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'D' grade may get LAUSD students out of high school, but not into 4-year college

Students go about their business at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
David McNew/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Unified school board's decision to lower the grade required to pass college prep courses might get struggling students out of high school, but it won't get them into colleges like UCLA.

California college admissions experts say while Los Angeles Unified school board's decision Tuesday to lower the grade requirement for college preparation courses will help students graduate, it won't get them into four-year colleges.

Ten years ago, the district established a requirement for students to pass college preparation courses that would make them eligible to enter University of California and California State University campuses. Starting with the Class of 2017, students would be required to pass the courses with a "C" grade to get them college ready.

But in light of the possibility that 22,000 students could fail to make the grade and fall short of graduating from high school, the board voted to allow students to pass the college prep courses known as A-G classes with a "D" grade.

So now, will a D for a college prep class get a student into the University of California?

“A 'D' in the UC’s mind is not passing," said Kathryn Favaro, owner of California College Prep, a college admission consulting firm.

“Let’s say you need four years of English to meet that area requirement and you have a D in even one semester. They would consider you deficient in a semester of English and it would make you ineligible,” she said.

The University of California is selective. It’s supposed to accept the top one-eighth of high school graduates in the state. Cal State is relatively less selective; it opens its doors to the top one-third of California high school graduates who have passed the college prep classes. But is D a passing grade for Cal State?

No, says Nancy Wada-McKee, head of enrollment management at Cal State Los Angeles. A D in one of the college prep classes will not help you get into a Cal State campus.

“If students were required to have a C in these courses before graduating, that would ostensibly improve the number of students who would be eligible for admission to college," she said.

John Rogers, UCLA education researcher, supports LAUSD’s A-G requirement, even with the grade change. He said just enrolling in a college preparatory course in high school — in chemistry, for example — is valuable.

“Even if that student has not done well in that course, there’s an argument to be made that the student will be better prepared for future work in lab sciences and, in particular, chemistry when he or she moves to a community college," Rogers said.

For high school graduates, the only admission requirement at California community colleges is that there’s a seat available. So community college will be one option for struggling students.

Still, a D grade doesn’t make a student ready even for community college, said Rebecca Joseph, Cal State LA professor. She said the D usually means a student isn’t doing the homework or doesn’t understand the subject, neither of which are college-going traits.

“It’s always to me, when is the kid going to wake up? And it’s always a click and it just depends on when that click happens. Sometimes the click happens in ninth grade, sometimes it happens in 11th grade. Sometimes it happens in community college,” Joseph said.

Since thousands of LAUSD students were likely to fall short of getting a C for their college prep courses, the school board's decision to lower the required grade should keep graduation rates from plummeting. That's important for the district, since it is one of the closely monitored measures of student achievement.

All hope is not lost for the high school student with a D in a college prep class who wants to get into a four-year college, said consultant Favaro.

“Colleges understand that not everyone is perfect and we don’t always get it right the first time around. So they do give students the chance to make up a class. That’s often done through summer school,” she said.

Students can also take online make-up courses, even though they are expensive, she said. So students who really want to go to college will find a way.