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A closer look at Contra Costa dropout rates

By Theresa Harrington
Wednesday, December 8th, 2010 at 1:31 pm in California, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

By Theresa Harrington

According to high school graduation and dropout rate reports issued by the state Tuesday, nearly 16 percent of Contra Costa County students dropped out of school in 2008-09, compared to almost 22 percent statewide.

Here’s a rundown of the increases and decreases in county districts from 2007-08 to 2008-09. Data from 2007-08 is listed first, followed by 2008-09, then a + or -, indicating if the rate went up or down.

Four-year estimated drop out rates for Contra Costa County school districts:

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY: 16.0%; 15.9% (-)
Acalanes Union High: 3.5%, 3.3% (-)
Antioch: 25.9%, 25.7% (-)
John Swett: 25.8%, 16% (-)
Liberty: 6.5%, 5.4% (-)
Martinez: 6%, 7.6% (+)
Mt. Diablo: 23%, 22.2% (-)
Pittsburg: 26.4%, 30.7% (+)
San Ramon Valley: 3%, 3.7% (+)
West Contra Costa: 21.3%, 22.2% (+)

For most of the districts, the rates didn’t change much. Notable exceptions are John Swett and Pittsburg.

John Swett reduced its dropout rate by nearly 10 percentage points, while Pittsburg’s grew by more than 4 percentage points, making it the district with the highest percentage of dropouts in the county.

You can find school results here: http://dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest/.

Here’s a rundown of the 2007-08 to 2008-09 dropout rates for the Mt. Diablo district’s six comprehensive high schools:

Clayton Valley High: 12.6%, 6.1% (-)
College Park High: 13.5%, 10.8% (-)
Concord High: 14.3%, 10.8% (-)
Mt. Diablo High: 35.9%, 27.7% (-)
Northgate High: 9.5%, 3.3% (-)
Ygnacio Valley High: 26.1%, 31.4% (+)

District: 23%, 22.2% (-); (includes continuation high schools)
County: 16%, 15.9% (-)
State: 18.9%, 21.7% (+)

As you can see, all schools except Ygnacio Valley reduced their dropout rates fairly substantially, but the district’s overall dropout rate is higher than both the county and state averages. Northgate has the fewest droputs, with just over 3 percent.

Mt. Diablo High had the highest dropout rate in 2007-08, but fell below Ygnacio Valley in 2008-09. Mt. Diablo slashed its dropout rate by nearly 9 percentage points, while Ygnacio Valley’s climbed by 5 percentage points, making it the comprehensive high school with the highest percentage of dropouts in the district.

What do you think districts should do to prevent dropouts and help students graduate?

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  • Realia

    One reason why several district high schools’ dropout rates have dropped is that some principals are aggressive in transferring low-credit and/or low-skill students who are at-risk for dropping out to Olympic, the district’s continuation high school. Around half the transfers to Olympic this year are from one high school – Mt. Diablo – in a neat trick used both to lower the school’s dropout rate and raise its test scores. This violates a board policy about which students should be transferred to Olympic, but no one at the district office, including the head of Alternative Ed, Mildred Browne, and the Director of Student Services, Felicia Stuckey Smith, bothers to follow the policy and students left behind by the comprehensive high schools are simply dumped at Olympic.

  • Doctor J

    @Realia, its the old bait and switch to avoid MDUSD being named a Program Improvement school. Unfortunately, its this new directive from the Supt on “what looks good on paper” as opposed to “what is in the best interests of the students. The slogan “where kids are first” is a tragic joke.

  • tharrington

    Here are the four-year estimated dropout rates for Mt. Diablo district continuation/alternative high schools from 2007-08 to 2008-09:

    Crossroads (for pregnant teens and teen moms): 71.5%, 91.6% (+)
    Diablo Community Day (suspended, expelled): 73.7%, 75.8% (+)
    Horizons Alternative: 36%, 83.7% (+)
    Nonpublic nonsectarian school (not sure what this is): 39.5%, 24% (-)
    Nueva Vista Continuation: 35.3, 24.4% (one-year estimates), (-)
    Olympic Continuation: 73%, 86/7% (+)
    Prospect Continuation: 31.8%, 8% (one-year estimates), (-)

    The state issues this caveat about comparing dropout rates at alternative schools to those at comprehensive schools:

    “The dropout rate calculations posted on the CDE Web site compare the counts of dropouts over the entire school year with a single day enrollment count on CBEDS Information Day (first Wednesday of October). By design, alternative schools and dropout recovery high schools may serve many students over the course of a school year. Students may stay in these schools for short periods of time with the intent of returning to their local comprehensive high schools. Calculating dropout rates for schools with a high volume of short term students may result in overstated rates in excess of 100 percent because the point-in-time enrollment count will significantly understate the actual enrollment over time.

    It may also be inappropriate to compare dropout rates for alternative schools and dropout recovery high schools to local comprehensive high schools. In many cases, alternative schools serve only those students who are already at the greatest risk of dropping out of school because of their prior academic challenges.”

    At schools where one or more grade levels had zero enrollment, four–year dropout estimates couldn’t be calculated, according to the state.

  • http://www.k12reboot.com Jim

    Districts throughout the country have had almost zero incentive to track dropout rates, and deficiencies in their data-tracking make almost all of their figures suspect. Moreover, as noted above, having low-performing students leave the system is one easy way to increase average scores overall.
    To be sure, it is difficult to know whether a student has moved away, transferred to a parochial school, or simply stopped attending. One analysis that districts ought to do is to look at the population cohort for each grade level and see how much that declines by year, particularly during high school. When I did this for the national student population using 2006 data, almost 31% of expected students had left the public education system after Grade 9. In other words, students who were counted as, say, 7th graders in one year, were not in 10th grade 3 years later. If you do that for the upper grades through grade 12, you often come up with a significantly higher number than what is reported as the “dropout rate”. In states with demanding criteria for being promoted to high-school, you will see a big build-up in the student population in the last middle school year, as students are held back and then give up and drop out. Demanding high school exit exams (where they exist!) probably have a similar effect, starting in Grade 10. I plan to address this topic next month on my new website, http://www.K12Reboot.com — a “Parent Voice for School Choice”. I invite everyone here on Theresa’s wonderful blog to check it out!