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LA Unified graduation rate continues steady climb, now at 75 percent

Preliminary numbers show 75 percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District's class of 2016 earned their diplomas in four years, district leaders said Tuesday.

That latest figure — which Superintendent Michelle King announced during her State of the District address — represents a three percentage point jump from last year's official graduation rate (72.2 percent), and a rise of more than 10 percentage points since 2011.

"This is exceeding expectations of those who said our students couldn't do it," King said in her speech. "Today we say, our students can and will thrive to meet the standards of the 21st century."

The graduation rate's upward trend continued, even though L.A. Unified asked this year's group of seniors to complete a more comprehensive list of diploma requirements. The class of 2016 was the first required by district officials to complete the same "A-G" sequence of 15 college prep-level courses the University of California or California State University system schools require for admission.

In June, King said preliminary data showed around 74 percent of the 2016 seniors had completed all the necessary A-G courses. District officials said students' completion of either accelerated or credit recovery courses over the summer helped push the overall graduation rate to the 75 percent mark unveiled on Tuesday.

But more broadly, the graduation rate increase is the culmination of years of work by both district educators and school board members. The board first established the goal of requiring students to complete the A-G sequence in 2005.

"It really is a story of all hands on deck," said Frances Gipson, L.A. Unified's chief academic officer, "and a story of personalization with students, teachers, counselors and family members all coming together for ‘Team Kid.’”

"We analyze student data on a weekly basis, almost down to the student level," said King, "and then customize it to make sure students had access to the appropriate courses or support systems so they could make it through."

But this year, the district did not require this year's seniors to complete all A-G classes with grades of C or better, which UC and CSU schools also require. In June 2015, L.A. Unified School Board said it would allow Class of 2016 seniors to graduate with D's or better in A-G classes after it became apparent the requirement put thousands of students at risk of not graduating.

Next year's class of 2017 will be the first L.A. Unified requires to pass the A-G with C's or better.

"No one is satisfied with just passing or meeting that bar of implementation," said school board member Mónica García. "We want to see great success for all kids. It means getting rid of D's and F's [in the diploma requirements], it means intervening earlier, it means making the commitment to pre-K, it really means personalization."

The increased graduation rate was one of several district accomplishments King touted in her speech, delivered before an audience of mostly district principals and administrators in the nearly 1,500-seat auditorium at Garfield High School in East L.A.

King's speech also included a list of priorities, perhaps hinting at the contents of the three-year strategic plan currently in the works. In addition to broad goals she's already discussed — such as "100 percent graduation," further "decentralizing" administrative powers from the central office to school sites and expanding school choice pathways for parents — King spoke about setting goals in new areas.

For instance, King promised she would focus on increasing the rates at which students still learning English become proficient — the term is "reclassification" — saying she would "set goals for improvement, so that every kindergartener who enrolls in elementary school [as an English Learner] will be reclassified by the fifth grade."

King also said she would focus on increasing the rates at which L.A. Unified high schoolers enroll concurrently in college courses.