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Between freshman and senior year, nearly 23 percent of high schoolers in San Diego Unified dropped out, the California Department of Education reported today. Dropout rates are even higher among some minority groups: 30.5 percent of Latino students and 28.7 percent of African American students quit the system.

Though the overall dropout rate in San Diego Unified is slightly lower than county and state rates, Superintendent Terry Grier said the data was sobering. And he worried that the data, which are from the 2006-2007 school year, were already too stale.

“This is unacceptable. It’s embarrassing. And it’s disappointing,” Grier said. “… I’d like to see us cut this rate in half within the next three years.”

Grier said he plans to reduce the dropout rate in San Diego Unified by emphasizing a different three Rs: rigor, relevance and relationships. One initiative is a “middle college high school” of 150 to 200 students, housed at San Diego City College, where students can earn college credit.

Another idea Grier floated is starting two “virtual high schools” where students lagging behind in credits can take online courses and do independent study. The virtual schools would have physical locations with computer labs and a handful of teachers, he said.

The data released Wednesday are more accurate than dropout rates California has reported in the past. For the first time, California used individual student data to track where students went over a four-year period, instead of tracking aggregate numbers. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell wrote in a press release:

“For too long, we had to rely on complicated formulas to make educated guesses about how many students were graduating and how many were leaving school without a diploma,” O’Connell said. “Arguments over differing approaches to this calculation often resulted in confusing and distracting conversations. Now, using student-level data, we can improve the accuracy of our count of how many students drop out, increase accountability, and focus on preventing dropouts.

EMILY ALPERT

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