The San Diego Unified School District is celebrating a record-breaking graduation rate this year, even under tougher requirements to better prepare students for college. As SDUSD wraps up the 2015-2016 school year, 92 percent of all students are set to graduate.

In March, Julian Betts, a researcher from the University of California, San Diego, said that it would take a miracle for SDUSD to get above a 90 percent graduation rate. But a miracle is just what happened, and better yet, it took place under new state and federal requirements intended to make sure that high school graduates are ready to attend college.

San Diego’s graduating class of 2016 is the first to take a series of 15 yearlong college prep courses known as A-G classes, which are required for admittance into the California State University and University of California campuses.

The new standards require students to take at least two years of studying one foreign language and three years of math studies, one of which must be intermediate algebra. Foreign languages, algebra and advanced English courses have been big stumbling blocks for the class of 2016, according to a study by Betts and other researchers at UCSD.

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According to Betts’ study, about 15 percent of SDUSD students had a year’s worth of work to complete in August of last year in order to be able to graduate. Betts accordingly predicted that only 85 percent of San Diego’s high school students would graduate in 2016. Even the school district was pessimistic about its chances of reaching a 90 percent graduation rate.

But the students have been improving very quickly. In October 2014, just 59 percent of the class of 2016 was on track to graduate. By last October, that number was up to 75 percent, and by May it had reached a record-breaking 92 percent.

The school district board first adopted a policy of requiring A-G classes for all students in 2009 after pressure from activists who highlighted the fact that too many students were unprepared for college because the school district did not provide the A-G classes they needed to gain entrance to the CSU and US systems.

Nobody in the school district expected such rapid gains, but then again the district did not start strictly implementing A-G requirements until 2014. Since then, progress has been remarkable at the district level and at individual schools. Lincoln High School, where just 30 percent of student were set to graduate under the new guidelines in 2014, is now set to send off 89 percent of its students with the classes and credentials they need to attend California’s public universities. At Morse High School just over half of students were on track to graduate in 2014. Now 99 percent of Morse students are set to graduate under the A-G guidelines.

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(all data current as of 5/29/2017)

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