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Just the Facts: District Graduation Measures

Just the Facts: District Graduation Measures
Posted on 02/24/2017

San Diego Unified School District

In May of last year, the San Diego Unified School District reported 92 percent of its students from the Class of 2016 were on track to graduate. The number was significant for three main reasons:

  1. The District recently raised the graduation standards for students, providing students access to the A-G curriculum. The new curriculum improves readiness for the UC/CSU systems, but it also makes graduation more difficult. The fact that 92 percent of all San Diego Unified students were on track to graduate even under the more rigorous standards - is a significant achievement for these young men and women.
  2. Historically, the on-track-to-graduate numbers prepared by the district in May closely mirrored the final graduation rates certified by the state the following year. For example, the on-track rate for 2014 was 89 percent, and the final graduation rate was 89.7 percent. For 2015, the on-track rate was 90 percent, with a final graduation rate of 89.4 percent.
  3. A 92 percent on track to graduate rate would put San Diego Unified students at the top of all students in any large urban district in the state of California.

Despite the importance of the on-track to graduate numbers released last May, the district was clear at the time that those numbers only represented a point-in-time snapshot of graduation results. In other words, although there is a close historical relationship between the May on track to graduate percentage and the final graduation rate, the two are not the same thing.

Also, it is important to understand which students are represented in the following data sets. Based on state procedure, the district tracks and is accountable only for students who attend district-managed schools. The thousands of students who start and finish their high school careers in district-authorized charter schools are not - and never have been - included in our Class of 2016. (Unless they transfer to a district-managed school during their high school careers).

The purpose of this piece is to explain how the on-track-to-graduate number of 92 percent was calculated. We are proud of what our students achieved in 2016, and we believe a complete public understanding of the results is in everyone's interest.

92 percent of students in the San Diego Unified Class of 2016 were on track to graduate in May

This result was calculated by taking the total number of seniors - 5,918 - on track to graduate at the time the report was run in May 2016, and dividing that number by the 6,428 students currently enrolled in the Class of 2016.

The 5,918 students who were on track to graduate in May 2016 were identified based on the number of courses they had left to complete to qualify for graduation, and the amount of time remaining to complete those courses. The number included 432 seniors who were on track to complete their graduation requirements in summer school.

The Class of 2016 - the denominator in the 92 percent equation - changed significantly from 2012, when 8,745 students entered the ninth grade at a district-managed school. Of that original group, only 65 percent - 5,715 students - remained to be counted in May of 2016. While that may seem to be a high attrition rate, it actually mirrors exactly the percentage of San Diego Unified students who left the charter school they entered in 2012 before being counted in May of 2016. In other words, San Diego is a city where people come and go, in part due to our large military population. (Both district and charter exit calculations are based on preliminary information. The state will certify final exit data in spring 2017).

Of the 3,030 students who entered the ninth grade in 2012, but were not counted in the May 2016 roll call for the Class of 2016, preliminary information indicates that:

1,179 Transferred to another school in California 39%
919 Transferred to a charter school in San Diego 30%
552 Left the state or country 18%
177 Graduated early 6%
87 Dropped out 3%
69 Enrolled in Adult Education courses 2%
42 Misc. small categories (student deaths, home school options) 1%
5 Decided to pursue a GED <1%

Just as some students left the district during their high school careers, 713 students were added to the Class of 2016. They may have enrolled in 10th, 11th, or even 12th grade. Some 137 students, or just over 19 percent, transferred to district-managed schools from charter schools in San Diego.

To complete the calculation - 8,745 students entered the Class of 2016 in the ninth grade, 3,030 of them left and 713 new students arrived. This made for a net loss of 2,317 students and an eventual class size of 6,428. Of those 6,428 students, 92 percent - or 5,918 - were on track to graduate as of May 2016.

To summarize, when it comes to calculating the graduation rate for San Diego Unified students, the final say goes to the California Department of Education (CDE). The state typically releases the graduation rate for each class in the spring of the year following their graduation. In the meantime, they review data submitted by the school districts and apply their unique perspective since they alone are able to say, for example, whether a student believed to have arrived in another district actually transferred or dropped out. The final results for the Class of 2016 will likely be released in April or May of 2017.

The San Diego Unified School District runs internal graduation reports for a variety of reasons throughout the year. These reasons range from the mundane - helping schools decide how many certificates to print for graduation ceremonies - to the more serious - tracking our progress towards closing the achievement gap. Not all of these snapshots are designed to support outside analysis. Numbers often fluctuate as students move between categories. Nevertheless, SDUSD shares all of its reporting in the interest of complete transparency.

The May 2016 on track for graduation report was released to the media because of its close historical relationship with the final graduation rate.