New CDRP study identifies California districts with better or worse than expected high school graduation rates

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Six Overachieving And Eight Underachieving Districts Identified


The latest report from the California Dropout Research Project (CDRP) identifies California school districts with greater-than-expected or less-than-expected high school graduation rates.  The study used data from the California Department of Education to compare actual graduation rates for 2009-10 to predicted rates based on student demographics.

“The study supports the idea that schools and districts can make a difference in improving student outcomes beyond what students’ backgrounds suggest,” said Russell Rumberger, director of the California Dropout Research Project. 

Most districts’ were within 10 percentage points of their predicted graduation rates, but six districts were more than 10 percentage points above their predicted rates ("overachieving"), and nine districts had graduation rates more than 10 percentage points below their predicted rates ("underachieving"). Only districts with at least 1,000 or more students in grades 9-12 were included in the study.

The overachieving districts were Los Banos, Inglewood, Gateway, Sonoma Valley, Travis, and West Covina. The underachieving districts were Los Angeles, Simi Valley, San Bernardino City, Vallejo Valley, McFarland, Southern Kern, Fullerton Joint Union, and San Lorenzo.  Although this study did not identify the factors that differentiated overachieving from underachieving districts, an earlier CDRP study (Policy Report #6) of overachieving high schools found that districts played a key role in supporting principals, providing discretion over hiring decisions, and allowing autonomy to innovate.

The federal government has invested more than $400 million in California over the past two years to improve low-performing schools through its School Improve Grants (SIG) program. Both Los Angeles and San Bernardino have received a number of these grants.

The study is summarized in a statistical brief, Actual Vs. Predicted High School Graduation Rates for California School Districts, and in an interactive chart showing the actual and predicted graduation rates for all 237 districts in the study. The chart can also be used to compare districts with similar demographics. Lauren Taylor, a graduate student researcher at CDRP, conducted the study and designed the chart.

Districts' actual graduation rates for 2009-10 were compared to the predicted rates based on student demographic factors.  The study used new “cohort” graduation rates released by the California Department of Education in August 2011, which measure the percentage of students who entered ninth grade in the fall of 2006 and graduated within four years.

This study is the latest in a series of reports and briefs on California’s dropout crisis conducted by CDRP, a research program based at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

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Based at the University of California, Santa Barbara, the California Dropout Research Project began in December 2006.  The purpose of the project is to synthesize existing research and undertake new research to inform policymakers and the public about the nature of – and potential solutions to – California’s dropout problem.  The project is directed by Russell W. Rumberger, Vice Provost for Education Partnerships at the University of California Office of the President and Professor of Education at UC Santa Barbara.  Rumberger is author of the new book, Dropping Out:  Why Students Drop Out of High School and What Can be Done About It, published by Harvard University Press (see:> 

CDRP has received funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the James Irvine Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the Walter S. Johnson Foundation. For more information about CDRP, please visit the CDRP website at:  

[Russell Rumberger is available for interviews; contact George Yatchisin at 805 893 5789]