College & Workforce Readiness

Calif. District Delays Policy on College-Prep Classes

By Catherine Gewertz — September 22, 2004 2 min read
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The Modesto, Calif., school district decided this past spring to keep hundreds of students out of college-preparatory courses unless they met a minimum score on state tests. But the district has re-enrolled the students in those courses to settle a legal challenge.

The settlement was reached on Aug. 27, as a public-interest law firm prepared to seek a court order forbidding the Northern California school district to enforce the new policy this year.

Under the policy, high school students are required to reach certain minimum scores on the state’s Standardized Testing And Reporting program, known as STAR, in order to enroll in Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, or college-prep courses, or to take less than a full schedule of classes.

The policy was adopted in March, the month after students had enrolled in college-prep classes for this fall. When the star scores were released in mid-August, 408 students were informed they could not take the college-prep courses or the reduced schedules they had planned.

Six college-prep students and their families filed a lawsuit on Aug. 25 to keep the district from enforcing the policy. They argued that it was unfair because students had been given less than a month’s notice that their star scores would be used to make course decisions.

Incentive for State Tests

Many students were worried that the policy would affect their college plans because they had been removed from courses that are required for acceptance into the state’s university systems.

Michelle Natividad Rodriguez, a law fellow at Public Advocates, the San Francisco-based law firm that filed the suit, welcomed the settlement.

“It was unfair for the district to change the rules midstream and not to allow time to prepare for the new requirement,” she said in a statement. “We’re pleased the students will start the year in the tougher courses they’d already qualified for and that they will continue to prepare for college.”

Jim Enochs, the superintendent of the 35,000-student Modesto district, said the policy was meant to create an incentive for students to perform well on the tests. The tests are given in grades 2-11 and are used for the state’s accountability system under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, but are not used for promotion or graduation decisions.

“Here we were, facing serious sanctions on the school and district level, and the students didn’t take it seriously,” he said.

Mr. Enochs said he was disappointed that the district could not implement the policy this year, because it had seemed to improve test performance.

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