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Saturday, November 26, 2022

For subscribers: San Diego Unified projects a 95 percent graduation rate this year

San Diego Unified is predicting a whopping 95 percent graduation rate this year, partly because it expanded opportunities for students to recover course credits and because of a state law that temporarily relaxed graduation requirements due to the pandemic.

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If the projection stays true, it would be the district’s highest graduation rate since the state started calculating graduation rates this way in 2017, amounting to a 6-percentage-point jump above last year’s rate.

In the four years prior, the district’s graduation rate had risen by only two percentage points total.

The rate jump for Black and Latino students is even higher. Both groups’ graduation rates are expected to reach 92 percent this year, which would be an increase of 6 percentage points for Black students and 9 points for Latino students.

About 500 of the graduating students, or 8 percent, are able to do so because of relaxed graduation standards, according to district data.

A state law passed last year, AB 104, allows districts to temporarily waive their own graduation requirements if they were more extensive than what the state requires. That part of the law, which will expire with the Class of 2022, was meant to help students who were at risk of not graduating amid the disruptions of the pandemic and school closures.

San Diego Unified requires one more year of English, one more year of math, one more year of science, and at least one more year of a foreign language than California’s graduation requirements. Under AB 104, students who fulfilled the state’s requirements but didn’t complete those additional classes could still graduate in San Diego.

While graduation requirements were relaxed, San Diego Unified Executive Director Nicole DeWitt said students are still meeting admission requirements to get into California’s public universities — even though some are graduating without meeting the district’s standards.

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Last year, when AB 104 was in effect, about 73 percent of San Diego Unified graduates met public university admission requirements, which is the same percentage as in 2019.

The graduation rate is also expected to be so high because the district has been getting more students to take its credit recovery courses.

“Our credit recovery program has really helped us tremendously,” said School Board President Sharon Whitehurst-Payne at a board meeting Tuesday.

More San Diego Unified students took credit recovery classes because the district expanded its summer school program last year using federal COVID aid. The district poured more than $22 million of pandemic funds into summer school to offer more seats.

About 9,200 high school students took summer school last year, compared to 2,100 students the year before.

Students could take credit recovery classes online or in-person, DeWitt said, but online classes were mostly meant for students who were already enrolled in the district’s virtual academy and for students preparing for college sports.

The district also changed the way it offered summer school in a way that allowed students to recover more credits and more quickly.

Last year summer courses were offered in two three-week sessions rather than one six-week session, as the district has typically done. The district also allowed students to recover up to four credits during the summer, rather than the typical two credits, DeWitt said.

As a result, students earned more than 14,100 credits toward graduation during summer school credit recovery last year, compared to 1,300 the summer before.

Students who took summer school last year because they were at risk of not meeting academic standards were given significantly higher marks during summer credit recovery classes than during the regular school year, district data show.

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During the regular school year, those students were failing more than a third of their classes and received A’s, B’s or C’s in just 40 percent of their classes, according to the district. But during the summer, those students received F grades in only 2 percent of their classes and received A’s, B’s and C’s in 80 percent of their classes.

When asked why there was such a change in results, DeWitt said it’s because last summer was the first time summer classes were changed to comply with the district’s new grading approach, which seeks to eliminate non-academic factors from grading, such as whether a student completes homework or other busy work.

“We’re not so much focused on the breadth but the depth,” DeWitt said.

San Diego Unified plans to offer this modified summer school program once more this year, again paid for with pandemic funds. In addition, the district says it will use about $13 million in state grants to offer more credit recovery, identify students earlier on for credit recovery, track students’ progress to graduation, and provide tutoring, mentoring and internship programs.

While the overall graduation rate is expected to be high, some students were left far behind.

Students who are learning English and students with disabilities still averaged 71 percent graduation rates, 24 percentage points below the district average.

San Diego Unified also recently released data that shows student grade trends appear to be returning to pre-pandemic levels, after a surge of D and F grades last year when schools spent most of the year in remote learning.

In Fall 2020, about 22 percent of all grades given to high school students were D’s or F’s. That fell to 17 percent in Fall 2021, which is closer to the 15 percent average during the semester just before the pandemic hit.

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