No diploma for one-third of seniors

On Monday, this page had an editorial about UCLA education Professor John Rogers’ claim that average statewide high school graduation rates fell 10 points to 63 percent during the five years prior to 2006, when seniors first became required to pass the California High School Exit Exam. Being fair, we noted that Rogers’ findings were promptly disputed by state school officials, who charged his report was based on faulty data and that more than 90 percent of the class of 2006 did pass the exit exam.

But now it is official, according to the California Department of Education’s own 2006 graduation statistics. Although Rogers’ numbers were somewhat overestimated, he was dead-on accurate about the disturbing overall trend of falling graduations.

Rogers was just 4 points off in projecting that only 63 percent of the class of 2006 would obtain their high school diplomas. The state’s actual count was 67 percent, meaning that one-third of the students who started ninth grade four years ago either dropped out or did not pass the high school exit exam. This was a 4-point drop from the prior year’s 71 percent graduations.

Rogers also predicted 50,000 fewer students would graduate last year, while the state’s own tally turned out to be only 21,000 fewer grads. But that was still a 10-year low, following discouragingly on the heels of a decade of well-meaning, expensive classroom experiments — reduced class sizes, lessons focused on basic skills testing, more teacher training, etc.

Admittedly everybody agrees that California’s rudimentary student database makes it impossible to get truly accurate graduation statistics. But although the numbers may be somewhat off for individual schools or school districts, the statewide graduation downturn trend seems consistent enough, as seen in the recent independent studies and now confirmed by the Department of Education.

Where there is major disagreement is about what these falling graduations mean. Prof. Rogers and his supporters would argue the spike in dropouts proves the exit exam should be dropped, because it is unfair to low-income ethnic students whose less-funded schools cannot teach effectively.

Apparently proponents of this position believe it is fairer to continue bestowing meaningless diplomas that don’t prove the bearers actually comprehend 10th-grade studies. The Examiner has consistently taken a differing position.

We think these first dismal results of trying to fix the California K-12’s low national rankings prove nothing will improve without bold, outside-the-box efforts that move way beyond the comfort zone of the entrenched educational establishment.

For starters, there should be widespread active modeling of California’s hundreds of successful public schools, some of which have achieved scores 250 points higher than other schools with similarly disadvantaged student bodies. The good examples are right there — we just need to analyze them honestly and copy them effectively.

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