The district’s graduation rates are slightly higher than they were before the pandemic. Here’s how each area did

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Ventura County’s public high school graduation rate was above its pre-pandemic level in 2023, an early sign that the dramatic improvements in 2022 may continue.

The coronavirus pandemic and ensuing campus closures led to a decline in graduation rates in each of the nine county public school districts with high schools in 2020. Graduation rates in some districts declined even more in 2021 as high schools continue to adapt to campus Closed campus and online learning.

But an increase in overall improvements in 2022 led to the county recovering from the deficit. Most districts maintained their gains in 2023, even without a boost to California Assembly Bill 104, a law passed in July 2021 that lowered requirements for students in the classes of 2021 and 2022.

Districtwide, 91% of the Class of 2023 earned diplomas last spring, down a half-point from 2022 but still higher than the 89.3% who graduated in 2019, the last full school year before the pandemic.

Latino students, who make up 55% of the county’s public high school population and historically have one of the lowest graduation rates in the county, saw their graduation rate improve to 89.3% in 2023, nearly four percentage points higher than 2019.

Graduation rates were released on the state data center in December alongside the latest release of the California School Dashboard, where the state displays school- and district-level information on graduation rates, discipline rates and other metrics.

Ventura County Superintendent of Schools Cesar Morales emailed a statement saying he was “pleased” with the improvement.

“The numbers show that the support system put in place to help students recover from the effects of the pandemic is making a real difference,” he wrote.

The Oxnard Union High School District, which oversees more than a third of the district’s high school students, has tracked a dramatic trajectory over the course of the pandemic, falling to a graduation rate of 82.4% in 2021 before rising to 89.5% in 2023.

Superintendent Tom McCoy attributed these gains to improvements in the district’s student support systems and concerted efforts to get students up to speed “in real time” and prevent them from falling behind.

The district’s online course program has been key to those efforts, McCoy said. Oxnard Union began developing the program a year or two before the pandemic, but has since increased the offerings to more than 100 courses.

Through the program, students can take courses designed and taught by district teachers in sessions during the school day or after hours, with different versions of the courses available for English language learners and students with disabilities.

The state’s focus on mental health programs, staffing and funding in the past five to 10 years has also helped, enabling the district to meet some of the needs of students dealing with additional external stressors, McCoy said.

“Clearly, a student who needs mental health support is not going to do well in a traditional school setting,” he said. “A student who does not know where his next meal will come from will not focus on his homework.”

Not every district stuck to its gains for 2022. The Ventura Unified School District, which has 5,300 high school students across five schools, exceeded its pre-pandemic graduation rate in 2022 at 91.9%, but then saw the rate drop again in 2023 to 87.1%. That is, two points less than in 2019.

The state law that relaxed requirements gave the district “an increase in graduation rate” in 2021 and 2022, Greg Baylis, assistant superintendent of educational services at Ventura Unified, said in an email.

He noted that last year’s class, as well as the class set to graduate this year, faced the same pandemic closures during their high school careers, but did not have the same relaxed requirements as the previous two classes.

“It has been argued that there will therefore be an expected decline in graduation rates for the Class of 2023,” he wrote.

Sofia Ramirez gives Royal Principal Michael Hall a high-five after receiving her diploma at a graduation ceremony held June 1 in Simi Valley.

Sofia Ramirez gives Royal Principal Michael Hall a high-five after receiving her diploma at a graduation ceremony held June 1 in Simi Valley.

The Simi Valley Unified School District, which has 5,400 high school students in six schools, saw 92.3% of its class of 2023 earn diplomas, even with the previous two years, but a full three percentage points higher than its 2019 graduation rate.

The pandemic closures have given the district a “silver lining,” said Jerry Block, the district’s assistant superintendent of schools and programs.

“As terrible as the pandemic is, it has made us think about how we support children,” he said. “I forced this issue.”

Simi Valley Unified, like Oxnard Union, has begun offering “just-in-time” interventions to students, giving them more support when they fall behind in classes and quickly jumping in to offer make-up courses, including online classes, if they fail, he said.

“Students tend to give up when they face a deep hole,” he said. “We want to keep this hole from getting deeper.”

Graduation rates for 2023 by region:

  • Unified Conejo Valley: 95.2%

  • Fillmore Consolidated: 93.9%

  • Moorpark Consolidated: 92.2%

  • Oak Park United: 97.1%

  • Ojai Consolidated: 93%

  • Oxnard Union: 89.5%

  • Santa Paula Consolidated: 90.1%

  • Simi Valley Consolidated: 92.3%

  • Ventura Unified: 87.1%

  • Ventura County overall: 91%

  • Country in general: 89.1%

Isaiah Murtaugh covers education for the Ventura County Star in partnership with Report for America. Contact him at isaiah.murtaugh@vcstar.com or 805-437-0236 and follow him on Twitter @com. isaiahmurtaugh And @com. vcsschools. You can support this work by making a tax-deductible donation to Report for America.

This article originally appeared on the Ventura County Star website: Ventura County’s graduation rates are rising above their pre-pandemic level

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