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L.A. Unified announces highest-ever graduation rate, again

The Los Angeles Unified School District appears to have once again broken its all-time record, reporting a preliminary graduation rate of 80.2% for the class of 2017.

That’s up 3 percentage points from the year before, part of a rapid uphill climb. From 2015 to 2016, the graduate rate rose 5 percentage points, from 72% to 77%.

Supt. Michelle King told board members that the rate had “topped 80%” at Tuesday’s board meeting. District officials confirmed the number via email.

King has been pushing for 100% graduation since the start of the 2015-16 school year, and the district has committed at least $45 million to efforts including controversial “credit recovery” courses to help students make up classes quickly and graduate on time. Some question the rigor of these courses and whether the students who take them truly are mastering the subject matter.

The board passed a resolution Tuesday that directs the superintendent to gather and publicize data on long-term outcomes for current students. According to the resolution, students in the class of 2016 — the first to experience the district’s credit recovery push — enrolled in college at lower rates than the students before them.

“Data from the National Student Clearinghouse … indicate that in the fall after high school graduation, 27 percent of the District’s Class of 2016 enrolled in a four-year college and another 36 percent enrolled in a two-year college,” the resolution states. That 63% enrollment rate, it notes, is a drop of 2 percentage points from the year before.

Those numbers apply only to the fall directly after high school graduation. Other researchers have looked at how many students enroll in college within a year of graduating high school.

For the last few years, the school district has announced its preliminary graduation rate around the start of the school year, months before official graduation rates are released by the California Department of Education. The state data are considered more accurate.

King said last month that she would not do that this year. “People get very confused. There’s a lot of numbers that go round,” she said. “Once the state gives us the graduation rate, we’ll release it.”

Asked why the district changed course, spokeswoman Barbara Jones said in an email Tuesday that L.A. Unified staff were able to review data including credits from adult school, summer term and community college.

Times staff writer Howard Blume contributed to this report.

Reach Sonali Kohli at Sonali.Kohli@latimes.com or on Twitter @Sonali_Kohli.

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