Only 54 percent of Los Angeles Unified seniors were on track to graduate in December, due to new (absurd) requirements that everyone complete the college-prep sequence required by state universities.
By the end of March, 68 percent were on track, reports the Los Angeles Times. In June, an estimated 74 percent received their diplomas. What happened?
Online credit recovery courses enabled thousands of students who failed regular classes to qualify for a diploma, reports the editorial board. But did they learn anything?
LAUSD: English Language Arts 11A, which is supposed to be the first semester of junior-year English, could take 50 or 60 hours, reports the Times.
The reading excerpts come from fine and often challenging literature — “Moby-Dick,” “The Scarlet Letter,” great poetry and the like. Video lectures give the background of the works and teach lessons about tone, setting, vocabulary choice and so forth. There are four writing assignments during each semester.
But students can test out of much of the course, including the writing, by passing a 10-question multiple-choice quiz at the beginning of each unit.
With a score of 60% or better — six of the questions — a student passes the unit, without having to go through the lectures, read the full materials or write the essays. Opening up other tabs on the computer to search for answers on the Internet is allowed. That’s not really cheating: The questions aren’t about straightforward facts. Students must interpret passages, for instance. But there’s plenty of help online via Sparks notes and other resources, and a full hour is given to answer the 10 questions.
Students aren’t asked to read a full book in the first semester; the second semester requires one book.
“I’ve seen students make up a semester’s worth of credits in a school year’s final month and then miraculously earn their diplomas,” wrote teacher Mario Gonzalez in response. “I’ve seen kids who don’t even know their multiplication tables or how to reduce a fraction pass algebra (on paper, at least).”
He asks: “What’s the point of patting ourselves on the back for improved graduation rates if the diploma itself is highly devalued?”
Fudging graduation numbers is a lot easier than educating students, concludes the Times editorial board. “Under pressure to produce better numbers, school officials in California and nationwide have often done whatever it takes to get to those numbers, including lowering standards while pretending to raise them, and reclassifying students instead of educating them. These students then go on to college or the workplace, mistakenly thinking they have the skills they’ll need.”