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District tops in study

Graduation rates exceeds nonprofit's computer model based on socio-economic factors.

October 08, 2010|By Tom Ragan, tom.ragan@latimes.com

You can now add better-than-expected high school graduation rates to the list of academic accolades at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District.

An independent study found that the graduation rate of the district's six high schools in 2007 was unusually high, at 86%, given a set of socio-economic factors that seemed to have stacked the odds against them.

Some of those factors included the 40% of the student body that receives free or reduced-price lunches and a 48% minority student enrollment in what the study characterized as a segregated student body, or clusters.

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This isn't necessarily a negative thing, according to Chris Swanson, vice president of Editorial Projects in Education, the Bethesda, Md.-based nonprofit that conducted the study.

"It's hard to say how they did it, but when you take into account that the district is just about half minority, and you factor in all of the other characteristics, we weren't expecting it to be this high of a performer," Swanson said.

Swanson said a computer model specifically created for the study, after having crunched all the numbers, predicted Newport-Mesa's graduation rate should have been a poor 57%.

In all, 150 large urban districts in the nation were studied this past spring, but it was Newport-Mesa that took first, followed by David Douglas School District in Portland, Ore., then Texarkana Independent School District in Texas at No. 3.

However, Swanson tempered the overall results, saying that the study only dealt with those districts whose student population ranged between 3,000 and 22,000 — not with "extremely large ones," such as Los Angeles, New York or Chicago.

"The pool here that we're talking about is large urban districts," Swanson said. "Newport-Mesa's not No. 1, if you just took any school district in the country. What we're doing here is looking at a narrowly defined subset."

That subset includes the size of the district (21,421 students), the average number of high school students per school (1,022), the percentage of students on free or reduced-price lunch (40%, half of whom were minority) and per pupil expenditures ($9,250 per student, which is lower than the national average) and student-to teacher ratio (21 to 1).

While the results may be somewhat mystifying to Swanson, they were anything but mysterious to Newport-Mesa Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard. He credited the school board and the district's faculty and teachers.

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