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Elimination of high school exit exams leads to rise in LAUSD graduation rate

File photo: California senators approved a measure that would fix a problem that kept 5,000 seniors in the Class of 2015 from taking the high school exit exam and graduating.
Crystal Marie Lopez/Flickr
FILE: Los Angeles Unified reported a better graduation rate this year for the district, in large part because the high school exit exam was eliminated.

Driven by the end of the high school exit exam, the overall graduation rate for the Los Angeles Unified School District hit 74 percent, a new high, according to school district officials on Monday.

The graduation rate includes continuation and alternative high schools, where graduation rates are historically lower. The school district’s preliminary graduation rate last year was 67 percent.

At the school district’s 103 regular high schools, the preliminary combined graduation rate hit 83 percent for the class of 2015, 6 percentage points higher than the year before, school officials said. 

The district has had a persistent problem closing wide performance gaps among racial groups, but those breakdowns were not distributed with the overall graduation rates Monday. Although some recent performance measures, such as graduation rates, have shown improvement for black and Latino students, the progress has been largely incremental.

The latest graduate rates are preliminary; state officials will certify a final number later this academic year. (See school-by-school graduate rates below.)

LAUSD officials took credit for the improvement in the graduation rates.

“These results reflect the efforts by our teachers, administrators and staff to prepare our graduates for college and careers,” said Superintendent Ramon Cortines.

But the graduation rate also reflects the statewide elimination of the high school exam requirement that had kept thousands of students from graduating.

Three months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill eliminating the nine-year old California High School Exit Exam. Sponsors said the test no longer aligned with the new learning standards known as the Common Core.

LAUSD said about 1,400 high school seniors in the class of 2015 had not passed the exam and failed to qualify for graduation. The new law allowed them to receive their diplomas and boosted the school district’s graduation rate by about 4 percentage points.

Lawmakers also changed state law to grant diplomas to former students who had not passed the exit exam but who had fulfilled all other graduation requirements. The change affected former students going back to the class of 2006. The class was the first to be required to pass the exam for graduation.

In June, the LAUSD school board also eased high school graduation requirements by no longer requiring a C grade or better in college prep classes. The move came after the district estimated more than 22,000 LAUSD students in the Class of 2017 risked losing out on a diploma they may have been eligible for in a neighboring district or nearby charter school.

The decision modified a commitment made a decade ago to require so-called A-G courses to earn a high school diploma. The classes are needed to become eligible for University of California and California State University entry. 

Preliminary LAUSD 2014-15 Graduation Rates by School