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Calif. school dropout rate at 18.2 percent, but LAUSD rate falls

August 11, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
A report on high school graduation and dropout rates leads to a call for action to improve the success rate. At the same time, the Los Angeles Unified School District says it is already making progress.

We're talking about a 74-percent statewide graduation rate. We're also talking about 1 in nearly 5 students in California dropping out. It's hard to buck the dropout trend, but it does happen.

For the first time, California tracked students during their entire four-year high school career and found the dropout rate is at 18.2 percent. Put another way: Another 94,000 teens were out on the streets without a diploma.

Some students still in school understand why the number is so high. They find school boring.

"I had a teacher that had a really boring voice. So I'd always fall asleep in that class. But looking back on it now, I regret it because my scores were horrible," said 9th-grader Mason Peterson.

School leaders know the key to lowering the dropout rate is to raise attendance. Multiple studies show that helps, even targeting them as young as kindergarten.

"Seventeen percent of those students who should be in kindergarten are chronically absent," said California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson (D). "They're missing 20 days of school a year and they're getting behind in the very beginning of their educational career."

But after years of budget cuts to public education, schools find it difficult to find the resources to get kids to school, whether there's money for transportation, or a staffer to call parents to follow up on the absence, or even summer school to catch students up.

L.A. Unified, though, saw its dropout rate fall 5 percent with what they had. They intervened early when grades fell during their freshmen or sophomore years and got to know students.

"So that students feel like they are well-known by an adult in the building," said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy. "Anonymity is one of the things that dramatically leads to dropout."

Another alarming statistic from the new data: The dropout rates for African-Americans and English-language learners are about 31 percent, much higher than the statewide average.


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