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BTA’s Low Graduation Rates Prompt Response

In a recent study conducted by the California Department of Education, the Berkeley  Technology Academy (BTA) was found to have one of the lowest graduation rates in the state, with a rate of only 66%. Berkeley High School (BHS), in comparison, maintained a high graduation rate of about 88%. This is not surprising given the fact that BTA is comprised solely of kids who are deemed at risk to not graduate. David Stevens is the Teacher on Special Assignments for Berkeley Research Education and Analysis, a department of Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD). “By definition, continuation high schools are designed as an alternative for students who are at risk of not graduating to begin with,” he said. “Because of that they are much more likely to have lower graduation rates than the schools from which the students transferred.” This is a consistent trend as almost 40 percent of continuation schools have a graduation rate under 67 percent. Even given this fact, BTA continues to implement programs to help combat this low graduation rate.

The first such program was a change made last spring to allow kids to graduate high school with many fewer credits. This means that students who have failed multiple classes have a greater chance of earning a high school diploma. “It’s a great way for kids who might not otherwise graduate high school to get a diploma” said Fred Werner, a BTA teacher.

This diploma does not make you eligible for a University of California, according to Werner, but that’s not to say it disqualifies you from a shot at a college program. Post secondary options for a 130 credit diploma such as this one include a two year college where you can either get an associate’s degree or transfer into a four year college, or allows for enrollment in a vocational or certification program.

BTA also offers Career Technical Education (CTE) opportunities. The idea behind CTE is to give students access to more career options by letting them enter the workforce with some prior work experience. Some programs already in place include training with firefighters to become Emergency Medical Technicians, and learning about Biotechnology. The school board is looking to expand that program. “More work is being done to build stronger [and] clearer pathways for BTA students to participate in CTE at the school site,” wrote Director Beatriz Leyva-Cutler, the vice president of the Berkeley School Board. Programs that the school board hopes to add on to the existing CTE pathways at BTA include carpentry and stagecraft, some of which were just implemented or expanded upon at BHS.

While the discrepancy in graduation rates between BHS and BTA is relatively consistent with those of other continuation schools, BTA still falls behind other released lists of top continuation schools. The school will always be looking to further improve their graduation rate, and the recently instituted CTE and the 130 credit program have yet to take full effect.