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Dropout Rates Show Some Improvement : Schools: San Marino retained its perfect zero. Levels in 16 other districts declined.


Dropout rates vary from year to year in most school districts throughout California, but in tiny and tony San Marino Unified, things tend to remain the same.

The school district of 2,720 students had a zero dropout rate in 1986, the first year the state Department of Education began keeping such statistics. And according to a state report released this week, San Marino in 1990 still had a zero dropout rate.

It is the lowest dropout rate in Los Angeles County.

"It's no mystery that where you have high parental involvement you have high success," said Jack Rose, San Marino's assistant superintendent for instructional services. "We're a community where 98% of the kids go on to college. We've had four or five students who have left and gone to other places but not actually dropped out. They just don't do that."

San Marino may have maintained the status quo, but many San Gabriel Valley school districts got better. Sixteen of 22 local school districts have improved their dropout rates since 1986.

Leading that trend is Azusa Unified, which slashed its dropout rate from 53.5% to 4.8%--an improvement of 91%--and South Pasadena Unified, which lowered its dropout rate from 20.8% to 1.9%--an improvement of 90.9%.

But the dropout rate rose in five other local districts, including Hacienda La Puente Unified, where it has soared 104.3% in the past four years, growing from 11.5% to 23.5%.

Other problem areas include Walnut Valley, whose dropout rate shot up 89.6%, and Charter Oak Unified, whose dropout rate grew 84%. Officials for those three districts could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Statewide, slight improvements were seen. About one in five youngsters--20.2% of the Class of 1990--failed to complete high school, contrasted with 25% for the Class of 1986. The state measures the dropout rate by seeing how many youngsters who entered the 10th grade left without a diploma or its equivalent at the end of 12th grade. Schools must account for departing students within 45 days or the youth is counted as a dropout.

Los Angeles Unified, whose dropout rate far exceeds the state average, has lowered its dropout rate from 42.7% to 40.9% in the last four years.

There are no San Gabriel Valley school districts whose dropout rates approach that of Los Angeles. Duarte remains the highest, with 31.5% of its students failing to graduate. Pomona is second, with a dropout rate of 28.3%.

But both districts have lowered their dropout rates since 1986, and they credit their success to special programs aimed at luring dropouts back into school and keeping marginal students attending class.

Duarte's program, which has reduced its dropout rate from 59.7% to 31.5% since 1986, owes its existence to a state law that provides school districts with money to hire special teachers and counselors to work one-on-one with students and make home visits to check up on errant pupils.

Sprawling Pomona Unified, which has a similar program, also posted a modest 3.4% improvement in its dropout rate, going from 29.3% to 28.3%.

"Dealing with dropouts is a major emphasis in our district and it is having a result," district spokeswoman Nancy York said.

Some school officials complain that statistics for smaller districts are skewed because a small change in the number of students who graduate can lead to an astronomical change in the percentage of dropouts.

Charter Oak, for instance, posted an 84% increase in its dropout rate in the last four years, jumping from 13.1% to 24.1% But the total district enrollment is only 5,555 students, with about 1,600 students in high school.

Charter Oaks' own figures do not jibe with the state's. Art Deming, district interim assistant superintendent for educational services, said 59 high school students dropped out in 1986 and 79 in 1990--an increase of 33.9%. "That's a fallacious figure," he said of the state report. However, Deming said he had only received the figures Wednesday, and could not yet explain the discrepancy.

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