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New Graduation Requirements Will Require Support

Aired 4/25/13 on KPBS News.

A study examines San Diego Unified's new graduation requirements.

— Freshmen in San Diego city high schools this year are the first class to have to complete the courses needed to get into the University of California or California State University in order to graduate. A report from UC San Diego and the Public Policy Institute of California looks at what it will take to make the effort to improve college access for all city students work.

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San Diego State University offers degrees in up to 89 areas.

Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose have adopted similar graduation requirements, which are far more rigorous than the state's minimum graduation requirements.

The research from UC San Diego concludes that just greater than 60 percent of the city’s 2011 grads would have been eligible to graduate under the new requirements for this year’s freshmen.

Researcher Julian Betts said many other grads were just one or two courses short of meeting the new standards. He says the percentage of students passing the more rigorous classes can go up, but will take hard work.

“Whether it’s 80 percent or 90 percent or 95 percent really depends on the sorts of interventions and supports that San Diego Unified can bring to bear to help the students who are going to be struggling,” he said.

San Diego Unified is increasing its summer school offerings for the first time in five years and is training teachers in strategies to deliver the more rigorous coursework to English Learners and other groups of students that have struggled with the college preparatory curriculum in the past, according to Sid Salazar, the district's assistant superintendent for instructional support services.

Betts and co-authors Andrew C. Zau and Karen Volz Bachofer found that students' 6th and 7th grade GPAs were strong indicators of future success in the college-track course work, as was their performance on math and English standardized tests. Using a model developed by the authors to identify students who might struggle to meet the new requirements will be key, Salazar said.

"That will be very helpful not only for us here internally in terms of the district – it’ll be very helpful in our communication with parents and in seeking their assistance to help us monitor their student’s progress in terms of these graduation requirements,” he said.

Betts said with a national focus on increasing college and career readiness in high school graduates, more districts are likely to adopt similar policies, so the lessons San Diego learns in implementing the new requirements could have broader implications.

To be eligible for UC or CSU admission students need a grade of C or higher in all required courses. To graduate, San Diego Unified students will only need a grade of D. Salazar said the focus of the district's new policy is to provide students equal access to the rigorous coursework so that more have the opportunity to consider attending a four-year college at graduation.

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