The Competitive Nature of PACE

PACE being the oldest  specialized program in the Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD), it was not surprising that the number of qualified applicants has increased. A problem arose when the final number of incoming ninth graders exceeded the maximum spaces available in the PACE ninth grade class.

The contractual maximum for English teachers in LBUSD is 175 students, which means that accepting more than 175 students becomes a problem for the school’s administration. Between 175 and 185 students are accepted into the PACE program each year.

The selection process for PACE is based on grades and standardized test scores, which are put into a formula that calculates the High School Academic Index (HSAI). Admission is based on that number. For the past two years, most applicants who met the minimum HSAI to apply to PACE and who listed it as their first choice, were accepted.

“At the CHOICE events this year, I told parents that based on the past two years’ experience, they need not worry if their child was near the cutoff point on their HSAI, that we had admitted everyone that qualified for the past two years,” said Michelle Aberle, the PACE facilitator. This year, however, there were many more students who qualified than available space in the program. This was true for a number of pathways this year.  This is concerning to Aberle, who worries that parents will feel betrayed by the system. Why this occurred this year is not known.

Within the past several years, LBUSD has taken control of the CHOICE process, with more inconsistent results, according to Aberle. The district mandated that programs in the district have the same entrance requirements, which for PACE, lowered the GPA and initially raised the standardized test scores. The Pathway Coordinator at Wilson High School, Edward Steinhauser, said in an email, “This year, in an attempt to lessen the nuanced confusion around entrance requirements, QUEST, WAVE, and PACE were all given the same entrance requirements (GPA, SBAC score on English Language Arts, and Algebra 1.  PACE calculated acceptance with the High School Academic Index while QUEST and WAVE used GPA top down.”

The school district is using the same admission process, using a top-down HSAI, but with results that fluctuate every year.  A few years back, PACE handled their own admissions, using what the district now says is the same process.  But in the previous years, results were much more predictable, and the problem of admissions exceeding contractual maximums did not occur.

“If a program like PACE has more qualified applicants than allocated spots in a given year, some of the students will be offered places at their second or third choices,” said Russ Anderson, a counselor at Lakewood High School, “Two years ago, Merit Scholars at Lakewood experienced a drop in enrollment for the first time. So, for the first time, we were able to enroll some students who had not been accepted to other programs that happened to be impacted that year.  I would imagine that one reason the current selection process exists is to keep pathways strong across the district.”

At PACE, the number of acceptances sent out to the eighth graders has been based upon the number of students, historically, that ultimately accept. Some students apply to PACE with the intention of attending private schools, whose acceptances come out later than those of LBUSD. However, far more students accepted than what could be anticipated from the previous averages.

“I believe that what happened this year,” said Aberle, “is that many students, unfortunately, selected impacted programs for all three of their top choices.  This means that students may be placed in programs that were not among their selections.” It is for this reason that Aberle looks back on the days when programs had more authority in the process and the process was more transparent.  The district maintains, that students get at least one of their top choices.

PACE has also noticed a trend toward decreasing resiliency in the students coming into the program.  Teachers, counselor Connie Loggins, and Aberle are all interested in finding ways to decrease stress and to increase the satisfaction that comes to students who enjoy learning among teachers who clearly enjoy their students.  The program remains resolute that program standards be maintained at the current high levels.  And according to both Aberle and Steinhauser, all LBUSD high schools are looking at ways to better serve our students, making sure that all pathways are accessible and prepare students for success.