Boost in High School Test Scores Doesn't Help Dropouts

A few days ago, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson proudly announced that nearly 95 percent of those taking the high school exit exam passed, eclipsing last year's record.

He also pointed out that Latino and African-American minorities were closing the gap with Whites.

Californians should feel good that the rate of high school students who pass the exit exam has crept up in recent years.

But at the same time we need to remember that the boost reflects improvements only among the group of students hoping to graduate, not those who have already left.

In other words, we're dealing with the cream of the education crop.

California Department of Education data compiled by suggests that we're a long way from achieving parity with respect to those who drop out of high school before getting anywhere near the exit exam.

Among white students, 14.1 dropped out during the four-year high school period. Only Asian Americans did better, with a dropout rate of 9.6 percent.

But the stories are considerably different for other ethnic groups. African Americans had a dropout rate of 36.8 percent this past year. Native Americans were at 30.0 percent, Latinos at 26.7 percent, and Pacific Islanders at 25.4 percent.

Simply put, Asian Americans notwithstanding, nonwhites are still about twice as likely to drop out of high school as Whites.

Perhaps even more significantly, the numbers haven't changed more than a fraction of a percent for any group when viewed against the results of 2006, five years ago.

As nonwhites become the largest part of the K-12 public education population (they now approach 60 percent), the importance of the disparities will only grow.

Until we reduce these these unacceptably high rates of attrition, any successes by those who graduate will pale in comparison, for the real costs to society and our economy come from those who leave.

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