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L.A. students' progress on college prep falls short of goals

June 20, 2013|By Howard Blume
  • L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, right, and school board member Steven Zimmer both support requiring all high school graduates to qualify for admission to a four-year state college.
L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, right, and school board member Steven Zimmer… (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles…)

Recent Los Angeles high school graduates have made substantial progress in passing college-preparation courses but most would fall well short of new graduation requirements for students who just completed ninth grade.

That unsettling trend was laid out in a report released Thursday by advocates who support the stiffer graduation requirements.

Just 19% of students who started ninth grade as the class of 2011 would have fulfilled the standards that will apply in the future, according to the report from UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education and Access and the group Alliance for a Better Community, a local nonprofit.

Leaders of the UCLA program and ABC continue to support requiring all students to complete the sequence of courses that would make them eligible to apply to Cal State or the University of California. They and other groups sponsored a conference Thursday to discuss current efforts and next steps to get there.

In response to a question from the audience, L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy said it would take two hours to describe everything the district is doing to help students reach the new higher standard.

The effort is intertwined with other key initiatives, he said, such as a new evaluation system for principals and teachers, a new plan for helping students who are learning English and ongoing training related to new statewide learning standards.

Principals and teacher teams also are receiving data on students about to enter high school and progress reports on those already there. And student schedules are not approved unless they push students toward the college-prep goal, Deasy said.

Despite the still-sobering data, the district has made strong academic strides, even during an era of budget cuts, he added.

The 19% figure had been previously disclosed, but the report contained new detail. It singled out schools that are doing comparatively well, for example.

Still, Marshall High in Los Feliz made that list even though only 27% of students from the class of 2011 would have accomplished the higher standard. Middle College High School in Willowbrook did the best among schools with the highest percentage of Latino and black students: 55% met the higher standard.

The Board of Education adopted a phased-in college-prep plan in 2005. To graduate, this year's freshmen will, for the first time, have to pass the minimum number of college-prep classes with a D or better. Next year's ninth-graders must earn a C or better.

In 2011, 38% of ninth-graders were on track, per the higher standards. In other words, about two-thirds of students were already behind in the first year of high school, said Marisa Saunders, a senior research associate for the UCLA institute.

No one who spoke at the conference suggested abandoning or modifying the goal.

"We were right in heading down this direction," said Leslie Valmonte, policy director for ABC. "High expectations matter.”

L.A. school board member Steve Zimmer said the ambitious goals would require a communitywide focus.

"The entire civic institution of this city needs to get behind this,” he said. The whole city needs to send the message to students, for example, that they can and will pass algebra. "So everywhere you turn you can't get away from: This is your message."

L.A. Unified officials said they did not have more recent data to release that contained comparative figures for the class of 2012 and the class of 2013.


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