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.