Region : Dropout Rate Falls Sharply

Aggressive follow-up of students leaving the school system has enabled the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District to register a sharp decline in its dropout rate over the last three years, school officials said this week.

Last year’s graduating class in the district had a dropout rate of 19.6%, compared to 41% for the class of 1986, according to a report released this week by the state Department of Education. But school officials said the two percentages were not directly comparable.

The 1986 figure substantially overstated the true dropout rate, they said, because the district made little effort to find out whether students who left Santa Monica-Malibu schools enrolled elsewhere.

The 1989 figure is much lower, Santa Monica High School Principal Nardy Samuels said, because “we have actively pursued where these people go. When they don’t tell us, we get on the phone and find out.


“We get zinged on dropout rates,” Samuels said. “A high dropout rate looks bad.”

The state figures the dropout rate according to how many students entered 10th grade and left high school without a diploma or its equivalent by the end of 12th grade. A school has 45 days to account for a student who has left its campus. If it cannot, it must count the student as a dropout.

Youths who leave Santa Monica High School and transfer to the district’s Olympic Continuation High School are not classified as dropouts, Samuels said. Olympic has about 200 students; Santa Monica High has about 2,600.

The other two public school districts on the Westside had much smaller changes in dropout rates, according to the state report.

In Culver City, the dropout rate was 9.7% for the class of 1989, down from 12.4% for the class of 1986.

In the Beverly Hills Unified School District, the rate increased slightly, from 6.1% for the class of 1986 to 8.9% for the class of 1989.

The Los Angeles Unified School District had a dropout rate of 34.9% for last year’s class. Statewide, the dropout rate for 1989 was 20.4%.