Berkeley Unified School District graduation rate beats state average

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Recently released state numbers on high school graduation rates show Berkeley Unified School District not only following statewide improvements but also beating the state average.

The numbers, which were released April 9, show that the statewide average high school graduation rate went up to 78.5 percent, according to the California Department of Education DataQuest. The Berkeley district, on the other hand, saw growth from 79.6 percent to 82.9 percent.

District spokesperson Mark Coplan attributed the district’s success to both Measure A for the Berkeley Schools Excellence Program and the 2020 Vision project. Measure A provided $23 million in funds to the district during the 2011-12 school year. 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth is a communitywide effort started in 2010 to end disparities in academic achievement among youth.

Measure A, which was approved in 2006, has provided smaller class sizes, expansion of course offerings, improved counseling services and other educational resources, according to the school district’s website.

“What we’ve included (through Measure A) that we haven’t in previous years was data collection and analysis and professional development,” Coplan said. “The data collection and analysis portion of it is huge because when you’re dealing with data and dealing with facts, it’s a lot easier to find the solutions.”

Nonetheless, though graduation numbers for the school have improved overall, the achievement gap remains a pertinent issue. According to the same state data, the graduation rate increased from 75 percent to 81.6 percent among Hispanic students, from 85.5 percent to 88.6 percent among Asian students, from 72.7 percent to 74.5 percent among black students and from 87.7 percent to 89.8 percent among white students. To that end, 2020 Vision has been involved extensively in addressing this achievement gap, Coplan said.

“The primary goal of the 2020 Vision is to give all students, by the year 2020, exactly the same opportunity when they cross the stage for graduation,” Coplan said. “We want to make sure that all students have all of the tools that they need to get into a four-year university, a technical-career education or a two-year community college.”

Berkeley Alliance, the convening agency for 2020 Vision, began pioneering a host of programs in 2011, including a forum of communication between pre-K and kindergarten educators and families, collaborative programs aimed at reducing truancy and an expanded literacy component to city recreation programs, said Karen Hemphill, president of the district school board.

Despite continuous improvement in graduation rates, Hemphill emphasizes that these rates are only one measure of a community’s success in educating youth.

“I’m glad to hear that graduation rates are up, but for me, real high school success would be based on two years after high school graduation,” Hemphill said. “The real success of high school graduation is that we are prepared to succeed as adults.”

Contact Yvonne Ng at [email protected].