Board of Education trustees are finally speaking up about the Morgan Hill Unified School District’s 2011-12 graduation rate, which the California Department of Education reports is the lowest of 12 districts in Santa Clara County at 78.4 percent.
Since contesting the data released April 9, MHUSD Superintendent Wes Smith believes the faulty numbers placing Morgan Hill dead last could be blamed on inaccurate information initially submitted by the district.
Now, as MHUSD wades through the process of re-evaluating its own data, trustees are offering mixed reactions including “concerned” and “alarmed” but also decline to pass judgment until they have more answers. How long that will take is still unclear.
“When CDE published the dropout rate for our district, I was alarmed,” said trustee Amy Porter-Jensen, who immediately contacted Smith about the poor showing. “He notified me that the district believes there may be errors in the data and they are working to verify the numbers.”
She said the board has yet to hear back from the district regarding the accuracy of the numbers, but were told “it may take some time” to provide the correct information.
While the Gilroy Unified School District showed great strides with an 85 percent graduation rate, MHUSD is nearly three percentage points behind the county and a tenth of a point behind the state average. The district’s dropout rate is also high at 17 percent, rising two percentage points from last year and placing second to last in the county, only ahead of Oak Grove’s 19.5 percent.
In an e-mail sent April 12 to School Board trustees, Smith assured “we are working to determine accurate numbers and figure out what went wrong … we will continue to prioritize this until we have answers for you. We anticipate having some answers for you next week.”
The superintendent’s office is still working on those adjusted numbers and should have them finalized by the end of this week, according to Smith’s Executive Secretary Julie Zintsmaster.
According to CDE spokeswoman Tina Jung, the organization has a limited staff and only one employee is designated to work with school districts to correct data discrepancies. Jung said that on average, 10 districts out of the state’s 1,037 contact the CDE per year about the results. She said sometimes it’s about a technical issue, other times it’s related to a data submission error.
“We’d be happy to work with the school district to make any corrections. The door is always open,” said Jung, who confirmed that MHUSD did contact the CDE about the results.
She also pointed out that school districts are required to submit their data by Feb. 6 each year. Districts then have an opportunity to review the findings Dec. 12 before the numbers are made public in April.
MHUSD, she noted, “did not take advantage of that.”
Board President Don Moody, as well as trustees Rick Badillo and Bob Benevento, said they will reserve judgment on MHUSD’s graduation and dropout rates.
“It’s my understanding that we have received flawed results from them in the past, so it’s worth looking into this report further,” said Moody, who added “the only acceptable dropout rate is zero percent.”
Badillo, similarly, maintained that he “can’t react to data that I’m not sure if it’s factual.”
He acknowledged that when he first saw the published rates he was “concerned.”
Porter Jensen added that she isn’t willing “to make an assumption” until she has more answers, “but I am hoping that the data provided by the CDE was significantly inaccurate.”
The dropout and graduation data is generated by a relatively new formula called the four-year adjusted cohort, which the California Department of Education instituted three years ago. Each cohort begins with a group of incoming ninth-graders and is subsequently adjusted during the four-year high school career, taking into account students who transfer in or out, emigrate to another country or die during that four-year period. The cohort formula essentially holds school districts accountable for tracking every single student. Any pupil who is classified as a “dropout” will influence the overall cohort graduation/dropout rates.
Adjusting to this new data system caused issues for the Gilroy Unified School District, which conducted its own investigation after the CDE reported that Gilroy’s dropout rate for the 2008-09 school year was 22 percent for grades 9-12. Administrators found skewed statistics from information incorrectly inputted pertaining to GUSD students who moved out of the state, students who moved out of the country and students who transferred to private schools. This adjusted GUSD’s actual 2008-09 dropout rate to 15.5 percent.
Smith hesitated to say why he felt the data was inaccurate for MHUSD, but offered a few possibilities. For one, district staff failed to keep updated tabs on those students who left the district for differing reasons other than dropping out, according to Smith.
“That’s the one that’s really quite a bit off,” he said, of MHUSD’s dropout rate.
Smith has instructed district staff to contact as many families as possible who had children from the 2011-12 class who are no longer attending MHUSD schools. He said it will take “a little bit of time” to track down those families and correct the dropout numbers. Smith also said that Live Oak High School’s graduates who met the A-G graduation requirements (which a student must have in order to qualify for acceptance into a UC or CSU school) were not submitted.
“It appears that there is some problem on our end,” Smith admitted. “The window is still open for us. We’ll still be able to correct those data points with the CDE throughout the school year.”
The correction process is done entirely by the school district, Jung explained, and won’t be reflected until next year when the rates for the 2012-13 class are reported.
Trustee Claudia Rossi stood by the district and the programs it already has in place to benefit all MHUSD students. Rossi said that when the graduation and dropout rates for the 2012-13 class are released next year, she is optimistic MHUSD will show a marked improvement.
“Our district, I believe, is moving in the right direction,” Rossi said. “As a trustee, whether those numbers are higher or lower, our priority is to achieve a goal that all of our students not only graduate from high school but go beyond high school in continuing their education.”
-Dropout: 9.4 percent
-Graduation: 85 percent
-Dropout: 17 percent
-Graduation: 78.4 percent
-Dropout: 13.2 percent
-Graduation: 81.1 percent
Source: Calif. Dept. of Ed.