Ceres Unified School District saw a slight decrease in graduation rates from the previous year with the Class of 2016, but the school district also significantly exceeded the percentage of students receiving their diplomas throughout both the county and the state - the latter of which has continued to climb for the seventh year in a row.
CUSD saw a 87.8 percent cohort graduation rate for the class of 2016, which was a slight decrease from the 89.3 percent in 2014-15. The newest numbers were an improvement over the 86.8 percent in 2013-14 and 85.4 percent in 2012-13. CUSD surpasses the 2015-16 graduation rate in Stanislaus County, which was 83.8 percent, and California, which was 83.2 percent.
District officials said the decrease was due to a decision to limit the number of voluntary student placements at Community School and pull at-risk students back into the CUSD program. By expanding an Argus/Endeavor High School program for students, students spend more time in school for those in independent study and increased academic rigor. Unfortunately. because the district wanted to provide more support to the students who have traditionally been most at-risk of dropout, the district saw a decrease in the graduation rate.
Whitmore Charter High School had the best showing with a 100 percent graduation rate. The 18 students who started in 2012-13 school year graduated last June.
Central Valley High saw a graduation rate of 96.4 percent with its 384 students starting in 2012-13 and 370 graduating last year. The dropout rate at the school was 2.1 percent.
Ceres High experienced a graduation rate of 92.4 percent, with 338 out of 366 students staying with the program over the four years.
Argus High School, a continuation school, saw a 71.4 percent graduation rate. Argus had 112 freshmen in 2012-13 and ended with 80 graduates, for a dropout rate of 16.1 percent.
"One of the things that I'm most excited about is the fact that the achievement gap between our two largest populations - Latino and white - is zero," said Debbi Bukko, CUSD's Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. "They are both at 88 percent, which is what we want to have happen; we want to see that achievement gap decrease every year."
Bukko said the steady increases over time owe to the fact that the district is making work from pre-school to 12th grade "more and more cohesive every year in terms of students getting the foundational reading and writing and math skills that they need."
"K-8 contributes to what happens in high school as well, without a doubt. We have a very clear focus on instruction in every grade level."
She said junior and senior high staff has become more focused on catching students who are beginning to fall behind early for intervention programs. After school, summer school and adult school programs are in place to help students out.
"Our Learning Director team is really focused on identifying students who are at risk of not meeting the graduation requirements and doing intervention as early as possible," said Bukko.
Special attention is now being given to chronic absenteeism.
"We realize that if we can identify students who are missing school for whatever reason - excused, unexcused, it doesn't matter - if they are missing school we need to do early intervention with the family to get them connected back into school. One of the greatest risk factors for becoming a dropout is feeling like you're invisible. We have community liaisons and our attendance staff do an incredible job of outreach with families to try and catch them early to make sure they're engaged and involved with school."
Although its total was exceeded by some local school districts, California's graduation rate still managed a record high for 2015-16, marking the seventh consecutive year that the rate has increased. The biggest increases were among English learner graduation rates, which rose by 2.7 percentage points, and African American and Latino students, who increased by 1.8 percentage points and 1.5 percentage points, respectively.
Among students who started high school in 2012-13, 83.2 percent graduated with their class in 2016, up 0.9 percent from the year before. This increase means that 4,917 more students received their high school diploma last year than the year before. In addition to the significant increases seen by English learners, African American and Latino students, almost every student subgroup also rose in 2016.
Along with the record rise in the graduation rate, fewer California students dropped out of school. The dropout rate declined from 10.7 percent in 2015 to 9.8 percent in 2016, down 0.9 of a percentage point.
"This is great news for our students and families," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. "Graduation rates have gone up seven years in a row, reflecting renewed optimism and increased investments in our schools that have helped reduce class sizes; bring back classes in music, theater, art, dance and science; and expand career technical education programs that engage our students with hands-on, minds-on learning.
"The increasing rates show that the positive changes in California schools are taking us in the right direction. These changes, which I call the California Way, include teaching more rigorous and relevant academic standards, which provides more local control over spending and more resources to those with the greatest needs," continued Torlakson.
While Torlakson was quick to congratulate the state for continuing to achieve increased graduation rates year after year, he also cautioned that much work remains, especially to narrow the achievement gap between Asian and white students and Latino and African American students.
According to the California Department of Education, the latest statistics show the gap has narrowed. For African-American students, the graduation rate reached a record high of 72.6 percent in 2016, up 1.8 percentage points from the year before and up 12.1 percentage points from 2010. For Hispanic or Latino students, the graduation rate climbed to a record high of 80 percent, up 1.5 percentage points from the year before and up 11.9 percentage points from 2010.
English learners saw a second consecutive year of big increases with the graduation rate reaching 72.1 percent, up 2.7 percent from the previous year and up 15.7 percentage points from the class of 2010.
"We still have a long way to go and need help from everyone - teachers, parents, administrators, and community members - to keep our momentum alive so we can keep improving," said Torlakson.