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Study Shows Program Helps Graduation Rates

Students in LA's BEST are less likely to drop out of high school, a report says.

February 23, 2006|Tanya Caldwell | Times Staff Writer

Officials at a Los Angeles after-school program are touting a new UCLA study showing its students have a slightly better chance of finishing high school than their peers.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, philanthropist Eli Broad and LA's BEST officials plan to release results of the study at a news conference today.

The study found that students in LA's Better Educated Students for Tomorrow, or LA's BEST, were about 6% less likely to drop out of high school when compared to other students. Researchers said that showed a 20% change from what they said is a 36% district dropout rate.

The Los Angeles Unified School District's dropout rate is controversial, however, with some sources putting the figure at closer to 50%.

Denise Huang, who conducted the study for UCLA's National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards and Student Testing, compared students in sixth through ninth grades who were enrolled in LA's BEST with those who weren't. Those who participated are now in high school.

Researchers said they think students who participate in the after-school program are on the right track toward graduation.

"If we were to conduct a study right now" on today's sixth-graders, Huang said, "I would expect it to be the same result, or even better."

Carla Sanger, LA's BEST president and CEO, called the program's retention rate one of the most important factors in educational progress. "The predictor of life success," Sanger said, "is more related to years of school than it is to test scores."

LA's BEST is a free after-school enrichment program for children ages 5 to 12. The nonprofit organization, which serves LAUSD students in the city, operates on campuses in which at least 70% of the students get free or reduced-price lunches, Sanger said. In addition to the LAUSD, LA's BEST is supported by the city and the private sector. Nearly a quarter of its funding comes from private donations, Sanger said.

Students receive help with their homework and participate in such activities as drill teams, dance, math clubs and field trips.

"It is far, far more than any kind of baby-sitting," said Sanger, who added that New York and Chicago are starting similar programs.

LA's BEST began in 1988 with 10 schools and one staff person. Today, there are more than 24,000 students in the program.

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