OCEANSIDE — In recent years, the Oceanside Unified School District (OUSD) had a reputation that no one was proud of.
“Our dropout rates tend to be one of the highest in the county,” said Cheri Sanders, OUSD director of student services.
In the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 school years, OUSD’s dropout rates were 165 students and 156 students in grades 7 through 12 respectively. School districts of similar size like Vista Unified and San Marcos Unified had rates below 80 students during those years.
For years, district administrators had been asking themselves what other school districts were doing to keep their dropout rates lower that OUSD was not.
In fall 2013, the board directed staff to investigate the matter.
Months of research by the student services department revealed that OUSD’s dropout rates stemmed from an inadequate reporting system and incomplete follow ups with students who left the district — not higher numbers of middle schoolers and high schoolers leaving the district.
OUSD Student Services Coordinator Dan Daris revealed the findings to the board at its Feb. 25 meeting.
Relying on the state definition, OUSD classifies school dropouts as students who leave school for unknown reasons, leave for another California school but fail to enroll, fail to earn enough credits to graduate, do not pass the California High School Exit Examination, or have been coded as a dropout due to a previous enrollment gap.
Daris and his team realized in their investigations that numerous students were being incorrectly labeled as dropouts in district records.
They found that OUSD had dozens of students who were coded as dropouts in the district’s records but were currently attending school. These students had been labeled a dropout after leaving school for an extended period of time. But when they returned to school, the students’ records were never changed.
Daris said that OUSD’s records system couldn’t automatically change students’ dropout status and that attendance staff needs to change the records manually.
In other cases, the district did not follow up with students who had left OUSD. Students’ dropout status with OUSD could be removed if the district confirms enrollment in another California school or a move out of state.
“Our problem is, we haven’t done the leg work to follow up (on students),” Daris said.
After staff reviewed students’ records and tracked down those who had moved, OUSD’s dropout rate in 2012-13 was 51 students, about a third of the previous school year’s rate.
Previously, a district’s dropout rates were reported to the state, but high rates did not carry any consequences aside from bad publicity.
Under new assessments that are attached to the new Common Core state standards, dropout rates will soon have an impact on districts’ Academic Performance Index scores.
Staff is currently developing new attendance recordkeeping procedures to ensure that future dropout rates accurately reflect the students that leave OUSD and have not returned.
OUSD’s dropout rates are expected to remain somewhat high compared to other San Diego County school districts, according to Daris.
He explained that OUSD has a high number of students who transfer in and out of the district because they have parents in the military with the close proximity to Camp Pendleton.
He added that the district also has a sizeable number of students who move back to Mexico with their families without notifying the school.
Though most students, he noted, dropout for unique reasons, dropout incidents on the whole have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.
But ultimately the enhanced reporting will keep OUSD’s dropout rates within the range of other county districts.
“We just have to do a better job of keeping track of where everybody is going,” he said.