Sunday, September 21, 2014


By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News |

LAUSD Superintendent Dr. John Deasy says, “We’re making great progress in preparing our sophomores and other students for graduation.” Staff file photo

Posted: 09/19/14, 5:00 PM PDT | Updated: 9/2o/2014 2 MP PDT  ::  A slightly larger portion of Los Angeles Unified’s high school sophomores proved competent in math and English compared to a year earlier, but California’s largest school district still lags behind state and county pass rates on exams needed to graduate, according to test results released Friday.

In the most recent round of testing, 79 percent of LAUSD sophomores passed the mathematics part of the California High School Exit Exam, while 78 percent met reading and writing requirements in the English portion, according to 2013-14 results released by the California Department of Education.

Although Los Angeles Unified’s pass-rate grew by one point in each subject over the previous school year — continuing to improve from five years earlier when just 70 percent of sophomores managed to pass the math section and 71 percent passed English — students in this city are still less successful on average than their peers at public schools across L.A. County and California.

On average, 85 percent of students in California were competent in math and 83 percent in English by 10th grade. In Los Angeles County, 84 percent passed math and 82 percent passed English.

“There’s no doubt that we have more work to do in serving our historically underserved students, and we are committed to doing so,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said in a written statement Friday.

Deasy highlighted improvements the district has made over the past decade, increasing from a mere 44 percent of 10th graders passing both parts of the exam in 2003-04 to 68 percent passing both parts in 2013-14.

“We held mostly steady for the year, but when you look at the historical trends, we’re making great progress in preparing our sophomores and other students for graduation,” Deasy said.

California school students must pass the exam to graduate high school. Students are tested in their sophomore year, while kids who fail are given two more shots in their junior year and more than three chances to pass as seniors, according to the California Department of Education.

One of Los Angeles Unified’s most marked improvements came out of the San Fernando Valley, where 12 percent more students than last year passed both exams at Cesar E. Chavez Learning Academy.

The 500-student magnet school for arts in San Fernando is small enough to give kids one-on-one attention — a factor Principal John Lawler said likely played a role in the school’s improvement.

“We’re much more able to look at students and see what their specific needs are,” Lawler said.

But a more recent change in curriculum also contributed to the school’s improved performance, Lawler said.

Last year, the school decided to make writing composition a part of just about every subject. Whether kids were taking classes in dance, drama, music, design or visual arts — they were required to write an argumentative essay in each subject, Lawler said.

The concept, he said, is that by teaching students how to write, their reading comprehension also improves. And with better reading comprehension skills, kids test better in mathematics because they’re able to break down and extract equations from test problems written in paragraph form.

“It’s hard to put a direct cause and effect, but one thing we did do, and made a really big push on last year, was to emphasize writing across the curriculum,” Lawler said

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