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Dropout rate for S.S.F. high schools rises slightly

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A total of 36 students dropped out of the South San Francisco Unified School District’s Class of 2006 over its 4-year high school career, the first such class to be followed under new state statistical guidelines.

The effort to track a single class from ninth to 12th grade is part of an ongoing push to improve data collection methods on dropouts, which now lets some students fall through the cracks. Officials hope to eventually be able to track each student individually no matter where they move within the system.

In 2002, there were 849 freshmen in the district, and 583 graduated in 2006, meaning 266 students transferred, moved away or dropped out of high school. Thirty-six of those students, as determined by the National Center for Educational Statistics’s guidelines, were dropouts, 29 of them quitting junior and senior years. The 4.84 percent dropout rate is in line with state Department of Education estimates showing a steady increase in dropouts but still lower than rates for San Mateo County and the state.

Current methods rely heavily on tracking bureaucratic steps by staff and parents, such as requesting records and then submitting them when a family moves away to a new district.

“What happens is kids leave the school district, and we don’t know what happens to them,” Board Member Shirlee Hoch said. Hoch said the slight increase in drop out rates reflected in the current statistics was “nothing alarming.”

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Since the 2002-2003 school year the state has used definitions of dropouts and graduation rates determined by the National Center for Educational Statistics. Christine Baumgardner, the district’s supervisor of research and testing, said the current methods get “pretty close to the truth,” her confidence is not shared by the California Department of Education.

“We had to comply with federal law, but we really won’t be totally accurate until we actually count heads,” said , a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Education.

Many educational officials are waiting for the Unique Student Identifier program to begin in 2008-2009 when each student, assigned a specific number, can be tracked whether in public or private school.

dsmith@examiner.com

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