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LA Unified announces record grad rate for last year as it grapples with tougher standards this year

Craig Clough | May 19, 2016

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LAUSD Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson

LA Unified increased its official graduation rate to a new high last school year, with 72.2 percent of students receiving a diploma, the district announced this week. The number is a two-point increase over the previous year, which was also a record high.

Since 2009-10, when the state began using four-year cohort rates as the official measuring stick for graduation, LA Unified has increased its rate by 10 percentage points.

“I am very proud of the work we are doing – not only in raising our graduation rates, but in preparing our graduates to enter college or the workforce,” said Superintendent Michelle King in a statement. “Our students, parents, faculty and staff have worked together as a team, and they can take great satisfaction in this accomplishment.”

Graduation rates also were raised to a new high in the state of California, up to 82 percent, the sixth year in a row the rate has climbed, the East Bay Times reported.

The news comes as LA Unified is entering the final few weeks of school under a new raised bar for graduation requirements. The “A though G” series of classes, which if a student passes all with a C will make them eligible for admission info California’s public universities, have presented extra challenges for the district.

In the fall, LA Unified had a projected graduation rate of 54 percent because to many students being unprepared for the new A-G standards. Due to a $15 million credit recovery program that has been hailed as widely successful by district officials but criticized by some education experts, the last projected A-G completion rate calculated by the district was 68 percent — but predicted to potentially top 80 percent.

The district will not be doing any more A-G projections for the rest of the school year, and the preliminary graduation will not be fully calculated until November. Students who complete summer courses will also be eligible to graduate with the class 2016. 

Current efforts by LA Unified in the final few weeks are focused on contacting students shy of credits and getting them enrolled in credit recovery or summer classes. Students are being tracked based on their “tier.” For example, a Tier 1 student is missing one or two classes, a Tier 2 is missing three or four, etc.

“We are focusing on our tiered efforts” said Frances Gipson, LA Unified’s chief academic officer. “Is a student off by one class? Are we monitoring a student who is close to that edge? We have identified steps for each student depending on what tier they are at.”

Gipson also pointed out that since A though G is new this year, as is the credit recovery program, the district is sending officals out into the field to learn what is working.

“We are going out into the filed and meeting with counselors and students and mining those most promising practices thus far. This has ben a pilot program,” Gipson said.

In a May 2 memo from Gipson to King, some schools that are doing interesting credit recovery work was pointed out.

Among the highlights was Helen Bernstein Academy, which Gipson wrote has created “a comprehensive system of opportunities for credit recovery… with all of the school community working to support students’ needs.”

Gipson also pointed to Taft Charter High School as a successful model.

“Students at Woodland Hills’ Taft Charter High School have multiple opportunities to recover A-G credits during the school day and each weekday afternoon. Counselors and staff are united in the mission to raise their numbers on-track, which have increased by 50% since the end of the Fall 2015 Semester. The school offers a full range of Edgenuity courses, and also provides two personalized instructional programs,” she wrote.

LA Unified has also made contacts with other California districts that have A-G graduation requirements and credit recovery programs, as well as some that do not, in an effort to learn what is working, Gipson wrote to King in a May 9 memo.

“We found that LAUSD is supporting students in similar ways to others in the Golden State, where districts large and small are working hard to meet the unique and diverse need of their students,” Gipson wrote.

For last year’s graduation rate, the district pointed out in a press release that many subgroups and ethnic groups saw graduation rates climb. African-American students have increased graduation rates by 13.3 percentage points since 2009-10, Latino students by 10.8 points, English-learners increased by 10.3 points and students with disabilities by 13 points.

“While I am pleased with our progress, we need to recommit with urgency to graduating each and every one of our students,” said school board President Steve Zimmer in a statement. “We will continue to provide high-quality choices and personalized instruction that keeps our students engaged while preparing them for life after graduation.”

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