It seemed like a good idea 10 years ago to set a high standard of achievement in the struggling Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) by adding a graduation requirement (pdf) that 10th graders achieve at least a “C” in 15 classes deemed acceptable for university admission.
The new standard takes effect in 2017, and the district predicts around 75% of the students are going to come up short. That’s not good, and district officials are hunting around for a way to avoid a catastrophic decline.
Just last month, LAUSD was basking in the glow of newly-released statewide education that showed graduation in 2013-2014 was 70.4%, up from 68.1% the year before. The statewide average was 80.8%.
Board member Monica Ratliff said the graduation policy shouldn’t be enforced and suggested a “C” average for the 15 classes would be more realistic.
“Of course, I don’t want our graduation rates to plummet but this isn’t about that,” she told KPCC. “This is about the idea that we’re going to deny students diplomas because they received one D in one A through G course. To me, that’s outrageous.”
The district’s higher graduation standard, part of the A-G Curriculum, was inspired by the experience of the San Jose school district. The district started a program similar to L.A.’s in 2000 and six years later reported some remarkable results. Graduation rates rose from 18.5% to 50% for Latinos and from 27% to 50% for blacks.
The numbers proved to be bogus. The Los Angeles Times did an analysis of graduation rates after the district quietly admitted mistakes had been made and seniors who were close to completing the college-prep classes had been counted as being done. They weren’t. The actual success rate was just incrementally higher. When the dust had settled, overall student success rose from 40% in 2000 to 40.3% in 2011.
Then, as now, the A-G Curriculum and its goals was still highly regarded for exposing students to better classes and motivating them and educators to up their game.
But there were also unintended consequences. Students were forced to repeat college-prep classes, making it harder to take all the necessary classes, according to the Times. So, the district reduced the number of credits needed to graduate. All of that left less room for some under-achieving students to take some of the electives that drew their interest and helped keep them in school.
Schools are hoping for a big influx of money with the recovering economy producing a giant budget surplus in the state. But after years of neglect, that’s not going to help the class of 2017.