Most schools in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties are still behind the rest of the state in preparing students to study at a four-year university, according to recently released data from the California Department of Education.
Stacy Hudson, 29, of Tuolumne, works out a problem in class at Columbia College Thursday afternoon. Many Mother Lode students take classes at Columbia College, then transfer to a four-year university. Maggie Beck/Union Democrat, copyright 2012
At Sonora Union High School District and Calaveras Unified School District, about 25 percent of students graduated in 2011 with the courses required for admission to a California State University or University of California campus.
Summerville Union High School District led the pack in four-year college readiness, with 68 percent of its graduating students completing the required courses. For Bret Harte Union High School District, the figure was 35 percent.
Statewide, 44 percent of graduating students had the UC/CSU required courses in 2011 — the latest year for which data is available.
The list of courses required for admission to UC and CSU schools, commonly referred to as “A-G courses,” includes four years of English and at least three years of math.
It also calls for at least two years of laboratory science and foreign language courses, among others.
Sonora Union High School District’s percentage of college-ready students represents an improvement over six years ago, when only 14 percent of the district’s 383 graduates left having completed the required courses.
“Our goal is to move up to 50 percent,” said Sonora Union Superintendent Mike McCoy. “We’re really redirecting and streamlining our curriculum to put an emphasis on college readiness.
“It’s become important to all of us to make sure we’re improving in that area,” he said.
McCoy credited Sonora High School Principal Todd Dearden and the counseling center, “where the rubber meets the road,” for the improvement.
About 25 percent of Sonora High graduates end up going to a community or junior college, typically Columbia College, said assistant principal Pat Chabot. Another 15-20 percent go to four-year universities such as UC and CSU schools.
Sonora High’s career center does a survey of the previous year’s graduates every spring and is able to reach most of them, Chabot said.
He estimated that roughly half of the Sonora High graduates who study at Columbia and other community colleges ultimately transfer to a four-year college.
The percentage of Calaveras Unified School District graduates with the required courses has remained steady over the past 10 years, according to Superintendent Mark Campbell.
He noted that Calaveras High School’s graduation requirements “put students closer” to UC/CSU eligibility, since they include geometry in addition to Algebra and have students take both a foreign language and fine arts class.
Enrollment in honors and Advanced Placement classes has grown at Calaveras High, Campbell added.
“We consistently encourage all students to pursue UC/CSU eligibility to keep options open,” he said. “We have to continue to educate students (and) parents to not rule out four-year schools as an option based upon financial concerns … and to be motivated to aim higher.”
Calaveras County Office of Education Superintendent Kathy Northington agreed that financial hardship may discourage students from pursuing a college-preparatory path.
She described Calaveras County’s economy as “in the dump,” forcing more students to take part-time work to support their families rather than load up on college preparatory courses.
Altogether, only 25 percent of the Calaveras County students in the Class of 2011 graduated with the UC/CSU required courses. The number was 44 percent in Tuolumne County, bolstered by high completion rates at Summerville Union High School District.
The math component of the UC/CSU requirement may be the critical obstacle keeping more local students from completing their college readiness courses, according to Bret Harte Union High School District Superintendent Michael Chimente.
A number of other factors may play into the California Department of Education statistics, the superintendents said.
Bret Harte Union High School District, Sonora Union High School District, and Summerville Union High School District all include career technical education programs for students who want to pursue a trade rather than attend college.
They also run alternative education programs for students who are at risk of not graduating high school.
Bret Harte Union High School District recently moved its independent study program, John Vierra High School, back onto its main campus to encourage more alternative education students to take college-preparatory courses.
Excluding students in alternative education programs, the percentage of Bret Harte High School students completing college readiness courses is closer to 50 percent, according to Chimente.
School district size, and the variation in programs offered, is also a factor. Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District’s two high schools graduated 35 students in 2011, 34 of whom had completed the UC/CSU required courses.
McCoy said some smaller districts may offer only A-G courses. Other districts in the state are eliminating classes that don’t meet A-G requirements, meaning that more of their students meet them by default.
“We offer more programs with a little wider focus, and that makes a difference in A-G,” he said.
The reasons for Summerville Union High School District’s relative success may be the strong presence of academic clubs on campus, Superintendent John Keiter said.
“We’ve got an active California Scholarship Federation on the campus, and the Academic Decathlon team kind of raises the profile of academic achievement,” Keiter explained. “And naturally all our teachers are supportive of it.”
McCoy and Chimente are both optimistic about the level of college preparedness at their schools in the future.
“I would imagine that in this current junior class, 40 to 45 percent are going to make the A-G requirement,” Chimente said.
Data from the 2011-12 school year, which will be released by the California Department of Education roughly a year from now, will show further improvement at Sonora Union High School District, according to McCoy.