- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO Regardless of academic performance, San Francisco's schools will graduate 1,120 students next spring even if they fall short of district standards in math and science.
"This is the ultimate form of social promotion," said Jackie Snyder, whose nephew will graduate in June without taking the required three years of science and three years of math. "I wonder if people will think my nephew's diploma will be worth anything, once people find out about this."
School officials say they are relaxing standards for one year only and deny it constitutes social promotion, the policy of passing students from one grade to the next with their age group no matter how they perform academically
"Social promotion is not an issue in this district," says John Quinn, an associate superintendent in the San Francisco Unified District's high school division. "Students go from ninth to 12th grade based on the credits they've earned, with a total of 240 needed for graduation."
The city school board mandated in 1997 that all students entering high school that year must take math and science courses in line with admission standards for state universities. This year's graduates were to be the first under that policy.
The board adopted those requirements because students who followed the district's former standards often graduated without taking classes such as geometry and algebra. Many were therefore denied admission to the University of California no matter how good their grades.
The 1997 standards drew universal praise when they were adopted. "It's a really significant step," said California Schools Superintendent Delaine Easton at the time.
But when new San Francisco Superintendent Arlene Ackerman asked aides last fall how many seniors in the class of 2001 would meet graduation requirements next spring, she was told 30 percent would not.
So board members voted to delay implementing the standards at least for one year. "Due to budget problems, we've been unable to support the students in taking the classes to meet those requirements," Mr. Quinn said. "We may have to roll the standards back for the next couple of years, too."
District officials report that most of the students who would not have met those standards are black and Hispanic. About 26 percent of those who will graduate with fewer science and math courses and more electives are not fluent in English.
"We need to have more support classes for these students and we need earlier identification of students falling behind in meeting requirements," Mr. Quinn said.
Meanwhile, students at the only two San Francisco high schools that demand even more course work than the standard adopted in 1997 appear to have no problem meeting either the citywide requirements or those of their schools.
At Philip & Sala Burton High and Thurgood Marshall High, which mandate 280 credits for graduation, 40 credits above the districtwide requirement, almost all seniors are on track to graduate. Both schools are in the poverty-ridden Bayview-Hunter's Point area of the city.
"This demonstrates that when we set high expectations and stand by them, the kids perform accordingly, regardless of race or economics," said Ron Unz, the Silicon Valley software entrepreneur who has sponsored two education-related California ballot initiatives and another in Arizona.
School board members said they were reluctant to relax their requirements and had been uninformed about the students' lack of progress until this fall.
"I feel my hands are tied because the [former] superintendents did not once bring to our attention how many students are behind," said board President Mary Hernandez. "At this point, I felt we had no choice but to make this change in the short term out of fairness to the students."

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