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Fewer California High School Students Dropping Out Statewide

LOS ANGELES (AP) — More California high school students graduated in 2011 and fewer dropped out, with the biggest gains posted by Hispanic, black and English learner students, the state Department of Education said Wednesday.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said he was encouraged by the results, which put California's graduation rate at 76.3 percent, up 1.5 percent from 2010, and dropout rate at 14.4 percent, down by 2.2 percent, from 2010, but noted there was still much room for improvement.

"It's going in the right direction, but it's not where we want it to be," he said during a teleconference with reporters. "We want to be at 85-90 percent."

The difference between graduation and dropout rates is students who are taking longer than four years to earn a diploma, special education students, and students working on equivalency diplomas.

Results for Hispanic, black, English learner and poor students were higher than the overall average, which showed that progress was being made in closing the so-called "achievement gap" in which Asian and white students consistently outperform their counterparts from other ethnic groups, Torlakson said.

Asian students posted the top graduation rate with 90 percent, while black students fared the least well, with 63 percent.

English learners reported the biggest gains — 3.8 percent more graduated, while 4 percent fewer dropped out.

Hispanic students scored a 2.2 percent jump in graduation and 3 percent fewer left school, while 2.3 percent more black students earned a diploma and 2 percent fewer dropped out.

Although the results show an uptick, some said they show that more attention and resources are needed to graduate more black and Hispanic students.

"At the rate California is going, it will take us 13 years to close the graduation gap between Latino and African-American students and their white peers," said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of The Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based education advocacy group.

A number of districts graduate more than 90 percent of Hispanic and black students, showing that it can be done, Ramanathan said.

San Diego Unified Superintendent Bill Kowba attributed his district's gains of approximately 4 percent in the graduation of black and Hispanic students to increased dropout prevention efforts, including pursuing truants, online learning, motivational events and extra counseling.

The state's largest school district, Los Angeles Unified, posted a 4.2 percent drop in its dropout rate, to 20.6 percent, and less than 1 percent decline in its graduation rate, to 61.6 percent.

The dropout numbers are only for high school students. Education officials said a significant number of middle school students never make it to high school, but they do not have those figures.

The report is the second year that the state has tracked a high school class from ninth through 12th grade in an effort to obtain more accurate data on who makes it to graduation and who does not.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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