Why Teens Fall Short of College Requirements

Inequitable class offerings, poor grades and other problems have prevented San Diego Unified students from meeting the minimum requirements to apply to the University of California or California State University system, a long-awaited report on college readiness has found.

The issue looms larger for African American and Latino students, who are less likely to meet the bar than their white or Asian classmates.

To even apply for public universities in California, students must take 15 courses that meet specific requirements and get a C or better in each, a set of classes known as the A-G sequence. The San Diego Unified school board has pledged to make those classes part of its high school graduation requirements.

San Diego Unified hired Education Trust West, a nonprofit and research group that aims to close the achievement gap, for $300,000 in October to evaluate where the school district has fallen short and what it would take to achieve its goal. The group studied class schedules, course catalogs and student transcripts, and interviewed and surveyed parents, students, and educators over the past year.

While San Diego Unified does better at making sure that students meet the college requirements than the California average (43 percent of students met the mark in compared to 34 percent statewide in 2008) there are big gaps between students of different races and means, and English learners and students with disabilities lagging farther behind.

The nonprofit chalks up the problem to myriad issues, including school district graduation requirements that don’t match the college requirements. Other problems included:

• Not all students have equal access to the courses needed to apply to college. Some schools offer a higher percentage of classes that meet college requirements than others. While some schools have many electives that suit a college application, others offer mainly “filler.”

• Similar gaps exist in access to Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes, with some schools offering more sections than others. Only 67 percent of all students had full access to the classes they needed, and rates were lower for black and Latino students. Even when the classes are offered, minority students are less likely to take them.

• Even when students take the classes they need, many do so poorly that they cannot count the classes on a college application, getting a D or lower.

Education Trust West urged the school district to consider stopping use of the D grade, which counts toward graduation but won’t count toward the college requirements. It also recommended:

• Eliminating any academic classes that don’t meet college requirements and require that all high school seniors take at least five academic classes, including one math course.

• Reexamine grading policies to ensure that standards are consistent. Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust West, said inconsistent policies could result in some students unfairly losing the chance to apply to the UC or CSU schools.

• Encourage disadvantaged students to take Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes and give them special support.

• Coordinate middle school and high school curricula to make sure that courses match up and that students are prepared to start high school. (As we wrote last week, this is a problem for Lincoln High, where students come from dozens of different middle schools.)

• Create transitional programs to better prepare middle schoolers for the demands of high school, emphasizing study skills.

You can check out the full report, which offers even more detail on gaps in the system and course offerings, including detailed findings on five specific high schools: Henry, Madison, Morse, Point Loma and San Diego High School of International Studies. The school board is scheduled to review the report and what to do next on Tuesday morning.

For more on the classes that kids need to apply to college and why they fall short, you can also read our earlier article about the problem.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

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Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert
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2 comments
Zeke Williams
Zeke Williams subscriber

Far better is it to encourage a child in the way he/she must go than for a parent or school system to attempt "Child 2.0" only to find failure & disappointment in or after the process.

Zeke Socal
Zeke Socal

Far better is it to encourage a child in the way he/she must go than for a parent or school system to attempt "Child 2.0" only to find failure & disappointment in or after the process.