New state education data shows changes in dropout rates

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State education officials released updated dropout data this week. Dropout rates rose at some school districts and fell at others. KPCC’s Adolfo Guzman-Lopez reports that the rates may not be the most accurate indicator of a school district’s success or failure at graduating students.

It’s the second year California’s tracking, in one electronic file, the reasons students stop showing up to school. The file indicates, for example, whether a student moved out of the district or graduated. Donna Rothenbaum, who monitors dropout data for California’s Department of Education, says it’s a more accurate method than head counts at the beginning or end of the academic year.

"The records exist in their student information systems and they merely push those records up, far more accurate and hopefully easier for districts to do."

School districts submitted corrections to figures released in May and the department produced the final statistics. Los Angeles Unified bragged that its dropout rate was down about five percentage points. School district officials attributed the improvement to better instruction and more attention to at-risk middle school students.

Pasadena Unified’s four-year high school dropout rate jumped to just under 25 percent. What changed in a year? Its chief academic officer, Alice Petrossian, says keeping kids in school isn’t an exact science and faulty school district data last year didn’t help.

"We didn’t have the infrastructure to collect and maintain the kind of data we needed. Not all schools had the hardware or the software to provide us with the ongoing attendance and truancy information. All of that has been upgraded in the last year or so."

The Pasadena school district’s spent about a million dollars to improve its record keeping. Like many other districts, it’s trying to excite students about learning by showing them how what they learn on any given day can help them land jobs or help reach other goals.