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Letter: Superintendent disputes drop-out number; The Almanac responds

Original post made on Nov 3, 2009

In your Oct. 21 editorial, you stated that the Sequoia Union High School District has an "above-average dropout rate." This is entirely inaccurate.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 4, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (7)

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Nov 3, 2009 at 6:02 pm

Dr. Gemma may care to read his own school accountability report cards on the dropout rate.

"The (graduation rate) formula provides only rough estimate of completion rate because the calculation relies on dropout counts which are imprecise. The California Deaprtment of Education (CDE) cautions that this method is likely to produce an estimated graduation rate that is too high."

page 25. source is Web Link Look on each SARC.

here is what the state database shows for Sequoia district

what percent of 10th grade enrollment get diplomas?
Class of '01 71%
Class of '02 68%
Class of '03 70%
Class of '04 70%
Class of '05 68%
Class of '06 67%
Class of '07 74%
Class of '08 77%

sadly many of these diplomas don't qualify the graduates to attend San Jose State -- which has become the graduation requirement of San Francisco and San Jose school districts. Web Link When measured against this standard used by urban schools, the Sequoia district results show the challenge ahead.

What percent of 10th grade enrollment meet the A-G requirements?
Class of '01 27%
Class of '02 27%
Class of '03 29%
Class of '04 32%
Class of '05 31%
Class of '06 31%
Class of '07 36%
Class of '08 41%

Results vary among the district schools.

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Posted by a concerned parent
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 3, 2009 at 9:53 pm

I also think that Mr Gemma "counts" his drop out rate too low, only when the student/family comes in to the office, fills out administrative paperwork, signs release forms, etc. and declares themselves "dropped out". Seems unlikely to capture most drop outs.

The better methodology is simply, how many kids started the 9th grade, and how kids many graduated? The SARCs reveal that percentage, as profoundly and disturbingly unflattering as it is to SUHSD.

One suspects that Mr Gemma doesn't count the kids as drop outs who don't declare themselves as such, partly due to the embarassing drop out percentage rate, but more importantly to him, he loses state funding per pupil who has dropped out. Better to keep the money, keep the kid in the system, and never admit that a teacher hasn't seen the kid in years. Only call the kid a drop out after they come into the office with a parent, fill out the paperwork and declare themselves thusly. How often do you think that happens to a kid on the bubble? In the Vietnam war draft era, how many draft dodgers came into the draft board to self report themselves as draft dodgers, and to fill out the requisite paperwork?

Love to see the actual methodology SUHSD uses, and to have them explain the discrepancy between claimed drop out rates, and the simple math used analyzing SARCs above. In the past, SUHSD claimed "gosh kids moved out" as their explanation. If that many families moved out, and none moved into to replace them, for all the years that Gemma has been superintendent, RWC would be a ghost town by now. RWC is very far from a ghost town; very few "vacancy/for rent/for sale" signs up, especially given the broader foreclosure rates across Ca.

Here's another issue the new BOT needs to shine some light of day upon, in order to clean up the misleading shenanigans of the current administration.

Charter schools are a miniscule piece of the systemic problems endemic in the SUHSD. Good luck to the new BOT. When in doubt, please choose transparency, the opposite of the current administration.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 4, 2009 at 9:56 am

Why am I not surprised? When Mr. Gemma is cought doing something he shouldn't (sharing confidential data), he has no comment, but when someone draws a reasonable inference from publicaly available data, he rushes to take the interpretation that is most beneficial to him. The answer is to use the same counting methodology when comparing to other districts (apples to apples)which may be easier said than done, but should not be impossible. Biostatisticans have very complex methodologies for dealing with these issues in public health studies and in clinical trials. My hope is that with Mr. THompson on the BOT that these questions will be asked and dealt with in a more transparent manner , wherever that leads. It may be favorable to Mr. Gemma or not, but right now, he has a clear conflict of interest in the analysis (kind of like doing your own report card) and that should change to allow better measurement of graduation rates, etc. in our schools.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Nov 4, 2009 at 10:05 am

on reporting stats ... SUHSD is a basic aid district so they lose very little funding per student for dropouts -- in fact the funding per remaining student rises.

Dropouts will get easier to track with student ID numbers, but the basic implementation should be that any departures which lacks the student record being forwarded to the next school be counted as a dropout.

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of Woodside High School
on Nov 4, 2009 at 12:29 pm

To critique Dr. Gemma's assertion that the district rates are better than average, let's compare district graduation rate with the rest of San Mateo County and with the state
. . . . . . . . graduation rate
Graduate year SUHSD County State
Class of '01 71% 75% 73%
Class of '02 68% 79% 73%
Class of '03 70% 80% 75%
Class of '04 70% 80% 75%
Class of '05 68% 80% 75%
Class of '06 67% 80% 71%
Class of '07 74% 80% 72%
Class of '08 77% 79% 73%

source Web Link and Web Link compare graduates with 10th grade enrollment for the same class

These results show the Sequoia district graduation results remain consistently below the results for the rest of San Mateo County but did rise above the state average in the past two years. But the numbers still reflect a crisis.

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Posted by Concerned Parent
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Nov 4, 2009 at 4:19 pm

I'd agree that looking at the numbers (average income across the district and educational level), one would expect better results from SUHSD, even with some challenging areas (parts of RWC and EPA in particular). That we are below San Mateo County averages strikes me as a real issue. I don't care how many hours Sarver volunteered at Carlemont, how can he or anyone say things are going well. With all due respect, I realize there are real challenges, but to have a mindset that everything is fine strikes me as closed minded.
That Gemma can be so defensive is an indication that he can't tolerate the type of questions he should be asked (..the result of course is if you don't ask the questions, you can't get creative answers).

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Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Nov 4, 2009 at 5:08 pm

After reading how the district calculates drop out and graduation rates, it's no wonder that students can't do math.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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