Fresno Unified improves graduation rate, still below state average

The Fresno BeeApril 9, 2013 

Fresno Unified high school graduation rates, the focus of community criticism and impetus for a dropout task force, are continuing to climb, although not all schools had a gain, according to the state Department of Education.

The four-year graduation rate for Fresno Unified reached 74.6% in 2011-12, an increase of 1.2% over the 2010-11 rate of 73.4%.

The district graduation rate "is moving in the right direction," Superintendent Michael Hanson said Tuesday. More students are taking rigorous courses, graduating and enrolling in college, Hanson said.

Check out graduation and dropout rates for high schools in Fresno, Kings, Madera and Tulare counties for the 2011-12 and 2010-11 school years.

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But the district continues to lag behind California's graduation rate and trails other major districts in the Fresno area. Statewide, the graduation rate was 78.5%, an increase of 1.4% from the year before.

The rates were based on four-year cohort information compiled by the California Department of Education and released Tuesday. The department tracked individual students from their freshman through their senior years to calculate the rate.

Other districts in the Valley posted gains or slight losses in graduation rates.

Central Unified's graduation rate was 77.5%, an increase of 4.5%. Superintendent Mike Berg said the district was encouraged to see its rate was closer to the statewide average, and Central continues to "expand and enhance our efforts."

At Sanger Unified, the graduation rate of 94.8% was a 1.2% increase over the year before. Superintendent Marc Johnson said the graduation rate is "a reflection of a 13-year journey." Achieving a high graduation rate isn't the result of what happens in only the 12th grade or even the four years of high school, he said, but of the student's entire kindergarten to 12th-grade experience.

Sanger has improved the graduation rate by "getting better and better at intervening earlier with our kids who are showing signs of struggling," he said.

Clovis Unified's rate declined by 1.1% in 2011-12 to 92.6%, but the district continued to have the highest rate among the largest districts in the central San Joaquin Valley.

Early intervention is key to keeping students on track to graduate, said Carlo Prandini, associate superintendent for school leadership at Clovis Unified.

"Our elementary schools are doing a good job of not letting our students fall behind," he said.

The slight dip in the district's overall graduation rate probably involves a handful of students at Clovis East and Clovis High, which saw declines, he said. The district also has about 400 students in a new online-charter school, many of whom were failing elsewhere and come from areas outside the district for the alternative education, he said.

At Visalia Unified, the graduation rate jumped from 84.3% in 2010-11 to 87.3% in 2011-12.

Area Superintendent Todd Oto said the rate went up because teachers and staff are creating for students "a place where people want me and where I can be successful. We want strong relationships between kids and schools."

Better attendance and a downward trend in discipline problems is also helping, he said.

At Fresno Unified, attendance and discipline also are part of the district's efforts to reduce dropouts and improve grad rates, Hanson said. Graduation and dropout rates have been the focus of community debate and led to the formation of a graduation task force last year.

Also, the district's focus on increasing preschool enrollment will improve graduation rates in the future, he said. The district is spending $7.4 million to double the number of preschoolers.

And with the state budgeting more for education, the district can consider redesigning programs, such as career-technical education and alternative education, Hanson said.

Fresno Unified also must focus on raising graduation rates for subgroups of students, including Hispanics, Hanson said. Their graduation rate declined slightly to 71.1% in 2011-12 from 71.5%.

Fresno Unified has seen improvement in graduation rates for African-American students and white students. Last year, 70.7% of African-American students graduated, up from 66.9% in 2010-11. The rate for white students increased to 82.5% from 76.4%.

Graduation rates at individual high schools also showed an uneven pattern. Three high schools -- Bullard, Edison and Hoover -- had improved rates, with Bullard showing the biggest gain -- from 88.4% to 92%. Fresno High's rate remained almost flat.

But four schools -- Roosevelt, McLane, Duncan and Sunnyside -- had declines.

Hanson said Tuesday afternoon he had yet to speak with principals to determine why the schools had lower graduation rates from the year before. Roosevelt and McLane had decreases of 2% or more, Duncan dropped by 1.8% -- from 97% to 95.2% -- and Sunnyside slipped by less than a percentage point.

"We'll find out how we can get back on track with the graduation rates," he said.

The chart (below) reflects district-wide graduation and dropout rates for 2011-12 and 2010-11.

Source: California Department of Education

Staff writer Lewis Griswold contributed to this report. The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6310, or @beehealthwriter on Twitter.

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