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Many Graduates in L.A. Unified Still Not College-Ready, Harvard Study Finds

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

A new analysis of graduation rates in Los Angeles Unified finds that, while 59 percent of the Class of 2011 graduated on time, far fewer of those students were college-ready.

That finding suggests that the nation's second largest school system has a long way to go to ensure that all students can meet the more stringent graduation requirements that will take effect with the graduating Class of 2016.

The study is the latest district-specific analysis to come from the Strategic Data Project at Harvard University's Center for Education Policy Research. While the study didn't delve into the intricacies of school policies and practices, the variations between high schools whose students had similar incoming tests scores provide insight into where to find effective school practices that can inform policy and management decisions.

The 640,000-student Los Angeles district took a step toward improving its students' college readiness in May 2012, when it adopted California's rigorous A-G sequence, the prerequisite course load for admittance into any school in the California State University and University of California systems, as a requirement for graduation as of the class of 2016.

To asssess the reality of meeting this goal, the Harvard researchers looked at three key areas of high school students' progress toward graduation: how they progressed from grade to grade toward achieving a diploma, whether and how students who fall off track for graduation recover and go on to graduate, and how students progressed toward fulfilling the rigorous A-G requirements.

Of the district's 2007-08 incoming ninth grade class:

•59 percent graduated within four years, but only a quarter of these students were college ready.

•After controlling for differences in test scores, racial gaps in graduation rates persisted.

•The proportion of recovered off-track students varied widely between schools. Between 9 percent and 58 percent of off-track 9th graders recovered to graduate on time.

The gap between graduation versus college readiness was a persistent trend throughout the students' four years. This percentage of students earning a diploma on time jumped higher for students who advanced to the 10th grade on track to graduate and with at least a 3.0 GPA—88 percent of these students graduated on time.

While high schools where the incoming 9th grade class had higher average test scores tended to also have higher graduation rates, the variation between schools with similar test scores and demographics stood out.

Researcher Julia Bloom-Weltman said, "While incoming achievement is important, it doesn't fully explain graduation rates. We can look at schools with relatively high graduation rates, even with low test scores, and see what those schools are doing that can be usefully extended."

And Jon Fullerton, the director of the research project said that the pockets of success the study found in the district can be "modeled and spread out."

"We hope these analyses prompt district leadership in Los Angeles, and elsewhere, to explore in more detail how individual high schools can contribute to the college readiness of their students," he added.

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