Graduation rates declined and dropouts rates increased last year for the Gilroy Unified School District, which is ramping up efforts to support and monitor at-risk students in danger of not getting their diploma.
Approximately 126 GUSD students out of 3,393 in grades 9-12 dropped out of school in 2010-11, according to the California Department of Education. That’s up by 16 students since 2009-10.
GUSD is tied with Morgan Hill Unified School District at 14.6 percent for the third highest dropout rate out of 11 high schools and school districts countywide; up 1.7 percent from last year.
The slight increase in dropout rates, coupled with a 3.7 percent decrease in graduation rates, is “basically your direct correlation there,” explained Kermit Schrock, GUSD program administrator for student assessment and data management.
Gilroy is also tied with East Side Union High in San Jose for the lowest graduation rate of 76.9 percent.
The dropout and graduation data is generated by a relatively new formula called the four-year adjusted cohort, which the California Department of Education instituted two years ago. Each cohort begins with a group of incoming ninth-graders and is subsequently adjusted during the four-year high school career, taking into account students who transfer in or out, emigrate to another country or die during that four-year period.
The cohort formula essentially holds school districts accountable for tracking every single student. Any pupil who is classified as a “dropout” will influence the overall cohort graduation/dropout rates.
“Say you have a group of 600 ninth-graders in the school or district, and later you graduate 400 seniors,” said Schrock. “What happened to those 200 kids? That’s what the state is trying to hold us accountable for.”
Superintendent Debbie Flores expects GUSD will see its annual one-year dropout rate dip consecutively in the next three years to somewhere around 2.5 percent. Controlling the one-year dropout rate ultimately generates better a four-year adjusted cohort rate, she explained.
At individual school sites, Gilroy High School is showing steady strides in the right direction. Approximately 11.3 percent of students in the 2009-2010 cohort dropped out before graduation – down 0.3 percent from last year. The graduation rate is nearly consistent, rising 0.1 percent.
Mt. Madonna Continuation High School saw a 1.7 percent increase in dropouts and a 3.7 percent decrease in graduation rates.
The Dr. T.J. Owens Gilroy Early College Academy known as GECA, a smaller high school of about 260 students located on the Gavilan College Campus, had one dropout. GECA’s 2010-11 dropout and graduation rates are 7.1 percent and 89.3 percent.
There is no cohort data available for Christopher High School, which opened in 2009. Out of 1,004 students, seven dropped out of school last year.
Things are looking more positive when studying GUSD’s annual dropout data on a year-by-year basis.
GUSD’s 3.7 percent annual dropout rate – while increasing slightly from 2009-10 – is actually lower than the county and state by 0.5 and 0.6 percent.
In fact, with the exception of 2008-09, GUSD’s overall district dropout rate has been better than the state and county for the last four years.
Superintendent Flores sees that as a plus.
“I think that’s good news for us,” said Flores. “To compare favorably to the county is an accomplishment.”
She also underlines GUSD’s most recent 14.6 percent four-year dropout rate as “kind of a fluke,” because it includes the unusually high annual dropout rate of 5.9 percent from the 2008-2009 school year. That’s when the state first implemented its new cohort data method. GUSD was still adjusting to the new system, and, as a result, some students who weren’t actually dropouts were inaccurately lumped into the final figure. GUSD attempted to file a data change with the California Department of Education, but the organization wouldn’t allow it.
“It doesn’t really reflect our actual dropout rate that year,” Flores maintains. “I don’t believe that’s true.”
Schrock agrees: “That was an anomaly year.”
“The positive thing is that we’re well below the county and state averages of the dropout rate,” he said. “If we can keep our one year dropout rate low, our overall cohort rate should reflect that. That’s the kind of thing we can control.”
GUSD has been doing exactly that.
The district in recent years has implemented a number of intensive preventative and intervention strategies focused on keeping students in school, as well as strengthening practices for the monitoring and reporting of Gilroy students who transfer to another district. That way, they’re accounted for and won’t be considered “dropouts.”
GUSD also added a new online summer course offering through its Advanced Path Academy, in addition to a bridge class that provides transitional classes into high school for eighth-graders with low academic performance.
Principals and district staff recently hammered out new protocol that assigns a designated GUSD staffer to a particular student who is in danger of not graduating, or dropping out. That staffer is responsible for follow-up communications and checking in with the student to make sure he or she hasn’t “fallen through the cracks” said Flores.
There are 110 students in the 2010-11 cohort who are being monitored very carefully, she said.
School Board trustee Jaime Rosso feels the increased oversight efforts put GUSD “on the right track.”
“I think we’re doing more than most districts,” he said. “We really offer a lot.”
Like Schrock and Flores, he agrees 2008-09 was “a blip year.”
His bigger concern is the potential impact of state budget cuts to GUSD’s academic progress. Should the district continue to weather more funding cuts – teachers are already taking 10 unpaid furlough days this year – “we may end up going backwards,” said Rosso. “I’m really concerned about that. There’s a delayed ripple effect.”
Data shows that Hispanic and Latino students are dropping out of high school at a higher rate than other ethnic groups in Santa Clara County – a trend that is consistent at GUSD. The Hispanic subgroup dropout rate last year was 18.7 percent, 25.1 percent and 17.7 percent for GUSD, the county and state.
“Our goal is to keep doing everything we’re doing and do an even better job, and see the dropout rate slowly drop,” Flores explained. “I’m really pleased our rate continues to be below the county and state averages. It shows our attempts are working.”
*Figures are generated using a formula that tracks a group of incoming ninth-graders and follows them through their high school career. Data is subsequently adjusted during that time, taking into account students who transfer in or out, emigrate to another country or die during that four-year period. The remaining percentages consist of students who return for a fifth year, or are confirmed to be enrolled in GUSD’s Adult Education Program.
• State: 14.4 percent (dropout), 76.3 percent (graduation)
• County: 14.3 percent (dropout), 79.9 percent (graduation)
• District: 14.6 percent (dropout), 76.9 percent (graduation)
• Gilroy High School: 11.3 percent (dropout), 84.3 percent (graduation)
• GECA: 7.1 percent (dropout), 89.3 percent (graduation)
• Mt. Madonna Continuation High School: 14.6 percent (dropout), 76.9 percent (graduation)
• Hispanic or Latino of any race: 18.7 percent (dropout), 71.2 percent (graduation)