L.A. Unified, California showcase record graduation rates; other measures show setbacks

The state of California and the Los Angeles Unified School District achieved record-high graduation rates last year despite the ongoing impact of the crippling pandemic and a historic spike in student absenteeism, drawing both praise and skepticism about the new numbers.

For the high school class graduating in 2022, the percentage of students who earned a four-year diploma from Los Angeles Unified — the second largest school system in the country — was 86%. The rate for all of California was 87.4%. The closing numbers were released this week.

For the state, that figure represented an increase of nearly 4 percentage points from the 83.6% rate in the 2020-21 academic year. For LA Unified, there was an increase of approximately 4.5 percentage points from 81.6%, a continuation of the ongoing trend of year-over-year increases in graduation rates.

LA Schools Supt. Alberto Carvalho called the graduation rate “historic” and “precedent,” noting that, in general, the largest increases have been among black students, students learning English, and students with disabilities — groups with historically lower rates than white and asian students.

“That means our teachers deliver. Our principals are leaders. The right support systems are in place,” Carvalho said on Thursday.

Others, however, welcomed the positive numbers with caution.

“While I’m pleased with the data showing that students are doing well academically, it is completely at odds with the data that suggests students are lagging behind because of the pandemic,” said Tyrone Howard, professor for pedagogy at the School of Education & Information Studies. “It would be good for LAUSD to help the public understand the two narratives and their coexistence… It’s a big split that’s hard to understand.”

The praise from Carvalho and others should recognize updated teaching methods and the hard work and resilience of students, teachers and administrators who have weathered the COVID-19 pandemic. The skepticism is rooted in concerns that higher graduation rates could be linked to sustained relaxed standards coupled with pandemic-inspired compassion.

The new figures follow a series of academically debilitating events in schools. The COVID-19 pandemic led to campus closures and distance learning from home in March 2020 — with most Los Angeles students not returning to in-person classes until the fall of 2021.

And when students returned, illness and quarantine led to widespread chronic absenteeism. These figures were also released this week.

A student who is absent for 10% or more of the school year is classified as chronic absenteeism. Nationwide, chronically absent students increased from 14.3% of enrollments in 2020–21 to 30% in 2021–22.

At LA Unified, the chronic absenteeism rate last year was 39.8%, including a 52.7% rate for black students.

Although official attendance figures were better last year – when most students studied online for all or most of the year – student engagement was a serious problem that loose accounting methods failed to capture.

In LA Unified, and apparently many other California districts, if a student—or a parent—emailed, texted, or spoke on the phone with a teacher at any time during the day, the student was counted as present.

If a student appeared on Zoom in a live session with a teacher or classmate, even briefly, the student was counted as present for the entire day.

LA Unified has also relaxed grading standards.

The reduced requirements were in large part an acknowledgment that the students were dealing with technical issues and family pressures at home.

The shortcomings of both distance learning and also in-person instruction, disrupted by absenteeism, led to predictable learning disabilities — study after study has found. Carvalho has previously acknowledged this, saying five years of progress, as measured by increases in state test scores, have been wiped out.

Graduation rates, however, went in the other direction.

Part of the explanation is that taking a course is not exactly the same as learning. And attention to academic rigor goes through cycles. State legislatures created a high school final exam in 1999 to ensure that every graduating student could meet minimum academic standards, but the test was later scrapped as unfair and unnecessarily punitive.

The state establishes minimum graduation standards regarding the classes that must be passed—and districts, including LA Unified, have often added additional required classes.

However, during the pandemic, state officials suspended all but the state’s minimum requirements, which could lead to more students earning diplomas, the state Department of Education acknowledged this week.

LA Unified couldn’t say if any of its graduates crossed the finish line this week due to reduced diploma standards.

California and Los Angeles reflect a national long-term trend of increasing graduation rates.

In the 2018/19 school year, the latest available national data, the graduation rate for students in public high schools was 86%, the highest since the rate was first measured using current methods in 2010–11, when the rate was 79%.

Record completion rates for LA Unified have been a regular occurrence for the past several years Appear. Educators have worked harder to identify struggling students early and provide special help, especially for black students. An assessment was also conducted to identify specific topics and assignments that are preventing students from passing a class – and allowing students to address the specific learning barriers without having to repeat an entire class.

Online credit recovery allows students to quickly catch up on classes — although the rigor and testing security of those courses have been questioned.

“It’s hard to know what a high school diploma means right now,” said Robin Lake, director and professor of practice at Arizona State University’s Center on Reinventing Public Education.

“I’m glad these students graduate,” Lake said of the LA Unified numbers. “The current and recent graduating classes have been through so much. However, it is hard to reconcile the uptrend with the fact that 81% of the LAUSD-11. ”

“Either something truly wonderful happened last year on behalf of the LAUSD class of 2022, or they graduated and were left largely without the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in college and in life.” 12 system.”

UCLA education professor John Rogers preferred a glass-half-full interpretation.

“Students in LAUSD have not had the same access to quality learning while in distance learning as they do now that they are in-person – and this impacted the academic and social development of many young people. But I’m still inclined to celebrate those results,” he said.

“Students who have experienced the extraordinary disruption of the pandemic and have persevered in graduating – and who are qualified for college – can continue their learning in college, where they can catch up on lost experience even as they continue to grow.

“Yes, that could pose additional challenges for our higher education system,” he added, “but it’s a challenge we can and should address.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-12-17/l-a-unified-and-california-post-record-graduation-rates-as-other-measures-record-academic-setbacks L.A. Unified, California showcase record graduation rates; other measures show setbacks

Alley Einstein

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