The number of San Luis Obispo County students who are graduating from high school continues to increase each year, as dropout rates decline.
A report released Monday by the California Department of Education shows that nearly all school districts in the county improved their graduation rates last school year compared with the prior year.
In all, 88.5 percent of county students who started high school in 2009-10 graduated with their peers in 2013 — up from 87.6 percent the year before.
The countywide dropout rate also slightly decreased to 7 percent from 7.7 percent the year before.
The improvement in both categories mimics a statewide trend. For the fourth year in a row, California’s graduation rate grew as the dropout rate fell.
Statewide 80.2 percent of students graduated with their class last year, up 1.3 percent from the prior year. At the same time, the statewide dropout rate dropped to 11.6 percent, down 1.5 percentage points from the prior year before.
“For the first time in our state’s history, more than 80 percent of our students are graduating — a clear sign of their hard work and the support they receive from their teachers, families and communities,” said Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a news release.
Locally, the number of students graduating grew at all of the county’s school districts except for two of the smallest ones.
The graduation rate at Coast Unified School District dropped to 91.9 percent in 2013 from 95.9 percent the prior year, and Shandon Joint Unified School District fell to 88 percent from 96 percent.
However, both districts have such small numbers of high school seniors – less than 100 students – that small changes have a large impact on the overall graduation rate. For example, Shandon High School had only 25 seniors last year and all but three graduated.
Atascadero Unified School District showed the largest improvement. In that district, 96.2 percent seniors graduated with their class in 2013, compared to 93.8 percent the previous year.
Atascadero High School Principal E.J. Rossi said that, despite past years of budget cuts, the school has made a concerted effort to ensure that students have access to courses not only to prepare them for college but also to complete high school.
Courses once typically offered during the summer or after school to help struggling students gain needed credits are now woven into the regular school day, said Rossi.
The high school is also offering alternative ways to attend classes such as online or through independent study.
“In each core department, teachers work on creating different access to classes to students to take at their own pace in order to make up lost credits,” Rossi said.
The high school also works closely with Del Rio Continuation High School in Atascadero to make sure that students there have the access they need, he said.
In San Luis Obispo County, the graduation rate for minority students continues to lag behind the overall graduation rate. The graduation rate for Hispanic students was 81.7 percent last year, up slightly from 80.2 percent the prior year. By comparison, 92.8 percent of white students graduated with their class last year.
”The gap between English learners and general population students is always a concern,” said Pam Ables, assistant superintendent of educational support services for the county Office of Education. “The districts’ results mirror what we know. The higher poverty and English language learners (in) the student population, the lower the graduation rates.”