LAUSD contends poor graduation rate will improve quickly

Los Angeles school officials claimed on Friday that a looming graduation crisis is easing after the district launched an emergency response to help students catch up with academic course credit.

In December, only 54% of students were projected to graduate based on stiffer requirements that took effect for seniors this year. At the beginning of February, that projection rose to 63% and now officials say that the rate is expected to equal or surpass last year's 74% by the end of the year.

The district released the February figures and end-of-year projection Friday.

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"We continue to break new ground, as we prepare our first graduating class to meet the new requirements," according to a report sent Thursday to the Board of Education. "The LAUSD family has 'all hands on deck,' and has rallied around our graduates with providing supports needed to ensure their success."

"We’ve made dramatic gains," said Frances Gipson, the district's head of instruction.

The district's new graduation standards have been a source of ongoing debate. This year's seniors are the first who must pass the series of classes that would make them potentially eligible for a four-year state college. In these classes, students must earn a grade of D or better.

The standards have come under attack from factions with almost opposite views on how to make sure students' academic course work is meaningful.

Some insist the standard is too lax because students need a grade of C or better in these courses to be eligible for admission to the UC or the Cal State systems. The new district standard falls short of that.

Others are concerned that the new standard is too demanding, because, for example, students must pass intermediate algebra. The state requires California high school graduates to pass only beginning algebra.

These critics also are concerned that the focus on a college-prep curriculum will limit the opportunity for students to take electives, such as calculus or photography.

The triage for the pending graduation crisis has taken various approaches, district officials said.

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Every family with a student in trouble received a letter Feb. 5, and schools were directed to meet with every student and parents. 

Before that, during winter break, many students took advantage of the chance to earn credit online for courses they needed.

An emerging issue is whether getting credit online offers the same level of learning as any courses the students previously failed to pass. Gipson said the district has worked to make sure that academic rigor has been maintained.

Based on the first year of new state tests, the district has much work to do. Among 11th graders, the highest grade tested, 45% of students met the state's learning goals for that level. Those students are this year's seniors.

In math, the number was 19%. The math figure is more difficult to interpret because not all students take math every year in high school and the difficulty of these courses vary. 

It's also not clear how the improved graduation figures will affect students applying to college. Students hoping to attend a state college typically have a December deadline for submitting completed applications and transcripts--a point at which nearly half of seniors were falling short of meeting graduation requirements.  

howard.blume@latimes.com

Twitter: @howardblume 

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