Two recently released reports explore the glitches in California’s educational offerings from the top and bottom perspectives.

The first report released recently by the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies at UCLA has concluded that despite the so-called more “holistic and comprehensive” approach to reviewing applications for admissions to the prestigious four-year University of California system, there are still too many barriers of privilege preventing underrepresented minorities from gaining greater access to these schools.

“Gaming the System: Inflation, Privilege, and the Under-Representation of African American Students at the University of California” noted that while the new comprehensive review process has in general resulted in the admission of more minorities to the U.C. system in the wake of the dismantling of Affirmative Action under Proposition 209, there is still too much reliance on traditional indicators of merit–SAT scores and grade point averages as well as the number of honors courses taken–and this puts minorities, particularly Latinos and even more so African Americans, at a severe disadvantage.

This over-reliance on traditional indicators is also coupled with insufficient consideration given to the challenges faced by African Americans, in particular, and other underrepresented racial minorities more generally.

Additionally the report observed that overall, the University of California has not complied with the federal Adverse Impact Standards, which requires that every group have an admission rate of at least 80 percent of the admission rate of the most highly admitted group.

The African American student admission rate system-wide has been below that threshold since 1998.

According to the Bunche report, most of the schools in the U.C. System use capped and weighted GPAs, which puts underrepresented ethnic minorities at a disadvantage, because these totals include advance placement courses. Typically minorities in under-resourced schools do not have access to the same number of such courses as do other students, and consequently their GPAs will be lower.

The schools also require students to take the SAT I and SAT II, and based on their scores assign a point value. But the report contends that because of the inequalities in the K-12 schools that underrepresented ethnic minorities typically attend, they are at a “severe” disadvantage on these tests. “And this is particularly unfair, when we consider that SAT scores have been shown to be a poor predictor of how students actually perform in their freshman year. To be sure, research suggests that SAT scores are most useful as a measure of socioeconomic privilege,” reads the report, which adds that no U.C. campus takes this reality seriously by adjusting how standardized exams are interpreted in the ranking process.

“Gaming the System” authors offered a set of recommendations that can help rectify some of the weaknesses in the comprehensive review process. These include a proposal by the U.C. Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) that was recently presented to the U.C.
Academic Senate. Among the suggestions is that applicants have their applications reviewed by the U.C. campus of their choice, if they meet the following requirements: (1) completed 11 of the 15 required “a-g” (college required) courses; earned an unweighted 2.8 GPA or higher in all a-g classes taken in the 10th and 11th grades; and take the SAT I exam or the ACT with Writing exam.

Additional BOARS proposals push eliminating the requirement to take the SAT II; and suggest using the SAT I only to enhance understanding of an applicant’s academic preparations, which means this test would no longer be used as a determining factor in admissions.

Among the “Gaming” recommendations are creating a comprehensive review plan for the U.C. System that does not require each campus to assign the most weight in its admission process to traditional measures of academic achievement; eliminating use of the SAT and/or SAT II subject tests; using only unweighted and uncapped GPA; considering students in their own educational contexts, which means not ranking educationally privileged applicants with less privileged ones unless a meaningful equity adjustment is made prior to ranking.

“We’re not saying to just compare African Americans to African Americans, but rather comparing students who come from similarly resourced schools. This allows you to see what that student at that particular school did to take advantage of all of the resources available to them. And how they did with their GPA,” explained report co-author Ana-Christina Ramon. “If the maximum GPA is 4.1 because the school only offers a few advance placement courses, and that student got a 3.9, the person should be considered a high achiever.”

“Right now,” continued Ramon, “such students are being compared to counterparts whose school has a GPA of 5.0 based on the number of A.P. courses offered, and consequently that student is not considered a high achiever. This is an unfair measurement,” contends the researcher.

A key reason that the Bunche Center continues with this research is to remind the community that UCLA and the other U.C. schools are public land grant institutions supported by taxpayers, including minorities. Ramon pointed out, “They (the community) should feel ownership over the schools, and that they have the right to demand that the U.C.s–particularly UCLA because it’s our local U.C.– serve every community and it should also reflect the diversity within the community. That’s a right that community members have.”

While the high-achieving minority students struggle to get equal access to some of the state’s best schools, a report just released by The California Dropout Research Project at U.C. Santa Barbara took a look at pupils at the other end of the educational spectrum and found that just 100 high schools in the state account for more than 40 percent of those dropping out of grades nine to 12.

Locally 15 high schools and three alternative campuses fall into that group of 100 and together account for 4,410 dropouts. The statistics are based on data from the California Basic Educational Data System (CBEDS), which is reported by individual schools to the California State Department of Education. The numbers are taken from the 2005-06 school year from 2,462 public schools. During this school year, nearly 70,000 students dropped out.

Three local area schools and five LAUSD campuses in total were among the 25 schools with the highest dropout rates. They include City of Angels, which is an alternative school operated by the Los Angeles Unified, ranked fifth with 763 dropouts; Belmont High at 13th had 452 students drop out; Fremont High at 16 had 416 dropouts; Los Angeles High at 18 had 380 dropouts; and Jefferson High at 21 and Huntington Park High at 22, each had 327 drop outs.

According to the report, these 100 high schools represent four percent of schools and enroll 11 percent of all students. Additionally, the top 25 schools in terms of dropouts represent one percent of high schools but account for 21 percent of the state’s students who leave school.

Among the other statistics the report noted was that 73 high schools have dropout rates greater than 50 percent prematurely.

Non-traditional schools, like City of Angels, enroll 12 percent of the state’s high school students and account for 50 percent of the dropouts. But, noted Russell W. Rumberger, the dropout project director, “Many alternative schools serve disadvantaged students who are often not well serviced in traditional high schools, so dropout rates, by themselves, do not reveal whether a school is effective or ineffective in improving the likelihood that students will graduate.”