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2016 OC Community Indicators Report Shows Students Are Better Prepared – But the Opportunity Gap Is Widening

2016 OC Community Indicators Report Shows Students Are Better Prepared – But the Opportunity Gap Is Widening

Tomorrow’s leaders are getting a head start on success today. That’s the good news gleaned from the 2016 OC Community Indicators report, which was released on June 22, 2016 to local community and business leaders at an Orange County Forum luncheon. More than half of Orange County children were deemed ready for kindergarten this past year, and 55 percent of eighth-grade students met literacy achievement standards. Most Orange County school districts performed better than the California average when it came to the achievement standard for mathematics, and the high school dropout rate declined again. But the report also surfaced some troubling data regarding Orange County’s education landscape, spurring a call for increased countywide partnerships to improve the educational outcomes for students – regardless of their ethnicity, race or income.

“The release of the annual Indicators Report serves as a catalyst for discussion,” explained Kimberly Goll, executive director, Children and Families Commission of Orange County, “and we’re excited to see interest in the data grow year after year. It’s one of the most comprehensive and reliable ways we have as a community to assess the opportunities and challenges influencing Orange County’s future growth and development, as well as our ability to ensure a high quality of life for all our residents.”

This in-depth report includes key trends to guide the discussion of what is necessary for Orange County to continue playing its important regional leadership role. Its data on education reveals that while we’re making progress in some areas, some of our community’s most-vulnerable families continue to fall behind.

“We’re heading in the right direction, but there’s a lot of work to be done,” Goll pointed out. “We have such an opportunity to change a child’s trajectory if we focus on early childhood education and intervention. And by examining the trend data, we can better direct community action through ever-increasing partnerships to make Orange County education the best it can be.

This year, two new indicators were added to the education section of the report, including kindergarten readiness and high school student participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) coursework. Academic performance indicators show how Orange County students are performing in math and reading according to the newly implemented Common Core State Standards.

Among the report highlights:

  • When it comes to measuring kindergarten readiness, 52 percent of Orange County children were ready but more than a quarter of kids were not on track in language development.
  • Academic performance in literacy also showed some disparity. In 2014-15, only 46 percent of Orange County third-grade students met or exceeded the statewide achievement standards for English language arts and literacy (ELA), but this figure rose to 55 percent among eighth-grade students and was sustained through 11th grade.
  • Academic performance in mathematics also fluctuated. Although half of Orange County third-grade students met or exceeded the statewide achievement standard, only 44 percent of eighth-grade students did. The rate plummeted to 39 percent among 11th-graders – although they outperformed the statewide average of 29 percent.
  • The high school dropout rate continues to fall, with only 5.7 percent of students who entered ninth grade in 2011 dropping out before graduating in 2015 – lower than the statewide dropout rate. More good news: All racial and ethnic groups have witnessed substantial declines in the percentage of dropouts since 2010-11, although Latino students continue to suffer the highest dropout rate at 8.1 percent.
  • A related measure is the graduation rate, which was 90 percent for the class of 2014-15.
  • When measuring college readiness, half of Orange County students completed the necessary coursework to be eligible for admission to University of California (UC) or California State University (CSU) campuses – well above the previous 15-year average of 40 percent and the statewide rate of 43 percent. However, the gap between the ethnic groups with the highest and lowest eligibility rates remains substantial and persistent, showing little sustained improvement. In Orange County, Asian students are the most likely to be UC/CSU eligible and Latino students are the least likely.
  • An increasing number of high school students are participating in Career Technical Education (CTE) STEM subjects, with enrollment growing 40 percent over the past three years. Enrollment in courses related to information technology grew 151 percent, with participation in engineering courses inching up by 16 percent. Most Orange County high school students have access to STEM-related AP courses, but this access is neither universal nor standardized across schools.

“The disparity among different youth populations needs to be mitigated,” Goll said, “and the opportunity gap between students of higher-to-lower income needs to close. But looking at the data, we know what needs to be done. We can roll out targeted, evidence-based resources to the communities with the highest need and move the needle to bring education equality to all families in Orange County.”

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