This paper summarizes our recent report on the success and shortcomings of high schools in California. High school represents a critical phase in the educational development of K-12 students. Our report examines high schools through the lens of three groups of high school students.

Our Findings
Dropouts (Students Who Fail to Graduate). About 30 percent of the entering ninth grade class fails to graduate on time. Research and data suggest that the factors leading to student dropouts are in place by the time students enter ninth grade. Despite decades of trying, research has not identified programs or services that consistently reduce dropout rates.
The "General" Track (Students Who Graduate Without Qualifying for a Four-Year University). This includes about 45 percent of entering ninth grade students. About one-half of this group attends college after graduation and the other one-half enters the labor force. Research and data indicate that many in this group do not have clear postgraduation goals, which prevents these students from using high school most effectively to make a smoother transition to adult life.
The "University" Track (Students Who Graduate and Qualify for Admission to the State’s Public Four-Year Universities). These students account for about one-quarter of entering ninth grade students. Entering college freshmen frequently lack the English or mathematics skills required for study at the university level. Higher education admissions and placement policies contribute to the problem, as they fail to clearly communicate the skill levels needed for success in college.
Our Recommendations
Despite considerable differences in the problems facing these groups, several themes emerge in our recommendations that are consistent across the groups. Our recommendations address the problems experienced by high school students by strengthening accountability, improving information, and increasing flexibility.
We recommend the Legislature "fine tune" accountability programs by:
  • Adjusting existing accountability programs to focus more attention on the needs of students who are likely to drop out of school.
  • Establishing accountability for improving student transitions to college and work.
  • Aligning K-12 and higher education standards by using Standardized Testing and Reporting scores as admissions data for the University of California and the California State University.
We also suggest several ways the Legislature could employ information to help make high schools more responsive to student needs by:
  • Obtaining accurate dropout data by school and district within two years.
  • Evaluating state supplemental instruction and social promotion programs for elementary and middle school students.
  • Providing additional information and choices to help parents and students use high school to reach student goals for work and school.
Flexibility also is a theme of our report. Improvements could be made by:
  • Encouraging schools to provide a greater range of curricular options that respond to the needs and interests of students.
  • Giving districts greater latitude to use existing state and federal resources effectively to meet the needs of students.
The Bottom Line
While many critical factors are outside of the state’s control, we think our recommendations provide a strategic approach for how the state can contribute to improving high schools.