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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Raising grad rates, lowering standards 

Graduation rates are up in Los Angeles Unified. But standards are down, writes Conor Williams.

The LA Unified board lowered graduation requirements, allowing 53 percent of the class of ’16 to graduate with D’s in core courses, according to LA School Report.

The district relies heavily on “credit recovery” programs, reports Sonali Kohli for the Los Angeles Times. “Measuring the rigor of credit-recovery methods is difficult . . . because of a lack of consistency in how the programs are run from school to school.”

“Even before the district embraced new methods of credit recovery,” few graduates were prepared for higher education, she writes.  “Of about 26,700 graduates in 2008, only 17% graduated from a four-year college within six years, according to a district report.”

San Diego Unified’s graduation rate hit 91 percent this year, reports Mario Koran in Voice of San Diego. That goal was achieved by revamping courses, “allowing certain students to test out of requirements” and “losing low-performing students to charter schools,” Koran writes. Forty percent of San Diego Unified grads earned D’s in core courses.

This “isn’t particularly uncommon across the country,” writes Williams.

We care about low high school graduation rates because they correlate with lots of bad long-term life outcomes. No problem. But then we use that proxy as a target, as a good thing in itself: “Fix high school graduation rates and you’ll fix a bunch of other educational, social, economic, and political problems!”

Not necessarily.

Los Angeles Unified graduates are more likely to require remediation at Cal State Los Angeles than in the past, reports Brookings. Remediation rates for non-LA students are falling.

There’s another way we measure success: College admissions. An NPR story shows the fallacy.

Every senior at a low-performing D.C. high school was accepted to college, reports NPR. But few Ballou graduates are prepared for college success: Only 3 percent of students met city standards in English; nobody passed in math.

The school’s graduation rate is 57 percent.

Grants, donations and district funds took students on college tours around the country. The school kept spirits and motivation up with pep rallies, T-shirts and free food. . . . But it wasn’t a year without struggle. More than a quarter of the teaching staff quit before the end of the school year — that’s not usually a good sign. And out of the nearly 200 graduates, 26, are still working toward their high school graduation — hoping to earn their diploma in August.

“Many” (most) D.C. graduates who enroll in college do not complete a degree in six years, the principal conceded.

All of Ballou High’s class of ’17 have been accepted to a college or university.

Ehime Ohue, who went to school in South Carolina’s low-performing, underfunded “Corridor of Shame,” made it to Duke. But she’s feels unprepared compared to her classmates. “Often, I feel inferior.”

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