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A closer look at graduation and dropout rates in Contra Costa County school districts

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, June 29th, 2012 at 6:26 pm in Contra Costa County, Education.

Earlier this week, the California Department of Education released improved data for high school graduation and dropout rates, which followed specific groups of students by grade level to track if they graduated in four years.

This was the second year in a row the state used this more sophisticated way of collecting data, making this the first year it could be compared from 2010 to 2011 to get a clearer picture of whether or not districts are improving.

Here’s how districts in Contra Costa County stacked up against each other, with 2010 graduation rates followed by 2011 rates and the change, then 2010 dropout rates followed by 2011 rates, along with the change. The graduation and dropout rates do not add up to 100 percent because some students had not graduated or dropped out by the end of four years.

District 2010, 2011 (change) 2010, 2011 (change)
Acalanes 95.4, 96.3 (+0.9) 3.3, 1.8 (-1.5)
Antioch 74.0, 73.1 (-0.9) 16.8, 17.2 (+0.4)
John Swett 75.3, 88.2 (+12.9) 16.7, 8.8 (-7.9)
Liberty 83.9, 85.1 (+1.2) 5.5, 5.5 (no change)
Martinez 84.9, 88.6 (+3.7) 8.1, 5.5 (-2.6)
Mt. Diablo 74.8, 81.8 (+7.0) 18.8, 11.4 (-7.4)
Pittsburg 64.3, 66.3 (+2.0) 30.9, 25.5 (-5.4)
San Ramon 96.4, 96.8 (+0.4) 2.2, 1.6 (-0.6)
West Contra Costa 72.6, 74.0 (+1.4) 22.0, 20.5 (-1.5)
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY 79.9, 82.2 (+2.3) 13.8, 11.0 (-2.8)
STATE 74.8, 76.3 (+1.5) 16.6, 14.4 (-2.2)
To see complete results, including school data, visit t and select “graduates” on level 2.

Acalanes and San Ramon Valley had the best results, with more than 96 percent of students graduating and less than 2 percent dropping out. The John Swett, Liberty, Martinez and Mt. Diablo districts posted respectable results, with more than 80 percent of students graduating and less than 10 percent dropping out in all but Mt. Diablo.

These results included impressive one-year improvement in the John Swett and Mt. Diablo districts, with John Swett’s graduation rate soaring nearly 13 percentage points and its dropout rate falling about 8 percentage points. Mt. Diablo’s graduation rate jumped about 7 percentage points, while its dropout rate fell by about 7.4 percentage points.

But Rose Lock, assistant superintendent of Student Achievement and School Support in Mt. Diablo, said the district wasn’t completely sure the data was accurate. She said districts have the opportunity to correct their data in July, if there are discrepancies.

The Mt. Diablo school board reduced graduation requirements in 2011, dropping required math courses from three years to two years and the total number of credits from 230 to 200. But Lock said she did not think there was a correlation between the lowered requirements and the higher graduation rate.

Here is a comparison of graduation requirements in Contra Costa County districts:

Contra Costa County districts with the lowest graduation rates and highest dropout rates were Antioch, Pittsburg and West Contra Costa, with all three faring worse that the state average of 76.3 percent graduating and 14.4 percent dropping out.

Here’s more information about the statewide results, from a California Department of Education press release:

“Graduation rates among California’s public school students are climbing and dropout rates are falling, with the biggest gains being made among English learners and the state’s largest minority groups, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced (Wednesday).

More than three quarters, or 76.3 percent, of students who started high school in 2007 graduated with their class in 2011. That is up 1.5 percentage points from the 2010 graduation rate. Larger gains were seen among Hispanic and African American students at 2.2 and 2.3 percentage points respectively, with the biggest increase being among English learners at 3.8 percentage points. The graduation rate for socioeconomically disadvantaged students climbed nearly 2 percentage points, from 68.1 to 70 percent.

‘Every graduate represents a success story in one of the most effective job and anti-poverty programs ever conceived, our public schools,’ Torlakson said. ‘These numbers are a testament to the hard work of teachers and administrators, of parents and, most of all, of the students themselves. While they are a great illustration of all that is going right in California schools, they should also remind us that schools need our support to continue to improve so that every student graduates prepared for college, a career, and to contribute to our state’s future.’

Beyond the 76.3 percent graduation rate and the 14.4 percent dropout rate, the remaining 9.3 percent are students who are neither graduates nor dropouts. Some are still enrolled in school (8.6 percent). Others are non-diploma special education students (0.4 percent), and some elected to pass a high school equivalency exam.

Graduation and dropout rates for counties, districts, and schools across California were calculated based on four-year cohort—referring to this particular group of students—information using the state’s California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). This is the second time this four-year cohort information was collected, making this the first time that it can be compared year to year. With two years of data, the cohort rates will now be used to determine whether schools have met their targets for increasing the graduation rate for the Adequate Yearly Progress reporting under the federal school accountability system. The 2009-10 rates were also adjusted as a part of this data release (marked “A” in the tables below) to include only those students who were first-time ninth graders in the 2006-07 school year.

The new cohort dropout rate is calculated for high school students, grades nine through twelve. However, there are also significant numbers of students who drop out of school during the middle school years.

‘Our research shows that chronic absence from school, even as early as kindergarten, is a strong indicator of whether a child will drop out of school later,’ Torlakson said. ‘The dropout rate shows there’s still much work to be done, particularly to address the needs of disadvantaged and minority students. We must build on our work with parents and communities in the earliest years to pave the way for kids to succeed in school.

CALPADS has made great strides since an independent oversight consultant was critical of the initial release of the system in 2009. In its latest report, the same independent oversight consultant concluded, ‘The CALPADS project is presently in the healthiest state of its history.’

To view and download state, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates, please visit the CDE DataQuest Web site at DataQuest. Reporters are encouraged to use caution when comparing education rates among individual schools and districts; some, such as county office schools, alternative schools or dropout recovery high schools, serve only those students who are already at the greatest risk of dropping out, compared with the broader population at traditional high schools.”

Education Trust-West, an advocacy group, released a statement that was more harsh in its assessment of the data released, but found a few bright spots throughout the state:

“For the second year in a row, the California Department of Education (CDE) has released accurate and transparent graduation and dropout rate data thanks to the state’s use of CALPADS, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System. The data once again reveal that California’s schools are graduating Latino, African-American, and low-income students at alarmingly low rates.

The data show that three out of four (76%) of our state’s students are graduating from high school in four years.

Sadly, the news is far worse for the state’s African-American, Latino, and low-income students, who graduate from high school at abysmally low rates—63% and 70%, respectively.

Education outcomes for students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, and English learners, whose needs and potential are often overlooked, are particularly disturbing when compared with the graduation rates of their more advantaged peers. For example, California’s white students graduate at a rate of 86% and Asian students at a rate of 90%.

‘Even though these rates are improving, at the rate California is going, it will take us 13 years to close the graduation gap between Latino and African-American students and their white peers,’ said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West, a statewide education civil rights organization. ‘Every high school dropout is an individual tragedy. Tens of thousands of dropouts represent a large scale-tragedy for the California economy and our state’s future prosperity. It’s time we stopped talking about this problem and invested in the strategies that top districts and schools are using to fix it.’

In spite of these overall statewide trends, the data reveal districts with better results for Latino and African-American students.

In 2010-11, Castro Valley Unified (Alameda County) graduated 94% of their Latino students, while in Sanger Unified (Fresno County) and West Covina Unified (Los Angeles County), 95% of their Latino students graduated in four years.

In ABC Unified (Los Angeles County), 90% of their African-American students graduated in four years. Corona-Norco Unified (Riverside County) posted similarly high graduation rates for their African-American students (88%), and Clovis Unified (Fresno County) graduated 93% of their African-American students.

The data also reveal high schools throughout California with similar strong results for African-American and Latino students, a few of which were recently highlighted in The Education Trust—West report, Repairing the Pipeline: A Look at the Gaps in California’s High School to College Transition. There are a number of high schools serving high proportions of Latino students (more than 65%) with high graduation rates in 2010-11.

At Calipatria High School in Calipatria Unified School District 91% of Latino students graduated in four years.

Imperial High in Imperial Unified School District graduated 98% of their Latino graduates.

At Southwest High in Central Union High School District, 89% of Latino students graduated in four years.

Our analysis also found high schools serving high proportions of African-American students (more than 15%) with high graduation rates in 2010-11.

Rancho Cucamonga High School and Etiwanda High School, both in Chaffey Joint Union High School District had high African-American graduation rates of 88% and 91% respectively.

Kearny Digital Media and Design School, a Linked Learning model in San Diego Unified, graduated 89% of their low-income students, and 83% of their African-American students.

Arthur Benjamin Health Professions High School, a Linked Learning model in Sacramento City Unified, with an African-American student population of nearly 30%, graduated 92% of their African-American students.

‘These districts and schools reveal that our statewide results are not inevitable. We know that approaches such as Linked Learning that tie college rigor to career relevancy; investments in credit recovery; and strong counseling supports are critical to fixing this crisis. Yet, these are the very supports that many districts have cut over the past several years. Our high school accountability system must include graduation rates, dropout rates, and college and career readiness metrics for low-income students and students of color core. This would incentivize schools and districts to ensure that all of their students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college and career.’

About The Education Trust—West
The Education Trust—West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.”

Are you satisfied with your district’s results?

JULY 12 UPDATE: We have just added a searchable database to our website, where you can look up 2011 graduation and dropout rates by county, district and schools:

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16 Responses to “A closer look at graduation and dropout rates in Contra Costa County school districts”

  1. Anon Says:

    How in the Heck could Lowering standards not affect the increase of graduates? They had a huge impact. Yes more students were able to graduate because the district lowered so much….These kids are having a harder time in college and getting a job. Shame on Rose Locke shame on the District stooges and Shame on the people that will defend them. We need to strive for better education not lowering down to where it is easy. Life is not easy!

  2. g Says:

    Hopefully, when the graduates that squeaked by due to lower requirements get their dish-washing job, their new boss will let them squeak by doing only 87 percent of the dishes!

  3. Anon Says:

    I had a child graduate in 2011 from the District and the lower graduate requirements barely affected her so I don’t think the change in graduation rate is related to this policy change. She already had 180 units by the end of her junior year(2010) and ended up 30 units over the grad requirement. However, current freshmen and sophomores will really bear the brunt of the lower grad requirements, so the 2013 grad rate will the stat to watch.

  4. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s my story about how the John Swett district dramatically improved its graduation and dropout rates:

  5. MoMx3 Says:

    Not sure where or how to start a new topic.. so here goes… when is the deadline for incumbents to announce their candidacy? Is Eberhart or Whitmarsh re-running?

    Is Clayton Valley still getting that per school money said to be going to them, does anyone know if the charter followed through and what that would mean to the charter? What are they getting for that money? What was the plan? Is it still public record even though not in MDUSD ?

  6. MDUSD Board Watcher Says:

    Whitmarsh is supposedly not running. Eberhart supposedly is. We stand ready to run a full blown NO ON Eberhart campaign against him if he does.

    – The committee against the reelection of Eberhart

  7. g Says:

    MoMx3: I’m pretty sure the filing period for all candidates opens July 16 and closes Aug. 10 for the Nov. 6 election. A couple of people have declared that they will run. As far as I know, no incumbent has declared yet. They like to wait till the last minute and see who their competition might be.

  8. Theresa Harrington Says:

    I believe g is correct about the filing deadlines, so we should know in a few weeks who is actually running.
    I have not heard from Eberhart or Whitmarsh whether they intend to run.
    MDEA has endorsed challengers Brian Lawrence and Attila Gabor.
    Ernie DeTrinidad of Clayton and Debra Mason of Bay Point have also said they intend to run.

    Regarding CVCHS, yes, Pete Pederson assured the Bond Oversight Committee that the school will still get the additional money. It is up to the charter’s site committee to decide how they want to spend it. No plan has yet been approved by the MDUSD board. CVCHS governing board meetings are public record, even though not in MDUSD. I will try to find out if they have come up with a plan yet.

    On another note, CVCHS Exec. Director Dave Linzey told me they have voted to remain in UMDAF.

    It is fine to bring up new items in comments this way. Now that I see there is interest, I will start new items regarding the election and the charter.

  9. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here is a new blog post with the filing deadlines for the Nov. 6 election and a list of school board openings in the East Bay:

  10. Theresa Harrington Says:

    On a positive note, here is a story about a new healthy cuisine and sustainable tourism pilot program at MDHS, which could help keep students in school by giving them skills they can use to find jobs in the community after they graduate:

  11. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Here’s a recommended reading list for middle-schoolers from a district librarian:

  12. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Please note that I have just added a July 12 update regarding a searchable database we have added to our website, where you can look up 2011 grad and dropout rates by county, district and school.

    Here’s a link to MDUSD results:

    These show Northgate had the highest grad rate, but College Park had the lowest dropout rate. Ygnacio Valley HS had the lowest grad rate and highest dropout rate among comprehensive high schools.

    But, I can see why Rose Lock said some of the results may not be accurate. It appears that six alternative high schools had the exact same grad and dropout rates, which might be statistically fairly unlikely.

  13. Jose Ramos Says:

    I’ve taught high school for 12 years in an under-performing East Bay district.

    I can’t figure out what the big deal is about the graduation rates. If we keep standards like routinely doing homework and getting 60% on all classwork (tests, being on-task during class period, projects, etc.) half of the students wouldn’t graduate.

    And if half of the students don’t graduate? Well, it’s time to look a new job, and new jobs are hard to find these days.

  14. Anon Says:

    So, CVCHS will continue to fund athletics in the MDUSD, correct? UMDAF mission is to fund athletics for MDUSD schools. If MDUSD does not pay for CVCHS athletics any longer (already dropped from District for NCS/league fees), why would CVCHS contribute funds to pay for 5 other high schools? Is MDUSD still paying for CVCHS coaches? This is very odd. CVCHS is on the same level as Berean Christian. Will Berean Christian join to help pay for the 5 MDUSD high schools?

  15. Athlete's Mom Says:

    MDUSD doesn’t fund athletics. Each participant at each school in each athletic discipline is asked to contribute towards the costs. Any money raised by UMDAF is shared equally among the six schools.

    The charter could have quit the Foundation, but chose to remain. Therefore, the money will still be distributed equally among the six schools. The bylaws will need to be amended to show that the charter is a separate entity but chooses to remain in the Foundation.

  16. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The US Dept. of Ed. is inviting districts to apply for Race to the Top funding:

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