College prep for all relies on false data

Starting with the class of 2002, San Jose Unified raised its graduation requirements: All students must pass the college-prep courses required for admission to state universities. The rule doubled the percentage of university-eligible graduates — and nearly tripled college readiness rates for Latinos — the district reported. Inspired by San Jose’s success, other districts raised their graduation requirements. But requiring college prep classes didn’t work in San Jose, the Hechinger Report discovered. The numbers were fudged.

 For six years, the district misreported its results, counting seniors who were close to completing the college-prep requirements as having done so. San Jose claimed that the percentage of graduates who got at least a C in all these classes rose to nearly two-thirds from just over a third. The rate for Latino students rose to nearly 50% from 18.5%, and for black students to more than 50% from 27%, the district incorrectly reported.

After the district corrected its errors, the district reported only incremental progress that was comparable to school systems without the requirements. Of that class of 2011, a little more than a third completed the college-prep sequence.

In 2000, before the college-prep rule took effect, 40 percent of San Jose Unified graduates fulfilled state university admission requirements by earning C’s or better in college-prep courses known as the A-G sequence. In 2011, the number was 40.3 percent.  Of blacks and Latinos who entered high school in fall 2007, about 1 in 5 were eligible to apply to a state university four years later.

Students could graduate with D’s in college-prep courses, while state universities require at least a C. Failing students were transferred to alternative schools with lower expectations. Thanks to compassionate teachers and the D-, the dropout rate didn’t rise.

While San Jose Unified was claiming success, I was writing Our School, about a San Jose charter school’s fierce struggle to prepare low-income and working-class Latino kids for college. I wondered how kids who’d scored “below basic” on the state math exam were passing advanced algebra and chemistry.

Los Angeles Unified will require the class of 2016 to pass the A-G courses with a D or better, reports Hechinger. Next year’s ninth-graders must earn a C or better.

L.A. school officials said their program will include the support necessary to help students succeed. Supt. John Deasy has insisted that requiring students to get a C or better in these classes is necessary for a diploma to be meaningful and to ensure that low-income and minority students don’t have to settle for coursework that is “orange drink” rather than “orange juice.”

“This is all about a kid’s civil rights,” Deasy said. “I am confident in our students, that they will rise to the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Long Beach Unified also is trying to qualify more students for state universities. Instead of requiring A-G courses, Long Beach sets annual improvement targets for its schools. Only 25 percent of Latino students and 27 percent of black students were eligible for state universities in 2011. That’s not great — but it’s better than San Jose’s real numbers.

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