By Alexander Chui, editor
Following the special study session school board meeting on Jan. 29, the school board indicated little support for a pause of the current graduation requirements, though the board was open to a potential waiver system for students to opt-out of the current A-G graduation requirements. An agenda item for the board to present possible waiver systems was scheduled for the board meeting on Feb. 12.
During the meeting called to determine the future of the new A-G graduation requirements, only Director Ed Sheffield expressed any support for a pause in mandating high school students to meet the University of California A-G requirements. “I will say that I am not fully opposed to a pause, a slowing down of the process, but I do worry that a pause could kill a policy for lack of momentum,” said Sheffield.
Will Lyon, president of the Santa Rosa Teachers Association, said “The teachers and counselors asked for help for our struggling students. The Board rejected our request and trashed us for asking. We don’t know what comes next, and we are waiting for leadership and guidance from our District Office.”
The primary motivation for the school board changing high school graduation rates was to increase opportunity for socioeconomically disadvantaged students to graduate high school and be eligible to attend a four-year university, such as UCs. However, as the SRTA reports, roughly 20% of current sophomores have failed Math 1 twice, meaning they are not on track to graduate under the new requirements without significant credit recovery options. Lyon said that there were over 1800 Fs in freshman and sophomore core classes during the first semester of 2019-20 compared to 1200 Fs the previous year. Freshmen and sophomores affected by the new graduation requirements. Successive grades will be included in the new graduation requirements if no pause is instituted.
The problem of access to college is real, but the solution of mandating A-G courses is not effective, said Lyon. “If a student is placed in a math class they are not prepared for, do they really have access?”
To address the issue of access to college, Lyon asked, “What are we doing in elementary and middle schools to prepare students for the rigor of A-G courses?”
With the spiked F rate, students who do not graduate in four years must pursue other options including Ridgway High School, the continuation high school where struggling students often transfer during their junior year. However, the amount of Fs exceeds the capacity of RHS, said Lyon.
“If we don’t make a plan going forward, fewer students will graduate,” said Lyon.
Under the new graduation requirements, elective enrollment is necessarily lower, as students now have to take one more year of math and one more year of foreign language, which take up elective slots in their schedules. Another effect of the new graduation requirements is difficulty sustaining Career and Technical Education programs throughout the district. With the increased number of Fs, taking credit recovery courses may prevent students from completing the three years of CTE coursework. If students do not complete a CTE pathway, the program loses state funding.
During the Jan. 29 meeting, Director Jenni Klose said, “We need to change the way we talk about Ds. If you got a D in A-G class, it means you had a chance to get a C, and it means you can graduate high school. Let’s change how we are talking about it because a D in an A-G class is the exact same thing as an A+ in a Reg class.” While a D in an A-G class does not count for UC requirements, just as any grade in a non-college-prep class does not, students with less than a 2.0 GPA cannot participate in high school athletics.
Director Stephanie Manieri said, “I think we are really failing our students in engaging them and there is a huge opportunity there.” In the school board’s slide presentation, criticisms of math instruction districtwide included “de-contextualized lessons with minimal demand of student application.”
While Director Omar Medina advocated for more support classes, he believed pausing the new graduation requirements would send the wrong message that the district does not believe in students to succeed. “If you conceive the idea of going to college, then you can believe in the idea. And if you can believe in that idea, then you are going to achieve it.”