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High school dropout rate climbs to 34.9%

May 13, 2009 |  7:19 am

The high school dropout rate improved slightly in California last year but rose in Los Angeles, where more than one-third of students are officially classified as dropouts, state officials said Tuesday.

Statewide, 68.3% of students graduated and 20.1% dropped out, according to data released by the state Department of Education. For the Los Angeles Unified School District, the dropout rate was 34.9%. Although the state dropout rate was down 1 percentage point from the previous year, the Los Angeles Unified rate was up by more than 3 percentage points.

The dropout rate is an estimate of how many students began ninth grade four years earlier and failed to graduate last spring. The dropout rate and graduation rate do not add up to 100% because they don't count students who get high school equivalency degrees, are still in school after four years or die.

Critics of the way the state calculates the dropout rate say it significantly understates the problem by, among other things, not counting students who transfer to private schools and then drop out. It also excludes the students -- more than 10,000 in California last year -- who drop out of middle school. State officials said they would begin including middle school students in the dropout rate next year.

Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said that although he was encouraged by the slight progress statewide, the dropout rate remained "unacceptably high" and was "alarmingly high" among African American and Latino students.

-- Mitchell Landsberg