Berkeley Unified School District’s graduation rate increases in line with state numbers

In California, the number of high school graduates in 2013 has topped 80 percent for the first time in the state’s history. Dropout rates also fell for the fourth consecutive year, according to a press release from the California Department of Education on Monday.

In Berkeley Unified School District, the graduation rate for the class of 2013 was about 85 percent, which is about 2 percent higher than last year. From 2012 to 2013, the district’s dropout rate fell from 14.4 percent to 11.6 percent.

For the past four years, graduation rates in the state have continued to increase, and dropout rates have decreased. In 2013, the average graduation and dropout rates were 80.2 percent and 11.6 percent, respectively.

“More than 80 percent of our students are graduating — a clear sign of their hard work and the support they receive from their teachers, families, and communities,” said Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, in the release. “We are continuing toward our goal of graduating 100 percent of our students with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed.”

According to Tina Jung, an information officer at the California Department of Education, the climb in California graduation rates can be attributed to various statewide initiatives  such as campaigns strengthening career and technical education and promoting healthy eating and exercise in schools – implemented in recent years.

In Berkeley’s school district, from 2012 to 2013, the graduation rate for Hispanic students increased from about 82 to 87 percent, while the rate for African Americans increased from about 75 to 81 percent. These exceed the 2013 statewide averages of about 75 and 68 percent for Hispanic and African American students, respectively.

Mark Coplan, a Berkeley Unified School District spokesperson, said Berkeley High School has been working on addressing multiple facets of student needs from individual academic concerns to bolstering attendance.

“The attendance rates just about mirror the graduation rates  we’ve had a huge increase in attendance,” Coplan said.

Berkeley High School appointed a dean of attendance about two years ago and has increased the number of staff members in the attendance office.

To better identify and support students who may struggle academically, Berkeley High School is also using information from Berkeley Unified School District middle schools to target and assess student support interventions at the middle school level.

“Middle school is where we see kids start to fall off,” Coplan said. “If we don’t catch it at middle school, by the time they get to high school, it’s too late.”

In 2010, California joined 44 states and adopted the Common Core State Standards, which are nationwide guidelines designed to improve math and English skills. They describe what students should know and be able to do in different subjects at each grade level.

Various local districts  including Berkeley — are preparing for the standards to be implemented in the 2014-15 school year.

“I think that Common Core is a lot more structured and specific,” Coplan said. “The difference (between Berkeley and other districts) is that a lot of districts haven’t invested the time in staff training and parent training to make it as successful as it seems to be for us.”

Common Core critics have protested the change, describing it as a federal takeover of state education. On April 30, a group of demonstrators rallied at the state capitol.

Jung, however, said the standards do not dictate curriculum but serve as guidelines for objectives across the nation. The state’s old standards have not been updated for 15 years and do not include new technological advancements, she explained.

“It is ultimately the decision of the teacher on what to teach and how to teach it,” Jung said. “Everything that we do is designed to level the playing field for all students.”

Jessie Lau covers campus life. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @jessielau93.