Dropout rates improve at Sacramento-area schools

Published: Wednesday, Apr. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, May. 24, 2013 - 6:15 am

The Sacramento City Unified School District had nearly an 80 percent graduation rate in 2012, a 5.2 percentage point jump that was part of a wave of California improvement, state data showed Tuesday.

The upward trend in the Sacramento City district mirrored that of other area districts and was coupled with declines in the dropout rate, according to the California Department of Education.

Locally, Davis Joint Unified recorded a nearly 95 percent graduation rate, up 3.1 points in the comparison.

Other districts with healthy year-to-year increases in the Sacramento region included Woodland Joint Unified with an 87.7 percent graduation rate (up 3.2 points) and Twin Rivers Unified with a 72.3 percent graduation rate (up 3.6 points).

Statewide, 78.5 percent of those who started high school four years earlier graduated in 2012 – up 1.4 points in the comparison, according to the state Department of Education. The figures are based on student-level data collected by the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, known as CALPADS.

In the Sacramento City district, Superintendent Jonathan Raymond noted that 2012 marks the third year of significant gains.

"Since 2009-10, we're almost at a 12 percent increase," Raymond said. "We're higher now than the state."

At the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, Janie DeArcos, assistant superintendent for secondary instruction, cited emphasis on "online credit recovery."

The program gives a second chance to students who are in danger of losing credit for a course they have not completed. DeArcos said the program exists at all five Folsom Cordova high schools.

"We don't just say go online," DeArcos said. "We hold the classes on campus."

That's important, she said, because it's a backstop for students who might not stay motivated in isolation.

"If they take (the course) at school, they come in every day and log in and start," DeArcos said.

"To students who have dropped out, we say, 'Hey, you can still make it. You're still in the game.' "

At Elk Grove Unified, the director of secondary education, Keven MacDonald, said the district's 1.7 point gain – to an 85.5 percent graduation rate – caps multiple years of healthy growth.

Those gains came about in part, he said, due to emphasis on collaboration between teachers.

The unifying goal: finding the most effective ways to ensure that even the youngest students are properly prepared to advance, get a high school diploma and go beyond.

Among individual schools, 1,800-student Luther Burbank High in the Sacramento City district recorded a 10.1 percentage point increase over 2011 to produce an 89.3 percent graduation rate, according to state data.

Principal Ted Appel said he could not point to any one reason for the unexpected 10.1 point gain.

"Anytime there is a big jump in any direction it's a bit of a surprise," he said.

He surmised a variety of factors were at play, including the school's small learning communities.

"I believe we're able to develop strong relationships with more kids and give them the kind of attention that helps keep them engaged," Appel said.

Each of the six learning communities has a thematic focus and about 300 students, the principal said.

They range from law and social justice to medical and health sciences.

The learning environment, he said, allows teachers "to put their arms around 300 students and do everything they can think of to help them be successful academically and socially in this school."

The school also has an International Baccalaureate program, a rigorous curriculum of advanced coursework introduced there six years ago.

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.

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