LAUSD’s Dropout Rate Soars
Jennifer Radcliffe, Los Angeles Daily News, Apr. 28
The Los Angeles Unified School District’s dropout rate jumped about 50 percent in 2002-03, according to a state report Wednesday, but LAUSD officials insisted that the dramatic rise was due to changes in the way the rate is calculated and their own decision not to track students.
More than 16,000 LAUSD high school students dropped out at some point last year. That’s up from 10,700 in 2001-02, according to numbers released by the state Department of Education.
“We can’t compare apples to apples,” district spokeswoman Stephanie Brady said, referring to a new formula adopted to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Still, the LAUSD’s four-year dropout rate of 33.5 percent — up from 22 percent — was about 2 times the state average of 12.9 percent, which one board member called “alarmingly high.”
“It doesn’t matter what the change in procedures, computers or management was, you can still rank the schools best to worst,” board member David Tokofsky said. “The schools that are on the worst end are scarily high.”
Under the new formula, students are considered dropouts if they haven’t attended any classes at all when the state takes its count for the school year in October. Previously, students were considered dropouts only if they missed 45 consecutive days of school.
In addition, Los Angeles Unified leaders said they were hit extra hard because they opted to stop manually verifying whether students left high school to attend an LAUSD adult program. In the past these students would not have been counted as dropouts.
But district officials stopped manually verifying that these students were still in school because they want the work to be done automatically by a $105 million computer system they expect to be in place next year.
“They were doing a manual verification that was abandoned in light of the fact the new system was being installed,” Brady said. “I think they felt that it was time-consuming and not as accurate as they were going to be with the new system.”
Educators say determining an accurate dropout rate is traditionally difficult due to problems in tracking students after they leave a particular school or district.
This year districts across the state are grappling with a new federal formula.
In fact, the dropout numbers issued this year are probably less accurate than last year’s, said Hilary McLean, spokeswoman for state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell.
But she said state officials are working on new methods to make the system more accurate. By 2005, O’Connell hopes to have a statewide tracking system in place.
“Neither the system that the state of California used to use nor the system the federal government is requiring us to use now (is) perfect,” McLean said. “And the best way and most accurate way we’ll be able to track the rates of dropouts and graduates is once we implement a unique student identifier for every student.”
LAUSD officials were not surprised by the rise in this year’s dropout rate.
“It’s quite a difference, and we had anticipated that there would be an increase,” said Esther Wong, LAUSD assistant superintendent of planning, assessment and research. “We do anticipate our rate going down next year once we can track them into the adult system.”