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CDE Announces 2018 Rates for High School Graduation, Suspension and Chronic Absenteeism

November 30, 2018

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced on November 19 that the high school graduation rates for 2018 remain near an all-time high. Among students who started high school in 2014, 83 percent graduated with their class in 2018, an increase from 82.7 percent from the year before. The state's graduation rate has increased substantially since the class of 2010 posted a 74.7 percent rate.

“Our graduation rates continue to rise, reflecting the passion and dedication by educators over the past eight years to transform our education system with a more equitable funding system, higher academic standards and more emphasis on career technical education,” Torlakson said. “Still, much work needs to be done to make certain all students graduate and to close the continuing achievement gaps between student groups.”

Torlakson also announced that suspension rates declined for the sixth consecutive year while chronic absenteeism rates rose slightly. This valuable information, he said, helps keep educators, parents and the public informed.

“Efforts by the CDE and educators throughout the state to collect data have improved significantly each year, helping our school communities understand what is happening in their schools and guide any policy changes that are needed.”

This is the earliest high school graduation data has ever been released. In prior years, graduation rates were not released until the early spring. The earlier release of data will assist school districts in planning and allow the California Department of Education (CDE) to include the data in the fall release of the California School Dashboard, scheduled for early December.

High School Graduation Rates

Overall, the number of graduates significantly increased from 2017 by over 10,000 for a total of 418,205 students. Starting in 2017, CDE used a different methodology to calculate graduation rates than had been used in previous years.

The 2018 rates for some student groups showed slight percentage point increases when compared to 2017: African American students at 0.2 percentage points, American Indian/Alaska Native students at 2.3 percentage points, Asian students at 0.5 percentage points, English Learners at 0.8 percentage points, Foster Youth at 2.3 percentage points, Latino students at 0.3 percentage points, Migrant Education students at 1.3 percentage points, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged students at 0.8 percentage points and Students with Disabilities at 1.3 percentage points.

But the number of 2018 dropouts totaled 48,453, an increase from 45,052 in 2017, resulting in an increase in the dropout rate from 9.1 to 9.6. Significant disparities still remain between student groups..

“We’re seeing steady gains in key indicators, which tells us we’re moving in the right direction. But on other measures we’re not moving fast enough to meet California’s high expectations for every student,” said State Board of Education President Michael W. Kirst, a Stanford professor emeritus. “To accelerate our progress, the state is investing $80 million this year in strengthening our support to struggling school districts through the Statewide System of Support.”

In California’s high school graduating class for 2018, one out of two graduates, nearly 50 percent, met requirements for admission to either the University of California and or the California State University. This is unchanged from 2017.

Since 2007, there’s been more than a 30 percent increase in high school graduates eligible for UC and more than a 53 percent increase in CSU eligibility.

When alternative schools are excluded from the rates for the class of 2018, traditional public schools, with a rate of 91.7 percent, fare better than charter schools, which have a rate of 84.2 percent. Schools identified as "alternative" include continuation, juvenile court, and county-run special education schools, who serve students at a greater risk of dropping out.

The graduation report shows the number of high school graduates earning a State Seal of Biliteracy, which recognizes graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing one or more languages in addition to English. In 2018, 47,248 graduates earned the State Seal of Biliteracy, up from 44,594 in 2017.

Torlakson, through his Global California 2030 initiative, has called for vastly expanding teaching and learning of world languages and seeks to more than triple the number of students who receive the State Seal of Biliteracy by 2030.

Suspension Rates

The number of students suspended and expelled in California public schools has declined for the sixth year in a row.

The 2017-18 statewide suspension rate of 3.5 percent showed a slight decrease from 3.6 percent in 2016-17. However, there were 18,429 fewer total suspensions and 9,606 fewer students suspended in 2017-18 compared with the prior year. Almost every student group experienced a decrease in suspensions in 2017-18 compared with the prior year.

“We continue to find better ways to address behavior problems, which reduces suspensions and expulsions and keeps more students in class,” said Torlakson, a former science teacher and cross-country coach.

The suspension data collected by the California Department of Education (CDE) are the most detailed and comprehensive statistics in the nation. The information, which covers all the state’s more than 10,000 public schools, identifies schools and districts with high and low rates of suspensions.

Chronic Absenteeism

The 2017-18 statewide chronic absenteeism rate of 11.1 percent increased from 10.8 percent in 2016-17. Similarly, the statewide count of students determined to be chronically absent in 2017-18 was 702,531, an increase from 686,409 in 2016-17.

Almost every student group experienced an increase in chronic absenteeism rates 2017-18 compared with the prior year. As in the prior year, there continue to be student subgroup disparities.

The California Department of Education began collecting statewide chronic absenteeism data last year. Chronic absenteeism is a state indicator included on the California School Dashboard. Torlakson has focused on reducing the state’s chronic absenteeism rates, especially the rates for racial/ethnic groups and other student subgroup populations (such as foster youth).

“There are many reasons a student can fall into a pattern of being chronically absent that are beyond their control such as an illness, watching a younger sibling while a parent works, caregiving for an older relative, or lack of a reliable ride, or convenient bus route to school,” said Torlakson. “When we identify these challenges, we can link students and their families to all appropriate school and community resources.”

A student is considered a chronically absent if he or she is absent 10 percent of the days they were enrolled in a school. Chronic absence is different from truancy, which counts only unexcused absences and indicates a violation of California’s compulsory attendance laws. Average Daily Attendance (ADA) is the average number of students who attend school each day and is used for state funding purposes.

To view state, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates, suspension rates and chronic absenteeism rates, visit the California Department of Education's DataQuest.

Downloadable data files for graduation rates are available on the CDE Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate and Outcome Data web page. The files for suspension and chronic absenteeism can be found on the CDE Suspension Data web page and Chronic Absenteeism Data web page respectively.

Source: California Department of Education

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