With one-third of the city’s high school seniors unable to meet new graduation requirements, the San Francisco school board rolled back tougher standards last week.
The new requirements, put in place in 1997, were to have taken effect next spring.
Board members, who voted 6-0 for the changes Oct. 10, took responsibility for failing to provide an adequate number of tutors and teachers, more class time, and other resources to help district students meet the higher credit load.
The board decided, instead, that members of the class of 2001 would have to earn 220 academic credits, not the 240 credits that had been mandated three years ago.
“We should not be surprised about this,” Jill Wynns, a school board member, said last week. “We made a decision to do something without having the money to do it fully.”
The relaxed policy also allows students to graduate with one less credit in mathematics, science, foreign languages, and performing arts than under the 1997 policy. The board had raised the credit requirement that year in an effort to force students to drop electives and take more courses in core academic areas.
In presenting the revised graduation standards, San Francisco’s first-year superintendent, Arlene Ackerman, said that some 1,120 seniors would not have been able to graduate without the change.
Ms. Ackerman will present a revised plan for graduation requirements to the board early next year.
Not Enough Planning
Across the country, school districts could face similar dilemmas when their new high-stakes improvement measures clash with the reality of large numbers of students who fail to hit the mark.
“I think there is a kind of enthusiastic embrace of raising the bar higher without enough planning,” Ms. Wynns said.
In the case of the 60,000-student San Francisco district, schools have lacked enough counselors to help students track their progress toward the 240 credits, officials agreed.
The district also failed to follow through on plans to add an additional period to the high school day— making it harder for students to earn more credits. And when students failed classes, it was nearly impossible for them to catch up without attending school outside regular hours.
Moreover, many of this year’s seniors who were coming up short had failed their required third year of mathematics, which was a high- level algebra class—one of the most difficult to staff with well-qualified teachers.
Ms. Wynns said she was hopeful, however, that reform-minded school districts elsewhere were doing a better job of planning and finding ways to support their higher demands of students.
“The hallmark of the previous [San Francisco] administration was no planning. You just did it,” she said. “I don’t think it’s as bad in other places.”