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Earlier this year, a federal audit found that California was seriously overcounting its graduates. To get into compliance, the state agreed to fix the way it calculated graduation rates, by not including adult education diplomas as well as making other changes.
Ever since a new countrywide method for tallying graduation rates went into effect in 2011, the U.S. government has been trumpeting rising graduation rates. So have the state of California and San Diego Unified.
But two of these things are not like the other.
Earlier this year, a federal audit found that California was seriously overcounting its graduates. To get into compliance, the state agreed to fix the way it calculated graduation rates, by not including adult education diplomas as well as making other changes. But now, as auditors expected would happen, graduation rates have dropped across the state, in some cases by several points.
Under Superintendent Cindy Marten, San Diego inched its graduation rate for the class of 2016 above 90 percent — a rare feat among urban school districts, which Marten often pointed to as a key measure of her administration’s success.
But under the new formula, the district’s graduation rate is only slightly above the national average. It is 86.6 percent for the class of 2017, but would have been 90.6 percent under the old California formula.
This is how each district in the county fared:
And this is how graduation rates looked for the state’s 10 largest school districts:
Graduation rates are slightly complicated formulas that may not mean exactly what you think they do. Many students who aren’t performing well, for instance, transfer to charter schools as graduation approaches. But San Diego’s graduation rate has been climbing in the last few years. It just hasn’t been as high as officials thought, which is also true of school districts across California.
Here’s how the state had to change its formula to get in line with the rest of the country:
Growth – or decline – in a graduation rate is part of how California evaluates the progress of its many school districts. But the new formula means it will be impossible to compare graduation rates in recent years to the class of 2017. The state is pushing to have graduation rates for the class of 2018 publicly available by December so the metric can be utilized in the state rating system.