropout rates, it is concerning, especially when it is happening among our targeted populations,” Commissioner Matt Haney said. “We know that it is going to be a process for us to ensure there is course availability and academic support and credit recovery to support all students to graduate.”

California’s graduation rate, however, continued to climb in the 2013-14 year, to 80.8 percent, after rising above 80 percent for the first time in the previous school year.

Statewide, English language learners increased 2.2 percent from the year before, reaching 65.3 percent. Latino students had a 76.4 percent graduation rate, up 0.7 of a percentage point from the year before. The graduation rate for black students was at 68.1 percent, the same as the year before.

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson credited California’s rising graduation rate with extra resources that have allowed schools to add staff and strengthen programs intended to help students graduate.

“Our record high graduation rate is great news, especially since it is occurring at the same time we are raising academic standards,” Torlakson said in a statement.

Graduation and dropout rates can vary widely from school to school. State officials urge caution when comparing the rates because of differences in how information is presented among districts.

Graduation by the Numbers

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