A Harvard study released Monday found that just 16 percent of LAUSD's Class of 2011 passed the classes needed to attend California's public universities, an indicator of the challenges facing the district as it makes rigorous college-prep courses a requirement for graduation.
Researchers tracked Los Angeles Unified's Class of 2011 from the time students entered ninth grade, creating a snapshot of how many graduated four years later and how many completed the A-G curriculum. The slate of 15 classes is needed for admission to the Cal State and University of California systems and -- beginning with this year's ninth-graders -- is required for graduation from LAUSD. The Class of 2016 can pass those courses with a "D" while future classes will have to get a "C" or better in order to earn credit for taking them.
"We wanted to provide a breakdown of where the district is, based on A-G," said Jon Fullerton, director of the Center for Education Policy Research at Harvard University. "How do they get from here to where they need to be by 2016?"
Using information provided by LAUSD, researchers found that 66 percent of students who entered ninth grade in 2008-09 were on track to graduate, but only 59 got their diploma four years later. And just 16 percent of those students completed the A-G coursework by the time they graduated, although 36 percent had started down the college-prep track as ninth-graders.
To help students get and stay on track for graduation, Fullerton said it's important for the district to have enough course offerings, as well as remedial help for students struggling with the more difficult material.
"There is a substantial hill for the district to climb to meet a more rigorous set of requirements," he said.
Researchers also found a wide range of graduation rates among high schools -- from a low of 38 percent to a high of 94 percent -- but said students were more likely to graduate if they'd scored well as eighth-graders on the state's standardized tests for English-language arts.
They also found significant differences in four-year graduation rates based on students' race. An estimated 51 percent of black students graduated on time, compared with 57 percent for Latinos, 70 percents for whites and 77 percent for Asians.
Among all races, students who had performed well as eighth-graders also went on to graduate. However, just one third of blacks and Latinos who struggled in middle school went on to graduate compared with more than half of their white and Asian counterparts.
Performance in ninth grade was also considered a strong indicator of success in high school, researchers said. An estimated 88 percent of those who ended ninth grade with a B average graduated on time compared with 69 percent for those with a lower GPA.
The LAUSD board passed the new graduation requirements a year ago, reducing the number of credits from 230 to 210, but toughening the coursework. In addition to A-G classes, students have to take a health class, state-mandated social studies and physical education classes and at least three yearlong electives.
A-G includes four years of English, three years of math, and two years each of social science, science and foreign language, plus one year of visual or performing arts and a year-long elective.
"The district's most important goal is to have students graduate from LAUSD, college-ready and prepared for careers," Superintendent John Deasy said. "The findings of this study help us to pinpoint best practices and identify areas of improvement to achieve our ambitious goal."
ALSO ON HUFFPOST:
Start your workday the right way with the news that matters most. Learn more