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The things you learn when you tear apart our dropout numbers

Myers’ Musings

Posted: August 23, 2008 7:18 p.m.
Updated: October 25, 2008 5:02 a.m.
Let us return to the topic of dropout rates in the Hart District.

Over the past two weeks I further analyzed the public dropout data from the state Department of Education and spoke to representatives of the Hart district and of Opportunities for Learning, the district alternative high school charter school.

I determined the Hart district accurately reported dropout data based upon the rules of the Education Department.

I also concluded one could legitimately level two criticisms against the Hart district with respect to this benchmark data and any other benchmark data:
n The comparison of Hart district data to L.A. County and state averages rather than comparisons with similar suburban districts
n An inability or unwillingness to truly analyze the numbers to find really useful data

Let me provide more color on my findings. The Department of Education data reveal the Hart district enrolled a total of 17,049 students during 2007-2007. Of this number, the comprehensive high schools (Hart, Valencia, Saugus, Canyon, Golden Valley and West Ranch) enrolled 14,612 students, or 86 percent of the total.

Opportunities for Learning enrolled 1,625 students, or about 9 percent of the total, with the remaining 5 percent distributed among Bowman, Academy of the Canyons, and some smaller charter schools.

The Department of Education took raw dropout and “lost transfer” numbers for the academic year measured (2006-07) and divided this by the total school enrollment to obtain a one-year dropout rate.

The rankings, from lowest to highest:
n West Ranch, 0.3%
n Canyon, 0.7%
n Saugus, 0.9%
n Valencia, 1%
n Hart, 1.4%
n Golden Valley, 2.5%
n OFL, 31.4%
Now from this one-year snapshot the DOE derived a four-year dropout rate. Again, in order:
n Canyon, 3%
n Valencia, 3.5%
n Saugus, 3.7%
n Hart, 5.3%
n Golden Valley, 14%
n OFL, 78.1%

Now math elites will notice the four-year rate does not simply multiply the one-year rate by four. The Department of Education must adjust the four-year projected rate to take into account the fact that a student who drops out his or her freshman year cannot drop out again in the ensuing three years.

A lower-than-four multiplier, like Valencia, indicates a heavier weighting of dropouts in the later years, while a higher-than-four multiplier, like Golden Valley, would indicate heavier weighting in the early years.

The DOE did not derive a four-year weight for West Ranch due to its lack of longevity, but based on the other high schools West Ranch’s four-year rate would stand somewhere between 1 percent to 1.5 percent.
So, one might say, let’s close down Opportunities for Learning and we solve all the dropout problems.

We need to further evaluate the OFL numbers. While OFL receives its charter from the Hart district, it also maintains centers in the Antelope Valley, serving approximately 1,600 students in the SCV and 2,400 in the AV.

It turns out that only 40 percent of the dropouts and lost transfers attributed to OFL actually came from the SCV.

When we normalize the total figures for this new fact, the Hart district rate falls to 8.47 percent, well within comparable ranges of other suburban school districts.

Vicki Engbrecht of the Hart district confirmed the efficacy of this normalized calculation. The inflation of the Hart district drop-out rate to 15.6 percent due to the “sins” of the Antelope Valley I chalk up to the category of “No good deed goes unpunished.”

But more on Opportunities for Learning. OFL, it turns out, actually moves 70 percent of the students it takes in from the SCV to graduation. Remember, these students attended a comprehensive high school before they attended OFL, and without this backstop those students could just drop out completely.

In other words, without OFL, the absolute number of Hart dropouts could rise from a normalized 363 to a total of just under 1,500, raising the Hart dropout rate to more than 34 percent, rivaling that of the Los Angeles Unified School District.

So two more observations, after a complete review of the data:
n  Without the intervention and availability of the OFL charter school, Hart district dropout rates could approach abysmal levels
n  The Hart District deserves “props” for chartering OFL in order to provide educational opportunities for those students who cannot succeed in the traditional comprehensive high school environment

Thus the district admits it cannot solve all the family and demographic ills that plague a certain segment of the school-age population, even though it “costs” the district an inflated drop-out rate due to OFL’s cross-district operations.

And by the way, the spread between the old method of calculating dropouts and the new method, after excluding the Antelope Valley, stands at only 177 basis points; no “cheat” at all.

Tim Myers is executive vice president and chief financial officer of Landscape Development Inc. in Valencia. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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