Graduation numbers released by the state Monday show a significant rise in the number of Stanislaus County high school students making it to mortarboard and tassel in four years.
The county’s overall graduation rate rose to a little more than 82 percent for 2013, a 3.4 percent improvement over 2012. The latest number shows 80 percent of Latinos graduating in four years and 78 percent of black students, both far higher than the statewide rate. Some 85 percent of white students graduated on track.
“It’s exciting to see the graduation rate increase in our county,” Stanislaus County Superintendent Tom Changnon said Monday. “We know how important it is for students to receive their high school diplomas, and that’s why we launched the Destination Graduation initiative this year. The goal of the multiyear initiative is to increase the graduation rate in our county, and we’d like to see continued progress, and an even higher graduation rate, in the years to come.”
Part of that effort has included middle school graduation coaches paid through the United Way. Though high school graduations are years away, research shows the slide to dropping out begins in those preteen years.
“We are very encouraged by what we are seeing with the early outcomes of our graduation coach program,” United Way of Stanislaus President Francine DiCiano said Monday, pointing to higher grades seen among the roughly 120 students being served.
“The journey to graduation doesn’t begin in high school, it begins at home with supportive families who value education,” said Don Davis, superintendent of Waterford Unified. “The good work that teachers and students do in preschool and kindergarten and all the way through the grade levels leads to the increases in graduation rates.”
Waterford High, with a 97 percent graduation rate, was among the top performers in the area. Also posting high rates were Denair High, with 99 percent of students graduating on time; Hughson High, with 98 percent; and Escalon High, with 97 percent. Whitmore Charter High in Ceres had every one of its 28 seniors graduate.
For the fourth year in a row, California’s graduation rate climbed as the dropout rate fell, particularly for students of color, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. The figures measure how many who entered as freshmen in fall 2009 graduated with their class in 2013.
Statewide, graduation rates edged up to a record 80.2 percent. The state graduation rates for black and Latino students climbed 2 percent, to 68 percent and 75 percent, respectively.
In Modesto City Schools, the graduation rate for blacks in 2013 stood at 80 percent, 11 percent higher than 2010, the first year the state could track a class through all four years. The Latino graduation rate, also 80 percent, improved 9 percent over the same four years. Some 88 percent of white students graduated on time from Modesto schools in 2013, a 7 percent bump from 2010.
Even English learners improved markedly over several years, said Associate Superintendent Ginger Johnson. “We want every child to graduate, so we obviously have work to do. But we feel we’re heading in the right direction,” she said.
The district also is working to improve percentages of students who finish required coursework for admission to four-year state universities and colleges, Johnson said. “Even though we have higher numbers of our African American students graduating, we need to do a better job of making sure they have access to those courses,” she said.
Johnson credited much of the graduation progress to added principal training and stronger districtwide policies. Both have led to fewer suspensions and expulsions, she said.
“I’m very, very pleased about the progress MCS is making,” said Modesto Superintendent Pam Able.
In Newman, Orestimba High lost four students through the four-year trek to “Pomp and Circumstance,” one more than from the Class of 2012, for a slight drop in its graduation rate to 96 percent, said Newman-Crows Landing Unified Superintendent Ed Felt on Monday.
“We do have a very positive campus environment where students are challenged and treated like young adults,” Felt said by email Monday. “We believe that if students feel good about their educational experience, then they will attend school consistently. If they are in seats, the greater the chances are for their success and eventual graduation.” The district has a high attendance rate, 96 percent to 98 percent.
In Turlock, the large high schools boast 94 percent four-year graduation rates. “I am very pleased that our dropout rates continue to be below the county and state averages,” said Turlock Unified Superintendent Sonny Da Marto. “Nearly 90 percent of our students graduate, and a great deal of these students go on to either two- or four-year colleges, and many others go on to technical training to prepare them for careers,” Da Marto said.
A lower overall rate is typical for districts large enough to have special programs for struggling students. Students flunking courses also may get in trouble or have other issues, a downward spiral that can lead to students dropping out. Expelled teens usually go to alternative programs offered through the county Office of Education. Those graduation rates were not released Monday.
Dropout rates dropped statewide in concert with the rise in graduation rates, though there still are students who do not fall into either group. Some are staying an extra semester or year to finish up, or are special-education students staying extra years or completing studies without a diploma.