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Debate over L.A. Unified graduation standards is postponed

L.A. Board of Education delays action on college prep requirements set to take effect with the Class of 2017

The Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday postponed action on new college prep requirements that could deny diplomas to thousands of students.

The graduation requirements are scheduled to take effect for the Class of 2017. But as many as three-quarters of these current sophomores are not on track for meeting the new goals, according to district data compiled in March. L.A. Unified School District officials presented an improved but still foreboding estimate Tuesday, forecasting that 37% of students were likely to clear the hurdles.

Even so, a coalition of community groups has pressed the board to maintain the rigorous college-prep requirements. They argue that students have been well served by the higher standards: More students are meeting the requirements even as overall graduation rates continue to rise.

The groups organized a rally for Tuesday outside district headquarters that they predicted would draw at least 500 participants. The rally was to be held in conjunction with board action on a resolution sponsored by board members Monica Garcia and Steve Zimmer.

The board was scheduled to vote on a proposal calling on Supt. Ramon C. Cortines to develop a plan to ensure students meet the new standards. In an interview last week, Cortines had said that students should not be penalized for failing to meet college-prep requirements if they were otherwise qualified to graduate. The standards are required for students to apply to the University of California and Cal State systems.

Cortines' concerns and those of others prompted Garcia and Zimmer to suggest changes that would allow students to graduate without being eligible to apply to state college. Instead of requiring a C in these courses, students would be permitted to get a passing grade of a D, Garcia said in an email to the Los Angeles Times. The state college systems requires a grade of C or better in each of these classes.

The proposal also included offering a different diploma to students who met the higher standard, known as the A-G series.

Even meeting the lower standard could be a challenge: 52% of the class of 2014 hit the mark of earning a D or better in these classes.

The board voted 4-3 to delay action on the matter. School board members Richard Vladovic and Bennett Kayser argued that they needed to see the revised state budget to understand what resources could be available to help students. Both are running for reelection and could face criticism regardless of how they decided the issue.

Board member George McKenna said he needed time to consider the implications of the new proposal. But McKenna also said he favored using a grade of D as the graduation standard. Monica Ratliff was the fourth vote to postpone.

Tamar Galatzan also is running for reelection, but she was willing to take up the issue Tuesday. Garcia and Zimmer also wanted to move forward.

Garcia said she was especially disappointed that students and other speakers who came to the board meeting would not see the topic addressed.

“There are times when we are bold and courageous,” she said. And “sometimes political consequences cause delays.” Educating children “has not always been the core of what we do.”

Twitter: @howardblume

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