Tougher Local High School Requirements Will Benefit Students

San Diego Union School District is taking steps to make a UC education a more feasible option for its graduates. Beginning with the class of 2016 (or current seventh graders), students in the district will be required to fulfill the UC A-G requirements — a set of 15 classes across several disciplines — in order to graduate high school.

This expansion will benefit students by requiring local high schools to offer these A-Gs; otherwise, students attending schools that don’t offer all the courses may be thrown off the path to a UC education before they realize it. This program will ensure that students with poor planning will not meet UC requirements without even knowing it.

A 2009 Education Trust-West study of the district found that only 46 percent of SDUSD students who graduated fulfilled the A-G requirements necessary to apply to the UC. Only about 67 percent of the SDUSD class of 2009 was able to take all 15 courses required for the A-G requirements.

Currently, SDSU students need only pass three math classes (or up to geometry to graduate) — one class level below UC requirements. Similar standards are upheld in foreign languages and the arts, in which students must take an additional year each to meet UC requirements.

The district’s new requirements will ultimately amount to three additional course requirements over four years. The A-G course requirements demand that high school students complete three years of college-preparatory math classes through Algebra II, in which students must receive a grade of “C” or higher — meaning the SDUSD must add an extra math course in order to meet the proposed requirements.
The $15 million this program costs will be well spent. Nervous administrators need only look to the San Jose School District, which made similar changes in 2002 to great success. Initial worries that low-performing students might drop out en masse have proven unfounded — graduation rates have held steady over the last decade, as have average GPAs.

The initiative, as in San Jose, won’t stand alone. The program plans to expand tutorial programs and add the option of taking classes at alternative schools that will allow students to fulfill the new requirement. San Jose School District partnered its program with a mass recruitment of qualified teachers to teach new foreign language, math and science classes.

Most important, SJSD created a “D plan” that allows students who don’t plan on college to take less strenuous classes and still receive a diploma. About 15 percent of students in the district have opted to follow that route.

This program is a game changer that will allow the SDUSD to provide more students with the opportunity to easily fulfill requirements. And while a four-year university or a UC education may not be realistic for every student, the district has at least made it more of an option for all local high school students.