The graduation rate for students in the Los Angeles Unified School District was 75% for the Class of 2016, compared to 72.2% last year, prompting Superintendent Michelle King, in her first "state of the district" speech, said this was the school system's highest graduation level ever.
This high rate comes in the same year that more rigorous requirements took effect. Almost half of the seniors in the district were close to not receiving a diploma in December. Then new "credit recovery" efforts were established, including online classes and teacher-led programs during school and after.
Critics of the "credit recovery" idea argue that the record rate of graduates could be due to the lowered standards in these specialized courses, reports Sonali Kohli and Howard Blume, writing for the Los Angeles Times.
The new requirements for graduation include that all students receive a "D" or better in courses needed before applying to four-year colleges run by the state. But state colleges mandate a "C" or better in those courses, which are known as the "A to G" requirements. The classes are Algebra 2 or another math that is equivalent, two years of a foreign language, and a year of a college-prep elective like geography or statistics.
But it may be problematic to make an accurate comparison regarding current graduation rates and rates from prior years since the formulas for making these tabulations have changed over time.
The A-G sequence was first established by the board in 2015, which was also the year that the LAUSD School Board announced that it would allow seniors in the Class of 2016 to graduate with Ds or better in A-G classes. If this had not been done, thousands of students would possibly not have graduated, reports Kyle Stokes for South Carolina Public Radio.
The 2017 seniors will be the first in the LAUSD who will be required to pass the A-G sequence with Cs or better.
"No one is satisfied with just passing or meeting that bar of implementation," said school board member MÃ³nica GarcÃa. "We want to see great success for all kids. It means getting rid of D's and F's [in the diploma requirements], it means intervening earlier, it means making the commitment to pre-K, it really means personalization."
King said in her speech that she would target the rates at which students who are still learning English become proficient, or "reclassification." Her goal is to have every kindergarten child who enrolls as an English Learner reclassified by the time they reach fifth grade.
King is a former LAUSD teacher and administrator who was tapped for the job of superintendent in January. Her plan for increasing graduation rates included focus on the new A-G college-readiness courses and attention to ensuring that seniors got the credits they would need.
District officials analyzed student data on a weekly basis and customized programs so that students would have access to courses needed and the proper support to pick up their diplomas.
King also wants to decentralize so that more decisions can be left to individual schools, reports Brenda Gazzar for Los Angeles Daily News. She also acknowledges that LAUSD spending in the district is higher than the amount of funding coming in, while enrollment is continuing to decline.
"Prioritizing investments that yield the greatest results will continue to be necessary as we move forward with our limited resources," she said.
Many of the United Teachers Los Angeles teachers union members and administrators in the system are pleased with King's goals.