Zimmer expresses frustration over credit recovery, graduating with D’s and academic counselor shortage
Mike Szymanski | August 24, 2016
While the latest academic reports from the LA Unified school district were positive overall, school board President Steve Zimmer expressed frustration at some of the data presented at Tuesday’s board meeting and said he foresees potential problems ahead.
Zimmer asked for a breakdown of how many students are graduating with D grades and in what subjects.
“How many graduate with several D’s? How many of those D’s are in algebra?” asked Zimmer, who said he tries to remain data-driven in his decisions. “I see this and it causes me a lot of stress.”
He also wanted to know if the district is notifying local colleges and universities to let them know that the second-largest school district in the country is hiring academic counselors again.
“We know about the teacher shortage coming up, but I’m worried that we need to be working on hiring academic counselors,” Zimmer said. He pointed out that the district administrators should let the local colleges know of the district’s needs. “If they know we’re hiring, they will graduate them. This is a pretty market-driven system.”
Those academic counselors will also help students with their credit recovery program and push them toward graduation, he noted.
Although some of the academic scores came close to the district’s targeted goals, some were sorely lacking.
For example, every high school student is supposed to have an Individualized Graduation Plan (IGP), but only 59 percent do, said Cynthia Lim, the executive director of the Office of Data and Accountability for LA Unified.
“We had a few glitches in the system,” Lim explained.
At one point Tuesday, Zimmer turned to the new student school board member, Karen Calderon, and asked if she had an Individualized Graduation Plan. No, she didn’t, but she said she has a good relationship with the counselors at her high school.
Also, about 38 percent of the district students taking the college-level Advanced Placement Exams received a 3 or higher, making them eligible to get college credit, Lim said. The target that the district is striving for next year is 40 percent.
“We have some improvement needed there too,” Lim reported.
The school district also wanted at least 48 percent of graduating seniors to pass the A-G class requirements with a C grade or better. They hit 42 percent.
“We have some work to do there,” Lim said. She also pointed out that the school board voted that students could get their high school diploma if they received a D-grade in the A-G classes, but “the goal is still to be college prepared and we want to cap it at a C. We are trying to improve that D to a C.”
Fellow board member Ref Rodriguez echoed some of Zimmer’s concerns and said, “We need to know how we got some of those scores up.” He added, “As far as the Individualized Graduation Plans, we need to do something about that.”
Zimmer pointed out that the district had laid off academic counselors in the past that were supposed to be helping students achieve success in graduating and steer them toward college. He said he fears that not enough academic counselors are graduating from local universities, and the district will suffer.
“We cut so much during the recession in non-roster classroom positions,” Zimmer said. “I know well that USC is only now restarting their counselor education program and we are two to three years out to getting those counselors.”
Chief Academic Officer Frances Gipson said the district is working with Title 1 money to help schools that need extra resources. She said the district is also encouraging students to consider a counseling career.
In an interview, Gipson said, “What we’re doing puts a whole new perspective on what credit recovery is.”
She said the district is creating more pathways to accelerate student graduation and encouraging dual enrollment with community colleges. They are also working closely with USC, UCLA, Cal State and schools to share resources and produce the best graduates.
As far as the D grades, Gipson said, “a D-grade is not the goal. The goal is 100 percent graduation and high grades for all students. We will be increasing the rigor and calibrating the work we do in the system.”
Gipson said they want to encourage college-bound students from the early level of schooling. “You can imagine we’re pretty excited about what we’re doing and what can happen in every single grade level.”
She added, “The entire LAUSD family knows it starts in preschool. And we’re mapping those opportunities not just for the seniors who are getting ready to go to community college, but doing some design planning that takes them from preschool and graduation to high school and beyond.”