The state graduation rate for students who started high school in 2006 and graduated in 2010 was 74.4 percent. The graduation and dropout rates were calculated using a new cohort data collection system called the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). The previous formula, called the “National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) completer rate,” overestimated the graduation rate and did not account for transfer students, according to Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The statewide dropout rate was 18.2 percent. While this rate was calculated for high school students grade nine through twelve, a significant number of students actually drop out prior to high school, during the middle school years. In 2008-09, more than 17,000 eighth-grade students dropped out of school before entering ninth-grade. “The new cohort data collection system shines a light on the middle school dropout problem,” said Torlakson. “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. Clearly, we need to invest more in programs designed to keep elementary and middle school students in school.”
The results also showed that there is still a significant achievement gap between Hispanic and African American students and their peers. The graduation rate for Hispanic students was 67.7 percent, while the graduation rate for African American students was 59 percent.
The Inland Empire had mixed results. While Riverside County had a better graduation rate than the state average, San Bernardino County’s graduation rate (57.5 percent) was below the state average. Additionally, their dropout rate (33.7 percent) was higher than Riverside County and the state average. However, Redlands County had better results; Redlands East Valley High for example graduated 95.2 percent and had a dropout rate of 4.2 percent. Principal Darel Hansen attributed much of their schools’ success to efforts to connect students to programs and/or activities outside of school, such as athletics, the arts, or other clubs. Hansen also said: “Data will prove that kids who connect and join things are more successful. That hasn’t changed. When you’re part of a culture or something you enjoy, you’re going to stay.”
Both Hansen and Torlakson’s comments emphasize the need for programs such as Music Changing Lives that encourage involvement in positive after school activities such as art or music. Activities such as these can help kids feel involved in something important, and it is this type of involvement that Hansen suggests can help students be successful in life. Another important factor that can influence students’ success is having access to academic help. Music Changing Lives provides tutoring and in addition, is an incentive program based on GPA. If the student maintains a 2.0 GPA or higher then they receive scholarship for the program. Not only does Music Changing Lives encourage kids to maintain their grades, but it also provides the tutoring to ensure that kids stay caught up in school and get the grades needed to maintain a 2.0 GPA. Another benefit of Music Changing Lives is that it caters to kids ages 8-18. Many after school programs only serve high school students, neglecting the large population of students who are at-risk for dropping out before they reach high school. The inclusive age range at Music Changing Lives helps target the problem early on in a child’s academic career, so that kids are more likely to reach high school and make it to graduation as well.