California’s public high school graduation rate reached a record high of 83.2 percent for the class of 2016, as announced April 11 in a press release by the California Department of Education.
California’s graduation rate has increased continuously over the past seven years. The Berkeley Unified School District’s graduation rates have also increased during that time, continuously staying ahead of California’s rate and reaching 87.2 percent in 2016.
California Department of Education spokesperson Peter Tira said there are several reasons for the increase in California’s graduation rate, including more funding for schools, an increase in professional learning courses and more classes in art, music, drama and science.
“There is a lot of good momentum in the public schools system right now, and … it’s reflected in the graduation rates,” Tira said.
The largest increases in graduation rates have occurred among English learners, Black students and Latinx students, according to the California Department of Education’s press release. The data shows, however, that the rates for these groups are still lower than those of white students.
At Berkeley High School, the gap between white and Black students and between white and Latinx students has been steadily decreasing, said Dave Stevens, teacher on special assignment at BUSD’s data and research department.
According to Tira, graduation rates have particularly increased at schools with career technical education programs, which provide hands-on learning in areas such as woodworking, film-making and medicine.
Counseling for students, restorative justice programs and other alternatives to suspending and expelling students also contributed higher graduation rates, Tira said.
For BUSD, it is a “key priority” to increase graduation rates, said BUSD spokesperson Charles Burress in an email. Burress added that BUSD’s increasing graduation rates is included in the Local Control and Accountability Plan — the local counterpart to a state funding formula, which aims to provide better opportunities for underperforming students.
“We are pleased to see the success that’s been achieved, but at the same time, we recognize that more needs to be done,” Burress said in his email.
BUSD’s efforts to increase graduation rates include the creation of smaller learning communities at Berkeley High School through California Partnership Academies, or CPAs, and programs to support higher-need students, Stevens said.
Bruce Fuller, campus professor at the Graduate School of Education, said in an email that the pressure to raise graduation rates may lead to rising graduation rates without the accompaniment of gains in student learning.
“Winning a high school diploma helps some in the post-industrial labor market,” Fuller said in his email. “But recent (upticks) in grad rates may not (mean) students are leaving high school know(ing) more, being more agile on the job.”
According to Stevens, having a high school diploma can help students receive college scholarships, student loans, apprenticeships and better employment opportunities.
Apart from graduation rates, BUSD also looks at students’ progress on the Common Core State Standard, their post-secondary eligibility and how they perform in college, Stevens said.
“Graduation is but one indicator of a (student’s) readiness for college and/or career,” Stevens said in an email.