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Friday, June 9, 2000

LAUSD graduation rate falls to 52%

By Erik Nelson, Staff Writer

High school freshmen in the Los Angeles Unified School District are nearly twice as likely as their peers statewide to drop out of high school before they reach 12th grade, new state figures released Thursday show.

The dropout rate of students in Los Angeles increased from 18.6 percent in 1997-98 to 21.8 percent in 1998-99, the state Department of Education reported. By comparison, California's annual dropout rate was 11.1 percent in 1998-99, the latest year for which data was available.

Interim Superintendent Ramon Cortines attributed the rising trend to tougher academic requirements, inadequate student support and overcrowded schools.

"When you have kids in sardine cans, and you have higher standards and you don't have adequate numbers in counseling and social services, what you do is you set up a system of failure," Cortines said.

Cortines, who will be replaced next month by newly appointed Superintendent Roy Romer, has recommended hiring more counselors and adding dropout-prevention programs, among other measures.

Leaders of a local citizens group pushing to form two new school districts in the San Fernando Valley seized on the data as a further reason to dismantle the LAUSD.

"That's why we want to break up the district. Kids aren't being educated. They're dropping out, they're missing out, and the district's not meeting their needs. It's just too big, plain and simple," said Stephanie Carter, co-chairwoman of the pro-breakup group Finally Restoring Excellence in Education.

In the Valley, many high schools fared better than the district but still trailed the statewide rate. Sylmar High School had the worst dropout rate at 28.3 percent, while the Sherman Oaks Center for Enriched Studies had the best. According to the report, only 1 percent of the school's secondary students drop out between ninth and 12th grades.

"I think that's great," Sherman Oaks Principal Larry Rubin said. He attributed the school's good showing to the "small, close-family-type relationship" enjoyed by students and staffers. The school has 1,750 students enrolled in grades 4 through 12.

The four-year projected dropout rate estimates the percentage of ninth- graders from the 1995-1996 school year who would have dropped out by the end of their senior year in 1998-1999.

State education officials warned that the numbers were estimates only and, without a sophisticated computer tracking system, they would be unable to verify their accuracy.

They said a more reliable measure of school performance is the graduation rate, which compares the number of high school graduates with the number of ninth-graders four years earlier. The graduation rate for LAUSD students was 52 percent in 1998-99, 1 percent lower than the previous year.

The state, however, released only dropout rates for districts and individual schools because shifts in student population can skew graduation rates.

School districts outside Los Angeles performed far better than Los Angeles Unified on dropout rates.

In the Burbank Unified School District, dropout rates fell from 5.6 percent to 3.5 percent.

Glendale's high schools, however, showed an increase in dropout rates, rising from 2.5 percent in 1997-98 to 5.2 percent in 1998-99. Donald Empey, deputy superintendent for the Glendale Unified School District, attributed the jump in dropout rates to fewer dropout-prevention workers.