California 'Huge' drop in graduations
Chronicle Staff Writer

May 8, 2007

Officials challenge researcher's study on exit exam's effects

Graduation rates in school districts across California fell significantly in 2006 -- the same year the state introduced the exit exam as a graduation requirement, a UCLA researcher is reporting.
John Rogers, co-director of an education think tank at UCLA, estimates that as a result of the new test of basic skills, the state's graduation rate fell to 64 percent from an average of 73 percent over the five previous years, a loss of about 50,000 graduates in 2006.
"It's a huge drop-off," giving California one of the lowest graduation rates in the nation, said Rogers of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education & Access.
Relying on data from 194 school districts gathered by the Department of Education in its defense against a lawsuit seeking to overturn the exit exam requirement, Rogers estimated graduation rates for those districts.
In his report, "Constructing Success?" Rogers uses three Bay Area districts to help illustrate falling graduation rates in 2006, compared with the average rate from 2001 to 2005: Oakland, 51 to 37 percent; Mount Diablo, 84 to 76 percent; and San Francisco, 74 to 73 percent.
State education officials immediately took issue with Rogers' figures, saying the graduation rates from last year are not the official numbers -- due out later this week -- and can't be compared with those of prior years.
State educators declined to disclose their 2006 graduation rate before the public announcement due in a few days.
Deb Sigman, testing director with the California Department of Education, said only that "the graduation rate might be higher" than Rogers' statewide estimate of 64 percent.
Rogers said he calculated 2006 graduation rates from the state's lawsuit data, in which school districts told the state how many students they thought had graduated last year. Rogers compared those graduates with the number of students in their class when they were 10th-graders.
He did the same thing for the previous five years, using numbers from the state's Web site.
But the state includes ninth-graders when it calculates graduation rates -- and that difference led to criticism of Rogers' numbers by the group hired by the state Legislature to study the impact of the exit exam on public education.
Using 10th-grade enrollments to compute graduation rates "is an old argument," said Lauress Wise, president of the Human Resources Research Organization. "It ignores students who may take five rather than four years to graduate and leaves open the many reasons, besides the (exit exam), why students do not graduate on time."
Nevertheless, Wise said Rogers is asking the right questions.
Wise and state educators acknowledged the state as yet has no accurate means of measuring graduation rates because so many students come and go.
Rogers' report is being circulated by Public Advocates, Inc., a public interest law firm that unsuccessfully sued the state last year in a separate case to delay implementation of the exit exam.
E-mail Nanette Asimov at
This article appeared on page B - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle