Coastside students graduate from high school at a higher rate than the statewide and county average, according to new data from the California Department of Education.
Statewide, 83.2 percent of high school seniors graduated in 2016, a record high and nearly a percentage point higher than the year before, according to data released this week on the Department of Education’s website DataQuest. At Cabrillo Unified School District, the graduation rate was 89.8 percent, with 246 out of 274 in the senior cohort graduating. And La Honda-Pescadero is the only district in the county to report a 100 percent graduation rate, with all 14 seniors graduating.
Countywide, the graduation rate reported was much lower — but county education staff believes that’s due to a data reporting error. The report indicates that only 70 percent of San Mateo County seniors graduated last year, trailed only by Nevada, Mono, and Inyo counties. The year before, San Mateo County’s graduation rate was more than 88 percent.
But the low numbers were skewed by incorrect data reported for Sequoia Union High School District, which showed only a 47.4 percent graduation rate, according to county staff. Allie Jaarsma, a spokeswoman with the San Mateo County Department of Education, said those numbers were incorrect and likely the result of an error on the state’s part. The district requested that the state correct the data, and that error was the only one she was aware of in the data. Excluding Sequoia’s numbers entirely, the countywide graduation rate for the remaining districts in 2016 was 89.9 percent, which would put it among the 15 counties with the highest graduation rates.
For both Coastside districts, the 2016 graduation rates represent a trend upward. In 2015, 87.5 percent of La Honda-Pescadero’s seniors graduated, as did 89.3 percent of Cabrillo’s. In 2010, only 80.7 percent of Cabrillo seniors graduated and 84 percent of La Honda-Pescadero’s did. That year, the countywide average graduation rate was 81.8 percent, and the statewide graduation rate was 74.7 percent.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has attributed the increases to the California Local Control Funding Formula, which targets districts with disadvantaged pupils, like those classified as English learners, low-income, or are foster youth.
But La Honda-Pescadero is a basic aid district, meaning it doesn’t receive state supplemental funding, and Yuster said the LCFF funding increases only incrementally restore schools to the levels they received in the 2007-2008 school year – but not until 2021. “I don’t know of anything in 2021 that will cost me the same as it did in 2007-08,” Yuster said. “I don’t think (Torlakson) has done anything to fund schools the way they should be.”
Instead, Yuster credits district staff and teachers with the increase in graduation rates. “I’m going to brag shamelessly about our outstanding staff and teachers and counseling staff and their efforts and the way they know our kids really has helped keep the kids on track.” She also credits community members who have raised supplemental funds for the district, as well as the district’s college readiness program, alternative high school and credit recovery classes.
And at La Honda-Pescadero, district staff take a longer view of graduation rates, typically a three-year average. “There can be a few years where one or two students don’t complete on time,” said Superintendent Amy Wooliever. “And one student is 5 percent of a class.”
To help students graduate, the district offers an individualized approach, meeting with parents, advising students, and offering credit recovery through online classes and summer school.
But despite California’s increasing numbers, some say they don’t necessarily mean students are better prepared for college. In 2015, the state eliminated the requirement that students pass a standardized exit exam in order to earn a high school diploma. And the California State University system reported that those entering in fall of 2016 were best prepared as they exited high school. That said, only 56 percent of entering freshmen graduated high school college-ready in both English and mathematics.