New system lets California track dropout rates

August 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
About 75 percent of California's high school seniors graduated in 2010. That information is available for the first time, thanks to the state's new tracking system.

For the first time, California tracked students during their entire four-year high school career and found the dropout rate at 18.2 percent. Put another way, 94,000 teens were out on the streets without a diploma.

A group of skateboarders that spoke with ABC30 are still in school, but understand why the number is so high. They find school boring.

"I had a teacher that had a really boring voice so I'd always fall asleep in that class," ninth grader Mason Peterson said. "Looking back on it now, I regret it because my scores were horrible."

School leaders know the key to lowering the dropout rate is to raise attendance. Study after study shows that helps, even targeting students as young as kindergartners.

"Seventeen percent of those students who should be in kindergarten are chronically absent," Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. "They're missing 20 days of school a year and they're getting behind at the very start of their educational career."

But after years of budget cuts to public education, schools find it difficult to find the resources to get kids to school, whether there's money for transportation, or a staffer to call parents to follow up on the absence, or even summer school to catch students up.

"If you read all the studies on education, the kids that attend school get th ebest grades," San Francisco school superintendent Carlos Garcia said. " It's not because they're smarter than anyone else, but we can't educate children unless they're there."

Another alarming statistic from the new data finds that the dropout rates for African Americans and English language learners are around 31 percent, much higher than the staewide average.

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