If Los Angeles Unified students want to earn high school degrees, they will soon be expected to complete state university entrance requirements.
It's billed by the school district's top administrator as way to "level the playing field" for students. But it has some educators -- not to mention students -- worried.
So on Tuesday, the school board voted to ease students into higher expectations by reducing the overall number of required courses.
The board simultaneously voted to raise GPA requirements.
The coming change means students this fall will be required to take two years of foreign language and an additional year of math, among other new expectations for graduation. The new requirements were first adopted in 2005 but not implemented until now.
Under a proposal backed by Superintendent John Deasy (PDF) that was before the Board of Education Tuesday, incoming freshmen would have to complete the college-prep curriculum, but they would have had fewer other elective requirements.
Deasy wanted to reduce the number of credits needed for graduation from 230 to 180. (An initial proposal aired last month would have required 170 credits.)
On an amendment suggested by board member Steve Zimmer, the Board of Education voted to reduce the number of required credits to 210 instead of Deasy's requested 180.
Requiring fewer elective courses for graduation is a change meant to give students more time during the school year to successfully complete college-prep courses they've failed previously, district officials had said.
"We're providing an opportunity for them to make up class inside the school day," Deasy said.
The board also voted to require that all college-prep courses be completed with a grade of "C" or better, starting with the Class of 2017. The course sequence, known as A-G requirements, is needed for acceptance to the University of California and California State University systems.
Right now, students only need a "D" to graduate, though a "C" average is needed for acceptance to the UC and CSU systems.
Last year, just about 15 percent percent of graduating seniors passed the college-prep curriculum with a "C" grade, according to a memo to the school board (PDF) from Deasy.
That statistic shows the district -- already struggling with a high dropout rate -- will have a difficult challenge in getting students to graduate under the proposed standards. That, in part, has led to heated debate on Deasy's plans.
Deasy said the controversy on shifting requirements originates from a broader policy division related to expectations for LAUSD students.
"I think that we struggle to determine whether we believe that every student can graduate college/work force ready," said Deasy, who assumed the district's top role a little over a year ago.
"We are going to give some kids orange juice and some kids orange drink? No. That is not what this administration is going to be about," Deasy added.
The new expectations are in line with parents' demands for high standards, and show that the district "believes in" its students, he said.
But critics worry the new requirements will increase the dropout rate -- or, alternately, that reducing the number of credits is a "cop-out."
Some board members also complained that there's no money in the strapped LAUSD budget to pay for implementing the new policy.