High schools in Kern County hope to improve dismal college requirement courses rate

June 17, 2024 /

While most high school students are out on summer vacation, school district offices remain open as administrators continue to work and prepare for the new school year which is only a few weeks away.  One area that school administrators might be pondering is how to improve the rate of students who successfully complete A-G requirements.  

These are rigorous college prep courses in history, English, math, science, foreign language, arts, and an elective. Each category has its own letter, A-G, which is where the requirements get their name. While a student may graduate from high school without meeting the A-G standard, they’re important if a student wants to attend a university in the UC or Cal State system.  In other words, it’s a requirement.  

Yet the vast majority of high school graduates in Kern County do not meet the A-G standards.  According to the latest figures from the California Department of Education, Kern County as a whole had a 36.6 percent A-G completion rate among students who graduated in 2023.  Statewide, just slightly more than half, 52.4 percent of graduates complete A-G requirements.  Figures for the 2023-24 school year are not yet available.  The Kern High School district which encompasses campuses from Arvin to Bakersfield to Shafter had a completion rate of just 36.5 percent. 

‘We have more students enrolled in A-G courses today than ever before. We are committed to our families to keep improving and actualizing the District’s main mission of providing programs and services to allow all students to graduate from high school prepared to succeed,” wrote KHSD spokesperson Erin Briscoe in an email.  Yet KHSD did not address the question of why the district had such a low completion rate. Among the measures KHSD has or is implementing to improve A-G completion rates are: 

  • Increasing the opportunities for students to experience a college field trip.  
  • Expanding focus funding for parent/community outreach through Parent and Family Centers, Parent University, and parent workshops.
  • Providing professional development and training for teachers, administrators, and counselors to improve A-G awareness, course identification, recovery, support, and expansion.   
  • Professional learning community (PLC) collaboration time to develop student and parent workshops regarding college preparation.         
  • Provide credit/course recovery and/or A-G course expansion during the school year and summer school, as well as expansion of tutoring opportunities to support student success. 
  • Expansion of educational partnerships to support students with post-secondary planning (includes increased outreach to junior high students).
  • Expansion of Dual Enrollment courses and the Early College Program.  

Briscoe added that KHSD provides mentorships for Black and Latino students focusing on instilling confidence through programs such as Project Black Excellence in Scholarship and Teaching (Project BEST), Young Women Empowered for Leadership (YWEL) for African American females, Latinos In Stride to Obtain Success (LISTOS) for Latinos, and Providing Opportunity for Development, Empowerment and Resilience (PODER) for Latinas.

But KHSD is hardly alone in struggling with A-G completion rates. McFarland Unified School District had a similar 37 percent completion rate.  District superintendent Aaron Resendez called the numbers “unacceptable.”   “We saw and recognized how poorly our kids were doing in A-G attainment several years ago,” said Resendez of McFarland Unified.  To address the issue, McFarland adopted a dual enrollment program in which students earn college credit while in high school.  Last year, 30 students at McFarland High graduated with a high school diploma and an A.A. degree, and this year that number is expected to double.  “Unfortunately, the way California tracks student data for high schools is just catching up to what dual enrollment does,” said Resendez

The Mojave Unified School District was among the lowest with a 16.6 percent completion rate  Most other districts in Kern County had scores in between.   Black and Latino students as a whole scored lower than other groups.  Filipino students as a whole consistently had the highest completion rate in Kern County with scores in the 70th percentile and higher.   The rates do not appear to be an anomaly or related to the pandemic. Before the pandemic, Kern County’s  A-G completion rate was 41.8 percent for the 2019-2020 school year. And for 2020-21 it was 40.1 percent and for 2021-22 it was 37.5 percent.  In other words, Kern had similar scores.

But there is a bright spot. The Delano Joint Union High School District which has more than 90 percent of its students as socioeconomically disadvantaged, had a 61.5 percent

A-G completion rate.  “This comes as no surprise to us, for our students, parents, and staff,” said Rene Ayon, Director of Student Services.  Like McFarland, Ayon attributes much of the credit to its dual enrollment early college program.  Delano also has a quarter of its students who are learning English.

“We don’t throw a kid that’s just arrived into the country into an advanced level class, but we do have an opportunity to build his/her language levels so that they’re able to take those classes within four years,” said Ayon.  “Every student has an opportunity to be A-G compliant by the end of their four years.  We have many of the same struggles that other schools in Kern County have, we’re just excelling in those areas,” he said.

Students may also not be aware of A-G requirements.  Sitting at a picnic table across the street from Delano High School, three freshmen said that prior to the start of the school year, they had no idea what A-G classes were.  “The counselors called us out of class individually on the first day of school and explained the whole A-G process and what you need to complete the requirements,” said Cayee Perez.  “They pushed me to go to college,” said Perez, who is considering going into the medical field or becoming a veterinarian. 

“I thought you had to pass A-G requirements in order to graduate, I’m surprised you don’t have to,” said her colleague April Torres who hopes to become an immigration attorney.  The students, however, weren’t fazed by the fact that the majority of high school graduates in Kern County had not completed the A-G requirements.

“Honestly, I’m not that surprised about it,” said Cayee. “Most kids here want to get a job and put college aside so they can go work and help their parents who work in the fields.”

Students who do not complete A-G requirements take the path of first attending a community college and then transferring to a UC or CSU campus.

To view a map to see the percentage of students in each high school who graduate without A-G required courses go to https://edsource.org/2024/interactive-map-most-california-high-school-students-dont-take-courses-needed-to-apply-to-csu-or-uc/705550.

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Jose Gaspar

José Gaspar is a veteran journalist and former news anchor/reporter with Telemundo, Bakersfield. Prior, he worked 28 years at KBAK-TV as a reporter. Email him at jose@southkernsol.org.