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Dump the D? — With 55% of LAUSD grads eligible for state universities this year, some board members want to raise the bar to graduate

Sarah Favot | August 28, 2017

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Fifty-five percent of the students who graduated from LA Unified high schools in June were eligible for California’s public universities, and the school board president says he’d like to see more stringent requirements imposed to get a high school diploma sometime in the next three years.

Preliminary data from the district show 55 percent of the Class of 2017 received a C or better in all of their college prep classes known as the A-G coursework. The University of California and California State University systems require at least a C in all of these classes to be eligible for acceptance onto their campuses. That figure does not include any students who might have graduated meeting the requirements this summer.

The preliminary data show the Class of 2017 improved compared to their predecessors in the Class of 2016, when just 47 percent received a C or better. State data show that 55 percent of LA Unified grads in 2016 were eligible for UC/CSU, but that includes students who took longer to graduate than four years.

Now that the district is improving, some board members want to begin discussions about raising the bar to graduate.

“I think this is an area where I’m hopeful in my tenure on the board that we’ll be able to come back to and sunset the D so that our kids really are able to get into a UC/CSU,” school board President Ref Rodriguez said in an interview.

The school board had voted more than a decade ago that the Class of 2016 would be required to earn at least a C in their classes to graduate, but two years ago the board decided to roll back the requirements and allow D’s when it appeared that thousands of students wouldn’t graduate and some schools were ill-equipped to prepare students for the more rigorous requirements. The fears were founded as roughly 14,200 graduates in the Class of 2016, or 53 percent, earned at least one D.

Rodriguez said he didn’t think the change to a C could happen overnight.

“It would take some time and some scaffolding and sort of a runway,” he said.

He hopes that at one of the monthly board retreats this year, where board members will participate in “deep dives” on different topics, they will talk about A-G requirements and raising the bar. The first board retreat is Tuesday, which will focus on employee health care benefits.

“We will need to give the superintendent some direction and make sure we are not leaving any students behind,” Rodriguez said.

School board member Mónica García has also said that she would like to require C’s to graduate.

“I definitely think we will have to wrestle with how will we support the young people in the system with D’s and F’s that we know we haven’t tapped into their talent yet,” she told LA School Report in April.

Some pilot schools in LA Unified require students to earn at least a C in order to graduate, Rodriguez said.

Advocates like the United Way of Greater Los Angeles also support the C requirement. The organization’s Young Civic Leaders program hosted a forum focused on college readiness ahead of the May runoff election for school board.

It appears there would be a majority of support on the school board to raise the requirements.

Newly elected school board members Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez said on the campaign trail that they support requiring C’s to graduate.

Melvoin criticized the district for focusing on an improved graduation rate, while the board decided to lower standards.

“How can you have only 27 percent of students proficient in math and have a 75 percent graduation rate? Rubber-stamping diplomas is setting kids up to fail,” Melvoin said at a debate.

Gonez has proposed a resolution that will be voted on in September calling on the superintendent to report on data including college application, enrollment, and completion as well as requiring that all 10th- and 11th-graders take the SAT. She is also calling for a college counseling center at every high school.

One snag would be Superintendent Michelle King’s goal of 100 percent graduation. Presumably, that would take a hit unless more resources were invested.

The district spent $15 million on credit recovery programs in each of the last two years, including on online options — the rigor of which has been questioned after it was discovered students could test out of much of a course if they can score 60 percent on a pre-test. The district said last year that 42 percent of its 2016 graduates had taken some kind of credit recovery, whether it was an online course or re-taking a class.

One hundred percent graduation — a feat yet to be achieved by any urban school district — has been King’s singular goal. Already the district has made progress in raising its graduation rate, and some question how high it can go. Twelve years ago, just 48 percent of LA Unified students graduated in four years. The official graduation rate for the Class of 2016 was 77 percent, a district record.

King decided not to announce the preliminary graduation rate for the class that graduated in June during her State of the District speech earlier this month as she had done the year before.

A district spokeswoman said 26,653 students graduated in June, which is about the same number of graduates as last year. So a 55 percent rate means about 14,650 students were eligible for UCs and CSUs.

In comparison, 77 percent of Massachusetts’ high school grads completed classes making them eligible for their state university system.

Rodriguez said he wished King would have announced the preliminary graduation rate.

“It’s something that she should give at every single (opportunity) and make a big deal about it because it is a big deal,” he said.

“This is a public that does not have a lot of faith in this district. We need to continue to ensure that we’re talking about successes and that our graduation rate is a huge success when you really think about where we were at one point and who those kids were that were dropping out,” he said.

Another issue Rodriguez would like the board to discuss and work with teachers on is grade calibration to ensure that a C at one high school in the district is the same as a C at another high school. He said that’s the reason why UC accepts 40 percent of the grads from private school Harvard-Westlake and only 10 percent of LA Unified’s grads.

“They think that C is better than the C we have at a LA Unified,” Rodriguez said of Harvard-Westlake.

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