An overlooked corner of the dropout problem became more visible Thursday when state officials for the first time released the dropout rate for eighth-graders.
Statewide, about 3.5% of eighth-graders–17,257 in all–left school and didn’t return for ninth grade, according to the state count now available with a system for tracking students individually.
Overall, 74.4% of California high school students graduated in four years, according to state data; 18.2% dropped out. The remainder were still in school (6.6%), were in non-diploma programs for disabled students (0.5%) or left high school by taking the General Educational Development (GED) Test (0.4%).
Steep gaps persist in the comparative fates of different ethnic groups. The graduation rate is 68% for Latinos, 59% for African American students and 56% for students who are learning English. This compares with 83.4% for whites and 89.4% for Asians.
“The data reveal the sad truth about our state’s four-year graduation rates and California’s failure to adequately serve all of our students,” said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based advocacy organization.
He said dropping out is the culmination of a problem that probably has been building for years. Students who are behind in reading skills by the third grade, or nonnative speakers who don’t make the transition from Spanish to English, can fall increasingly behind in all their subjects. And there is pressure in some families to earn money rather than stay in school.
L.A. Unified’s estimated graduation rate for the four-year period is 55%. However, the state’s new system places the district’s rate at 64.2%.
And a broadly adopted formula used by the National Center for Education Statistics credits L.A. Unified with graduating 70.4% of high school students in four years.