California may soon track graduation rates for students who finish high school in 5 years

The California Department of Education is recommending that the State Board of Education approve reporting five-year high school graduation rates, giving districts an incentive to help seniors stay in school.

The State Board of Education will decide Wednesday whether to make the changes to the next California School Dashboard, a system that rates districts, school performance and high school graduation rates.

California is one of 19 states that uses only a four year rate, which covers students who complete high school from grades 9 to 12.

The new five-year rate would not replace the four-year rate, which is reported to the federal government – but it would show more accurate graduation rates including potentially thousands of students who complete their coursework and earn a diploma beyond the four-year cutoff.

“It could provide an opportunity for schools to demonstrate success with students who may need additional time to earn a regular high school diploma (e.g., students with disabilities, English learners etc.)“ read a document from the Education Department.

Districts including Sacramento City Unified School District offer extended time to complete coursework for students with disabilities, according to district officials. If new recommendation passes this week, graduation rates will include these students once they complete their coursework.

In 2018, more than 500,000 – or 83 percent – of California’s high school seniors received their diplomas. The remaining students either dropped out or could not graduate because they were missing credits.

In 2018, nearly 6,000 students from the previous school year finished courses and earned a diploma. If the recommendation passes, the state’s 2018 graduate rate would increase by 0.2 percentage points, according to the Education Department.

While that increase is not dramatic, it “offers schools and districts additional time and incentive to work with and provide support to those students who did not graduate within four years,” according to the Education Department.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which requires schools to increase their graduation rates, gives states the option to include a five-year graduation rate in its accountability system. The State Board of Education is expected to vote for the change Wednesday morning.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.