MORE STUDENTS STAY IN SCHOOL, STUDY SAYS.
Continuing a three-year pattern, the percentage of Los Angeles students who dropped out of grades nine through 12 last year fell sharply, a state report said Thursday.
The percentage of students who dropped out reached 7.4 percent, down from 10.9 percent two years ago and 9.2 percent last year.
Still, the LAUSD average was double the statewide average, the report showed.
School Superintendent Ruben Zacarias called the decline in dropouts good news, but said the rate is still ``unacceptable,'' according to a spokesman.
He said early intervention and greater parental involvement are needed to keep at-risk students in school.
``(Zacarias) took a look at these numbers today and said it shows when you begin to focus on something you can fix it,'' said district spokesman Brad Sales. ``In the next two years he wants to see . . . dropout rates to be at or below the state average.''
LAUSD's own report, which includes a breakdown of dropout figures in each school, will be released today.
According to the state Department of Education's Dropout Report on California Public School Districts, to be released today, the statewide rate for 1996-97 was 3.3 percent, down from 3.9 percent.
State officials on Thursday credited tougher academic standards and graduation requirements.
``More students are staying in school because there's more challenging work,'' said state spokesman Doug Stone. Also, ``they understand that the fact is a high school diploma can increase their likelihood to go on to technical training, college or a job.''
Of the 172,193 Los Angeles Unified students enrolled in grades 9 through 12 last year, 12,678 dropped out, or 7.4 percent.
That's down from 9.2 percent the previous year and 10.9 percent in 1993-94.
As a large urban school system with many immigrant students and those from poorer families, LAUSD has always experienced greater dropout rates than other districts, district officials said.
Sales said LAUSD's Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles saw the greatest improvement last year.
The school had a 1.8 percent dropout rate in 1996-97, compared to 10.6 percent in 1995-96 and 27.5 percent in 1994-95.
The district's rate has also benefited from better bookkeeping, Sales said.
``We have a high transiency rate in the system. Part of the challenge is to keep better and more accurate track of students when they leave, following them and not (automatically) considering them as a dropout,'' Sales said.
Several other districts in Los Angeles County and Ventura County - including Glendale Unified, Hart Union, Las Virgenes Unified and Antelope Valley Unified - saw increases in dropout rates last year.
The annual dropout report includes students in high school and continuation school grades 9 through 12 who drop out over the summer.
A dropout is defined as a student who has left school for 45 consecutive school days and has not enrolled in another public or private institution or school program.
Each year, the state issues two dropout rates, one in the Dropout Report and another in the High School Performance Report.
The Dropout Report shows the actual number of students who dropped out in one school year.
The High School Performance Report uses those numbers in a formula to project a four-year cumulative dropout rate. That is, the percentage of students in a given freshman class who will drop out before graduation.
The statewide cumulative rate, according to the 1996-97 High School Performance report issued in late April, is 17 percent. LAUSD's rate was 36.5 percent.
Chart: (1) Dropout rate dropping
(2) Dropouts vs. enrollment for 1996-97
Dionisio Munoz/ Daily News