California’s graduation rate tops 80% for the first time

Graduates exult at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual & Performing Arts in Los Angeles. The high school graduation rate in California has topped 80% for the first time in state history, officials announced Monday.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

The high school graduation rate in California has topped 80% for the first time in state history, officials announced Monday.

While disparities remain based on students’ racial, socioeconomic and English-language skills, strides in the state’s graduation and dropout rates mirror trends nationwide, where graduation rates also surpassed 80%.

Overall, the state dropout rate declined by 1.5 percentage points to 11.6% for the class of 2013, when compared with the class of 2012.

The state’s minority students continued to make some gains in graduation rates. For Latinos, the improvement was 1.7 percentage points; for African Americans, it was 1.9.


Among students learning English, 62.7% graduated with their class, a 0.7% increase. Yet 21.9% of limited English speakers dropped out of school, a decrease of 1.6 percentage points.

This year’s release is the fourth annual report compiled under a new system that tracks individual students from the time they enter high school in ninth grade.

The positive momentum should continue as the state transitions to a funding system that allocates more money to schools with disadvantaged students, said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a conference call with reporters.

“They’re some good news, but there’s a lot of work to do in front of us,” he said. “We can — we must do better to help all our students graduate.”

The Los Angeles Unified School District, the nation’s second-largest, experienced similar gains, with a graduation rate of 67.9%, up 1.4 percentage points from 2012.

For Latinos, the improvement was 1.2 percentage points to 67.2%. For African Americans, it was 2.8 percentage points to 63.7%.

The district’s dropout rate was 17.3%, down 3 percentage points. For Latinos, the dropout rate decreased by 2.9 percentage points to 17.2%; for African Americans, the dropout rate fell 3.9 points to 20.8%.

L.A. schools chief John Deasy said he was particularly pleased with the results considering that teachers and staff worked through devastating cuts in state funding while the graduates were in school.


“These results came at the absolute bottom of all the cuts and we still saw improvement,” Deasy said.

Deasy attributed the gains to the work of teachers and staff, as well as an effort to steer funding to schools that struggled and investments made in programs geared toward dropout recovery and prevention. The students also benefited from the district’s move last year to ban suspensions over “willful defiance,” which has disproportionately affected minority students, he said.

“Considering all the challenges we have in L.A., I’m very pleased and proud,” Deasy said.

Nationwide, the overall graduation rate has improved from 73% to 81% since 2006, according to the National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education.


Should that rapid improvement continue, the national rate could surpass 90% by 2020, officials said.

But figures were lower for minority students across the U.S. Seventy-six percent of Latino students and 68% of African American students graduated.

“We have to be honest that this is a matter of equity and that we have to change the opportunity equation,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Monday. “All of America’s children are our children.”

Recent improvements in the national high school graduation rate -- which has risen eight percentage points in six years -- have been driven by the closure of so-called dropout factories, typically high-minority schools that graduate fewer than than 60% of students. In 2002, those schools enrolled almost half of all African American students but by 2012, that number dropped to only 23%.


The results underscore the need for more federal funding to ensure that all students are provided with the same opportunities, said Daniel J. Losen, director of the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.

“We still have many school districts where it looks like apartheid in America,” he said. “It’s going to require more than the contributions of the private sector and the competitive grants of the federal government.”

Times staff writer Lalita Clozel contributed to this report.


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