SAN JOSE -- The San Jose Unified School District both defended its work and pledged to rededicate itself to preparing all students for college, despite a decade of falling far short of that goal.
A story in the Los Angeles Times on Monday noted that even though the district adopted a policy of requiring all students to pass a set of college-preparatory classes, only 40 percent of graduates in 2011 did.
The classes are required for entrance to the University of California and California State University. In 1998 San Jose Unified became one of the first districts in the state to require all students, not just those deemed college-bound, to pass the 15 courses in order to graduate.
"We are clearly in a better place than where we were," before adopting the so-called A-to-G requirements, Superintendent Vincent Matthews said Monday. "However, clearly, we still have a long way to go."
He noted that before college-prep courses were required, less than 26 percent of seniors graduated prepared to enter the University of California. Both the overall rate and the rate for Latino students who make up more than half of district enrollment have increased.
But clearly there is a large loophole in the requirement. Many students are failing, dropping out or not taking the tougher classes. Some transfer to one of the district's many alternative schools, or find remedial classes may take up their schedules. Others may take vocational courses -- many of which have UC approval -- yet they somehow fall short of meeting the full requirement.
In Santa Clara County, among the 11 school districts that run high schools, San Jose Unified lands exactly in the middle in the percentage of Latino graduates who are prepared for UC entrance. The figures for 2011 range from 44 percent for Palo Alto Unified to 16.1 percent in East Side Union.
Carol Myers, a former San Jose Unified trustee, said the data doesn't surprise her. Although she voted for A-to-G, she said she raised several concerns, including what would happen to students who fail or don't want to take college-prep courses. "If a kid isn't successful right away, we don't have enough safety nets to help them," she said.
At the time, the district pledged to boost summer school and teacher training to support students in reaching the higher goals. But years of successive budget cuts have all but eliminated summer school and many academic programs.
Matthews said the district's strategic plan adopted last year listed as the No. 1 priority eliminating the opportunity gap that separates groups of students. That includes both improving students' skills and offering them more options to advance.
The requirement to take college-prep courses went into full effect with the Class of 2002. For the first few years, the district fudged its calculations, by counting students who earned a D -- which is not accepted by UC -- or who met an outdated and less-demanding list of CSU prerequisites. Ex-Superintendent Linda Murray discovered the errors in 2008 while conducting a study.
Despite the discouraging college-prep numbers, the district shouldn't back away from the A-to-G requirement, said Rosa De Leon of Californians for Justice. Two years ago the group worked to persuade the East Side Union High School District to follow in San Jose Unified's lead and adopt A-to-G requirements as the default curriculum in 11 high schools.
"I think it is very important that we prepare all students for college and to provide the support that they need," De Leon said. "A through G is not only a pathway to college, but also provides students with the skills they need for life."
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.
Districts vary widely in the percentages of Latino high school graduates who pass the courses to qualify for entrance to UC and CSU. The figures below are for the Class of 2011, the latest numbers available. They do not take into account socioeconomic status.
District % Latino college-prepared
Palo Alto Unified 44.1%
Los Gatos-Saratoga 43.8%
Morgan Hill 35.9%*
Fremont Union 31.5%
Mt. View-Los Altos 30.8%
San Jose Unified 26.6%
Santa Clara 19%
East Side 16.1%
* Figure for 2010; complete 2011 data not available