What is the REAL high school graduation rate in Van Nuys?


Finding accurate numbers for high school graduation and dropout rates is nearly impossible–especially in low-income areas served by the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Case in point: Van Nuys High School.

Let’s look at the numbers.

The LAUSD report card for Van Nuys High states that 81% of students graduated within four years (class of 2015-2016). But who is counted as a “student” in that number?

Van Nuys High has three magnet schools on its campus: a Medical Magnet, a Performing Arts Magnet, and a Math/Science Technical Magnet. Magnet schools are themed schools that attract students throughout the district. Applicants must pass an Algebra assessment, which eliminates low-performing students. The magnets attract the best, the brightest, and often, those with parents who are the most informed.  The system leaves out the students who are struggling,  low performing, or whose parents can’t navigate the complicated application process. Many Latino households in Van Nuys are led by adults who never graduated high school, and are unlikely to be understand how to advocate for their children.

LAUSD intentionally averages graduation rates and test scores of “local” students and magnet students in order to arrive at more favorable school report card results. Schools like Van Nuys in high poverty neighborhoods almost always have magnet schools on campus to attract highly proficient students who will balance out the low performing ones. With this in mind, it is interesting that Van Nuys needs three magnet schools on its campus in order to arrive at its 81% graduation rate.

Other school rating systems reveal a different story for Van Nuys. For instance, the Great Schools website shows that the graduation rate for Hispanic students (which comprise 63% of the population) at Van Nuys is only 43%. Test results among Hispanic students show 34% proficiency in Science, 57% in English, and 24% in Math.

LAUSD does not make it a practice to reveal graduation rates and test scores for just its local students who are not enrolled in magnet programs–not at Van Nuys or at any other low-performing school. I understand. The numbers might force them to make an admission of guilt.  While magnet schools were created to bring equity into poor communities and desegregation into affluent, homogeneous ones, my fear is that instead, this practice has only hidden what is really occurring among the district’s most vulnerable students.

Soren Kierkegaard, the 19th Century philosopher  stated, “Face the facts of being what you are, for that is what changes what you are.”  I implore LAUSD to face the facts of what is happening at its lowest performing schools, and tell us all the truth.

–Melody Rossi, Founder and Executive Director of Cloud & Fire

Our Mission:  Empowering youth to thrive. 

Cloud & Fire provides an alternative high school completion program for youth ages 16 to 25 who do not feel safe in their schools or who have dropped out of school.


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