About 55% of Latino students do not earn a high school degree and half of black students will not graduate in California
Though the high school exit exam emerged as one of the most controversial topics in California schools this spring, researchers are pointing to what they call a much greater problem nationwide: Dropout rates.
Nearly a third of students in California and across the country walk away from high school without a diploma, according to a new report published by Education Week. That dwarfs the 2 to 5 percent who failed to graduate this year statewide because they failed the exit exam.
Lacking a diploma, dropouts are more likely to end up jobless, on welfare or behind bars. "When you look at the prospects right now for young adults who don't have a high school diploma, they're incredibly bleak," said Lynn Olson, a managing editor at Education Week, which features the report in Thursday's edition.
The study also highlights the disparity between graduation rates among different ethnic groups. About 55 percent of Latino students do not earn a high school degree, according to the study, and half of black students will not graduate. In contrast, 77 percent of white students graduate.
"The black-white graduation rate gap is 25 percent. That's something that's very striking," said the study's author, Christopher Swanson, director of Education Week's research center.
His work represents one piece of a larger debate over calculating dropouts rates, which some researchers say have been underreported for decades.
Districts and states use different formulas to explain how many students remain in school and how many leave without a diploma. Some states report dropouts as the number of students who leave senior year. However 35 percent of dropouts quit the first year of high school, the study shows.
Many states figure their graduation rate using this erroneous number of dropouts. As a result, state graduation rates tend to be artificially inflated, Swanson said.
In his study, Swanson found that California awarded diplomas to 71 percent of students in 2002-03. However, California reported the rate that year as 87 percent.
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