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LA Unified board approves plan to ease graduation requirements

Vanessa Romo | June 10, 2015

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A-G protest graduation

A student protests outside LAUSD headquarters

In an attempt to thwart plummeting graduation rates, the LA Unified school board unanimously approved a resolution yesterday easing high school graduation requirements and subsequently launched another districtwide study of A-G implementation. But not before sponsors agreed to last-minute changes and the superintendent pledged to enact an “immediate intervention” plan.

While the previous version of the A-G policy demanded students earn a grade of “C” or better in all college prep courses to get their diplomas, the new plan grants degrees to those who pass with a “D.”

The concession drastically changes the intention of the policy passed 10 years ago, which was an attempt to ensure all LA Unified graduates would be eligible for admission into California public universities. But those schools require a “C” at minimum, blocking admission for “D” students.

It also allows the district to mitigate an imminent graduation rate crisis, although it will not side step the problem altogether. District data indicates only 39 percent of students in the Class of 2017 — about 14,353 of 36,840 — were on track to meet the standards under the old rules. Now, under the less stringent criteria, the percentage for the same cohort jumps to 49, about 18,000 students. That is a decline of more than 20 percent from current rates.

“This has been a hard road,” board member Monica Garcia told a packed auditorium. “Not because we are not committed to a hundred percent for everyone,” but because the district struggles to “improve practice that meets the needs of all kids.” 

Garcia was the primary sponsor of the which was co-sponsored by Steve Zimmer and George McKenna. However, McKenna only backed the resolution after his colleagues agreed to issue degrees to below average students.

“I’m not saying get a ‘D,’ but for those students who don’t have the capacity to get there, they need to have the opportunity to have a high school diploma,” McKenna said, before confessing he got a “D” in French despite growing up in New Orleans.

Board member Tamar Galatzan was the most reluctant supporter. Moments before the vote she admitted she’d be casting a yes vote “with trepidation.”

“I’m worried we are setting these students up for failure because the district hasn’t gotten its act together” she said, recalling an attempt by the board in 2012 calling for an implementation plan that went nowhere. “This is the first thing the district has ever said about implementation in 10 years,” she added

On Friday Superintendent Ramon Cortines released a proposal for “immediate intervention” that allocates $15 million to pay for additional students support services for failing students. Among them is a plan to expand credit recovery programs including summer school, adult education, and online classes.

“This money will be used to benefit students who need it the most,” Cortines wrote in a letter to board members.

According to Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Ruth Perez, the district will use the next few months to prepare to “implement some pieces of the plan in August,” although she did not specify which pieces.

She did confirm that beginning next year there will be “summer school in each and every high school and some options schools.”

The unknown costs of implementing several of the recommendations listed in the resolution was a major stumbling block for Ratliff, who said she had planned to vote against it just hours before the meeting.

In addition to lowering the bar for graduation the initiative also seeks to create an intervention plan for schools failing to provide adequate access and compels the district to devise an Individual Graduation Plan for all seniors who are struggling to meet the new standards.

But a last-minute amendment calling on Cortines to “determine a reasonable estimate of the costs of such initiative” and giving the board authority to reject plans if they’re too expensive, persuaded her to vote in favor of it, making it unanimous.

“Now,” she said, “there is a commitment to have people come back and tell us what the costs are before we continue moving forward… I’m really grateful for that because I do think it’s important that we do not deprive students of a diploma because they get a D.”

Then she came clean: Ratliff failed high school Algebra.

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