L.A. Uni­fied re­treats on grades

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Howard Blume

The Los An­ge­les Board of Ed­u­ca­tion on Tues­day re­treated from new, more rig­or­ous grad­u­a­tion stan­dards out of con­cern that huge num­bers of stu­dents would fail to earn diplo­mas.

The board pre­vi­ously had re­quired stu­dents, start­ing in 2017, to re­ceive a C or bet­ter in a set of col­lege prepara­tory cour­ses re­quired for ad­mis­sion to four-year state uni­ver­si­ties. The goal was to en­sure that all L.A. Uni­fied stu­dents were el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply for the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia and Cal State sys­tems.

On Tues­day, how­ever, the board backed down from that pol­icy. Now, stu­dents will be al­lowed to pass th­ese cour­ses — and grad­u­ate — with a D. But they will be in­el­i­gi­ble for ad­mis­sion to UC or Cal State cam­puses with a D in any of th­ese classes.

The board acted in re-

sponse to the dis­clo­sure in March that as many as three-quar­ters of 10thgraders — the first class af­fected — were not on track to meet the tougher re­quire­ments. A more re­cent anal­y­sis showed that 53% of stu­dents were un­likely to meet the cri­te­ria.

Stu­dents who got Ds should not be de­nied diplo­mas be­cause the school sys­tem has not pro­vided enough help for them to meet the higher stan­dard, board mem­bers said.

“I want to apol­o­gize to all the young peo­ple that did not make it,” board mem­ber Mon­ica Garcia said. “We care and we are re­spon­si­ble to you too.”

“This has been a hard road be­cause this or­ga­ni­za­tion strug­gles” to meet the needs of all stu­dents, she said.

Garcia in­sisted, how­ever, that the dis­trict still in­tends to con­tinue a push to­ward high aca­demic goals.

The board was faced with a dilemma, said Ama Nyamekye, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the lo­cal chap­ter of Ed­u­ca­tors 4 Ex­cel­lence, an ad­vo­cacy group. On one hand, she said, the dis­trict did not want to put stu­dents and schools in an im­pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion. But on the other, the dis­trict was re­luc­tant to lower stan­dards.

The col­lege prep jour­ney has been on­go­ing for more than a decade. Com­mu­nity ac­tivists based L.A. Uni­fied’s ef­fort on a sim­i­lar model in San Jose Uni­fied, which had claimed that stu­dents were meet­ing the higher stan­dard in that school sys­tem.

It turned out that the San Jose data were in er­ror and also that the dis­trict was al­low­ing many stu­dents to grad­u­ate with­out meet­ing the higher tar­gets.

But L.A. Uni­fied per­sisted in its plan, only to find that its stu­dents are also fall­ing short.

Board mem­ber Ta­mar Galatzan said that although she has faith in stu­dents to meet the higher goals, the dis­trict has never had a full plan in place for en­sur­ing that all stu­dents would suc­cess­fully com­plete the se­quence of classes.

“I’m wor­ried that we are still set­ting stu­dents up for fail­ure,” Galatzan said. “We can’t just say here’s the new re­quire­ment and we hope ev­ery­one gets there.”

The pro­posal was spon- sored by three board mem­bers — Garcia, Steve Zim­mer and Ge­orge McKenna. Garcia and Zim­mer had been sup­port­ers of the ear­lier pol­icy.

McKenna, on the other hand, ex­pressed reser­va­tions about the re­quire­ments af­ter join­ing the board in Au­gust. He said a stu­dent should not be de­nied a di­ploma, for ex­am­ple, for fail­ing to earn a C in Algebra 2.

“A D is a pass­ing grade,” he said Tues­day, adding, “I got a D in French.”

McKenna said that it was un­fair to force all stu­dents to meet the state uni­ver­sity re­quire­ment. Many uni­ver­si­ties, he said, have lower or dif­fer­ent ad­mis­sions cri­te­ria.

All board mem­bers sup­ported the re­vised pol­icy, which also seeks an ex­pla­na­tion of why stu­dents are fall­ing be­hind. It also calls for dis­trict staff to de­velop a plan to help stu­dents com­plete the cour­ses needed to ap­ply to four-year state col­leges.

A coali­tion of com­mu­nity groups has re­peat­edly pressed the board to main­tain the rig­or­ous col­lege prep re­quire­ments. They ar­gued that stu­dents have been well served by the higher stan­dards: More stu­dents are meet­ing the re­quire­ments as over­all grad­u­a­tion rates con­tinue to rise.

The coali­tion has, in the past, op­posed any rolling back of the col­lege prep man­date. Out­side the meet­ing, about 200 stu­dents and other com­mu­nity mem­bers ral­lied in sup­port of re­quir­ing the classes, which are re­ferred to as the A through G se­quence. The cour­ses in­clude four years of English, math in­struc­tion through in­ter­me­di­ate Algebra, two years of the same for­eign lan­guage and at least two years of high school science.

“What do we want?” called out stu­dents and par­ents march­ing out­side.

“A to G,” came the re­sponse. “When do we want it?” “Now.” “The A to G coali­tion is here be­cause we sup­port ac­cess and op­por­tu­nity for all stu­dents … youth and par­ents who have dreams for col­lege and ca­reer,” said Maria Brenes, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of In­nerCity Strug­gle, a lo­cal group that had fought hard for win­ning and keep­ing the pol­icy in place.

Al­low­ing stu­dents to grad­u­ate with Ds in th­ese classes “ad­dresses an im­me­di­ate need for the Class [of] 2017,” said Elmer Roldan, direc­tor of ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams and pol­icy for United Way of Greater Los An­ge­les.

UCLA ed­u­ca­tion pro­fes­sor John Rogers said the ef­fort to have col­lege ex­pec­ta­tions for all stu­dents had paid div­i­dends. For one thing, thou­sands more stu­dents now have ac­cess to the needed classes.

The goal now, he added, is to see that stu­dents per­form well in them.

“This will not be easy or cheap,” he said, “but it is what our stu­dents de­serve.”

‘I’m wor­ried that we are still set­ting stu­dents up for fail­ure. We can’t just say here’s the new re­quire­ment and we hope ev­ery­one gets there.’ — Ta­mar Galatzan school board mem­ber

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