The achievement gap separating white Berkeley public school students from other racial groups remains profound, according to an analysis of test scores unveiled at last week’s meeting of the Berkeley Unified School District board.
Results from the California Standards Tests measuring reading, math, science and social studies skills for students throughout the district revealed a steady decline in math scores from elementary schools to the high school and poor results in algebra and writing.
Neil Smith, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction, said district officials would use the data analysis to improve instruction, but cautioned that until they get detailed analysis from other standardized tests, they wouldn’t read too much into the results.
In each subject, whites outscored other groups—often reaching proficiency rates close to four times higher than African American students.
The breakdown for proficiency rates is as follows:
• Math—Whites 63 percent, African Americans 19 percent, Asians 58 percent and Latinos 27 percent.
• Reading—Whites 78 percent, African Americans 21 percent, Asians 54 percent and Latinos 27 percent.
• Science—Whites 73 percent, African Americans 27 percent, Asians 58 percent, and Latinos 23 percent.
• Social Science—Whites 71 percent, African Americans 13 percent, Asians 41 percent and Latinos 17 percent.
More troubling is that for reading and math the achievement gap expanded from lower to higher grades.
“Something wasn’t being passed on,” said Bradley Johnson, the board’s student representative.
Students in lower grades scored better in math than higher grades, with algebra posing the biggest problems for district students. While 59 percent of second graders scored as proficient on math tests, only 17 percent of eighth grade algebra students ranked as high.
Algebra was recently shifted from ninth to eighth grade to comply with state standards, which could explain the poor scores, Johnson said.
Reading proficiency followed the opposite trend, rising from 42 percent of second graders to 62 percent of 11th-graders, though scores dipped in some grades.
Writing tests given to elementary and middle school students also showed huge discrepancies between schools, prodding board members to question if the district had a consistent district-wide program.
Students at Jefferson and John Muir Elementary Schools scored the highest, with 37 and 36 percent of students respectively ranking as proficient. At the other end of the spectrum, only nine percent of Leconte students, and six percent of Malcolm X students scored at the proficient level.
Superintendent Michele Lawrence told the school board that math and writing skills required grade-by-grade structured lessons and that it’s “imperative that the school system have a specific sequence” to guide students.
She added that it was hard to read too much into test results because the state has repeatedly “tweaked” the test, making trends over time difficult to discern.
Board member John Selawsky reiterated that the test results were only part of the overall picture of student achievement, but added that it “was an important part” and that the district needed to use the scores to develop strategies to improve instruction.