Merced County continues to far outpace the state in graduation rates, numbers released Monday by the California Department of Education show.
As the state touts having 8 in 10 freshmen march across the stage four years later, Merced districts have 9 in 10 graduating on time. Even including high-needs student groups served by the Merced County Office of Education, the county graduates 84 percent of its students in four years.
Highest performing was the sprawling Merced Union High School district, with a 92 percent graduation rate for 2013. The rate is 10 points up from 2010, the first year the state tracked a high school class through all four years, but a 1 percent slip from 2012.
“That’s of course not what you want to see, but when you’re up where we are it’s going to drop a little,” Superintendent Scott Scambray said by phone Monday.
He credited a system that puts students first. “(Classes are) interesting. They’re relevant. And student involvement is part of that. Sports, band, theater, FFA, whatever it is, the dropout rate is almost nil, teenage pregnancy is zero. Even in challenging times, we don’t cut those,” said Scambray.
He credited student involvement and classes that engage students for high attendance – 95 percent – which in turn improves academic achievement, which in turn lowers behavior problems.
“The numbers of suspensions and expulsions, we’ve cut in half,” Scambray said. The change, reflected across all ethnicities, has come over the past two years, he said. “We have some new programs and we’ve raised expectations.”
Although district numbers across Merced County were high, the individual high schools did even better. District numbers include struggling students sent to alternative education programs and continuation high schools, who typically do not graduate at as high a rate.
Hilmar High topped the county with a near-perfect 99 percent graduation rate in 2013.
Dos Palos, Delhi, Golden Valley, Livingston and both Los Banos high schools posted 95 percent of their students graduating on time.
Mariposa High had an enviable 97 percent graduation rate.
Also posted Monday were rates at which seniors graduated with all the requirements met to attend California State University and University of California campuses. Buhach Colony High led the county with 41 percent of its students topping that bar. Los Banos High and Livingston High came in close behind.
For the fourth year in a row, California’s graduation rate climbed as the dropout rate fell, particularly for students of color, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced Monday.
“For the first time in our state’s history, 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,” Torlakson said. “We are continuing toward our goal of graduating 100 percent of our students with the skills and knowledge they will need to succeed.”
Graduation rates among black and Latino students climbed faster than the statewide average, although the rates remained lower overall. Among black students, 67.9 percent graduated with their class in 2013, up 2 percent from the year before. Among Latinos, 75 percent graduated with their class, also up 2 percent from 2012.
Dropout rates dropped in concert with the rise in graduation rates, though there are still students who do not fall into either group. Some are staying an extra semester or year to finish up, or are special-education students staying extra years or completing studies without a diploma.