The Kern High School District saw its graduation rates dip for the first time in five years, according to new data from the California Department of Education.
The district graduated 88.6 percent of seniors in 2018, a drop of just under one percent from 89.4 percent the previous year. Despite the decline, the district is still exceeding the county and state average. Countywide, 86.7 percent of seniors graduated, about the same as last year.
The county rate is slightly behind the statewide rate of 87.2 percent of seniors.
“We went down a little bit, but it’s not too significant,” said Roger Sanchez, director of research and planning for the district. “This is just normal flux.”
This year marks the first grad rate decrease the district has seen in five years, according to the data. Since the 2012-13 school year, when 79.6 percent of seniors graduated, the rate has been steadily increasing by a few percent a year.
Sanchez said the district had around 200 more students last year, which may have had an impact on this year’s rates, but said he wasn’t sure.
It should be noted that the grad rate data only counts students who graduate with a diploma in four years, including students who come in after the start of their freshman year.
Since the 2016-17 school year, the data no longer counts students who get their diplomas from an alternative education school nor students who pass the California High School Proficiency Exam and exit school early.
Students who transfer to an adult education program or community college but don’t earn a diploma are still counted, according to the state.
The department said the changes were made in response to an audit conducted by the U.S. Department of Education, the final version of which was released in January. The audit analyzed the grad data from the 2013-14 school year and found it to be significantly flawed.
The audit said that in some cases, students who had transferred to an adult education school and earned a high school diploma were counted as graduates when they shouldn’t have been, therefore inflating the graduation rates.
While rates in the state have been slightly lower the past two years than they would have been if the state hadn’t made the changes, many districts in Kern County have still been improving their rates. Sanchez said the Kern High School District has been making strides to get more students to graduation, such as providing more credit recovery courses for students who are falling behind. He said the district has also started offering zero and eighth period classes for students to catch up.
“if they’re behind, they can do their work before school or after school,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of students take advantage of this.”
While Sanchez said he would like to have seen some growth in the grad rates this year, he doesn’t believe this year’s rates are any cause for alarm.
“There’s no real red flags here,” he said. “We’re going to continue to support the programs and initiatives we have in place. We’re not really concerned at this point.”
Sanchez said the goal is to eventually get to a 90 percent graduation rate in the district. He hopes that can be achieved within the next few years.
“We’re trying to improve our numbers every year as we go forward,” he said.
Out of the major districts, the Delano Joint Union High School District did the best this year, graduating 95.1 percent of seniors, a nearly 2 percent improvement over last year.
Overall, Maricopa Unified School District and Muroc Joint Unified School District tied for the highest rate with 9slig6.3 percent, according to the state. However, it should be noted Maricopa only had a total of 27 seniors and Muroc had 107.
Tehachapi Unified School District had the lowest rate of the major districts with 85 percent. The Kern County Superintendent of Schools had the lowest overall rate with 28 percent, but that is because they largely serve alternative and special education students.