VUSD class of 2028 sees new graduation requirements

Visalia Unified School District adds third year of math to high school graduation requirements to better student chances when applying to further their education at a university

VISALIA – Seventh graders enrolled in the Visalia Unified School District (VUSD) will be seeing an additional year of math when they begin high school now that the district has approved an update to A-G requirements for mathematics.

The VUSD board unanimously approved an update to mathematics requirements for students at the board meeting on Sept. 13, three weeks after the first draft was proposed on Aug. 23. With this update, high school students will be required to take three years of mathematics to fulfill their graduation requirements instead of the previous two-year requirement.

“[VUSD] believes all kids can learn at high levels, and this is us believing that,” Mark Thompson, assistant superintendent for educational services at VUSD, said. “I’m confident that our students and teachers are able to meet and exceed the third year math requirement.”

The district made this change to their graduation requirements to allow students to be lined up with the math A-G requirements for California universities. For students, meeting A-G requirements could be the defining factor to getting accepted to a four-year college straight out of high school. This change will be applied to the graduating class of 2028, which are students who are currently enrolled in seventh grade. 

The decision to implement this change to current seventh graders came after the board determined the current eighth grade class would have been unprepared for this change, due to the change in requirements. Visalia Unified board member Randy Villegas said the district should still encourage all currently enrolled students, especially the class of 2027, to take the additional third year of math. 

“I want to say that I personally believe that we, as a board, need to be going further than this,” Villegas said. “And being bold when it comes to aligning our graduation requirements with A-G [standards] to make sure every student is college and career ready.”

With this change, eighth graders can also take a higher leveled math, like math one, and have it meet their high school graduation requirements.

According to Visalia Unified superintendent Kirk Shrum, the Public Policy Institute of California, an independent nonprofit research institution, reported in February 2021, raising high school graduation requirements improves student performance and does not affect student dropout rates. The report states that  66% of students in the state are already enrolled in schools that require three to four years of mathematics. It states that higher math requirements are associated with better outcomes, especially for students in high-need, high-poverty and high-minority schools. Prior to this adjustment, VUSD had some of the lowest standards in the state when it came to graduation requirements, according to Shrum.

“What that research confirms is what we all knew,” Shrum said, “When you set expectations for students, with the right support, they rise to that expectation.”

This change in curriculum did not come without some pushback, as some people came forward at the Sept. 13 board meeting with concerns about the district’s decision. 

Greg Price, president of the Visalia Teacher Association, said in a public comment that he spoke with some math teachers at a few different schools in Visalia for input on this decision. He found that some math teachers were not informed about the update. He said there was an “11th hour”, or last minute, update given to the math department heads at each school, three to four days before the district made this decision. 

“I would hope that in the future, if we’re going to make a change in policy that affects 30,000 students, that we’re talking to the people that are working with them everyday,” Price said to the board. “I’m hoping in the future, I see that our teachers are more involved.”

Although he is not against this change to policy, Price said he believes this decision should have been discussed more so with teachers much sooner, as they are working closest with kids. He said that teachers are the people who consistently oversee student ongoings and making a policy without talking to them first is a “huge hole” in the process.

“I’m not debating the merits of whether this is a good or bad policy,” Price said. “I am debating how they formed the policy.”

Another comment came from Carla Lambert, who said she is in support of this requirement change and believes this should have been done sooner. However, she said the school’s curriculum department, educational services division and budgeting department will have to monitor student progress and provide more support for teachers and students, like materials and resources.

“It’s also going to take the support of the site administrators and all of their staff to monitor student progress to ensure that the curriculum is being taught to fidelity,” Lambert said. “They will need to provide time for teachers to talk to each other about both their successes and their challenges.”

Board member Megan Casebeer Soleno addressed some community concerns and said this was not a spur of the moment decision. She said there was a lot of thought and planning from the district concerning this decision and now is the time to make it, especially since 66% of the state’s student population are already required to take three to four years of mathematics. She said it’s important that the district doesn’t let students in a rural area like the Central Valley fall behind compared to the majority of other students in the state.

“You can only prepare for something so much before you just have to jump,” Casebeer Soleno said. “Right now, we’re going to jump, and I think it’s the right time for us to do that.”

According to the University of California website, minimum requirements for A-G standards states that students must complete 15 year long high school courses with a letter grade of a C or better, with 11 of them being completed prior to their last year of school. The requirement also calls for three years of college-preparatory mathematics, which includes topics covered in elementary and advanced algebra as well as a type of geometry.

“I continue looking forward to hearing from the community when they notice something so that we can always address it where we can,” Casebeer Soleno said. 

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