Berkeley Schools Moving Up in the Ranks By SUZANNE LA BARRE

Tuesday March 28, 2006

Berkeley’s public schools are ranking higher than ever in the Academic Performance Index when compared with similar schools, according to data released Wednesday.  

The state Department of Education issued annual school rankings that determine how K-12 institutions are faring compared with similar schools and schools statewide. Rankings are based on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest).  

All Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) schools ranked in the top three deciles when compared with similar schools. Berkeley High School and each of the three middle schools earned the highest ranking. 

The most impressive gains came from Rosa Parks Elementary School, which jumped from a 1 in 2004 to an 8 in 2005. 

BUSD spokesman Mark Coplan attributes the success to a culmination of measures aimed at pulling Rosa Parks out of Program Improvement, a No Child Left Behind initiative that monitors and disciplines low-performing schools. 

Since being placed on Program Improvement five years ago, Rosa Parks has received a new parent resource center, more funding earmarked for staff development and 60 additional tutors. These efforts are paying off, Coplan said. 

Washington and Whittier also showed significant improvement on similar schools rankings, each moving from a 4 to a 9. Le Conte trailed just behind. In 2004, it received a ranking of 4, in 2005 it received an 8.  

“The message that comes across is when looking at schools with similar problems, Berkeley Unified School District is doing pretty well,” said Neil Smith, Director of Educational Services.  

The ratings are based on comparisons to 100 schools with similar demographics, such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, number of English language learners and average class size. 

This year, the State Board of Education adopted six additional characteristics to improve reporting accuracy. They are: grade span enrollments, students enrolled in gifted and talented programs, students with disabilities, students re-designated fluent in English, migrant students and students in small classes. 

The other rankings, which offer a comparison to schools statewide, shows some BUSD sites losing ground. Five elementary schools and two middle schools, Longfellow and Willard, each dropped a single rank. 

However, four elementary schools, including Rosa Parks, moved up a rank, and Oxford moved up two ranks to the ninth decile. 

Berkeley High and King Middle School both earned rankings of 7, as they did in 2004.  

Educators often consider statewide standing a misleading measure of performance because it fails to account for schools’ individual characteristics. 

All rankings derive from the Academic Performance Index (API), a statewide testing model that attributes a numerical value between 200 and 1,000 to academic performance. Schools strive to achieve 800.  

Wednesday’s data also included API scores, but they are old news to educators who first got a glimpse of the numbers—and publicized them—last fall. A new set of API scores is due this fall.  

The API, instituted under the California Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999, is based on STAR tests for grades two through 11, and the high school exit exam for grades 10 and 11. This year is the first year all high school seniors must pass the exit exam to graduate.  

The Alternative High School received the lowest ranking possible when compared to schools statewide, though it is held to a different standard because too few students took the exit exam to yield statistically accurate results. 

Overall, Smith said he is pleased with the district’s results but does not want to overemphasize data when BUSD looks at how to improve its programs. 

“I don’t want to invest everything in the California standard tests,” he said. “They’re important, but they remain just one measure of what we do.””