Berkeley Schools Gain in State Standardized Testing

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday August 17, 2007

At first glance, the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) showed a point gain over last year in the 2007 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program released by State Superintendent Jack O’Connell Wednesday. 

School district administrators and principals, who were away on a retreat till Wednesday, are still poring over the results, said BUSD superintendent Michele Lawrence. 

A statement from O’Connell called statewide results encouraging but at the same time troubling. 

“This year’s results offer both encouragement and reason for serious concern,” he said. “We can be pleased that gains in student achievement made over the past five years are either increasing or holding steady. This progress means that hundreds of thousands of California students will have a better shot at success. But the data also show the persistent achievement gaps in our system that California simply cannot afford to accept—morally, economically, or socially.” 

Berkeley Unified English scores were above the state average, which helped to move the number up to 50 percent, one percentage point more than 2006. 

Students also met the state average score in math, and the number increased one point from the previous year’s 42 percent. 

While half of the students earned proficient or better marks in English, 43 percent of students tested proficient or better in math. 

Lawrence told the Planet that the school district would analyze the results over the next week. 

“Nobody’s had a chance to see it yet,” she said. “I was away at the retreat with 70 of my staff, we haven’t spent any time on it.” 

Assistant superintendent Neil Smith handed over the overall school report and individual student reports to all the principals at the retreat, which was held at His Lordship’s in Berkeley. 

The STAR program tests proficiency levels in English and math for every student in California according to one of five levels of performance on the California Standardized Tests for each subject tested: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic.  

According to the State Board of Education, the desired achievement goal for all students is “proficient,” which is consistent with school growth targets for state accountability and the federal No Child Left Behind Act. 

Under the No Child Left Behind Act, schools could suffer federal sanctions if a certain number of students in each district do not pass the English and math tests. 

Although only 47 percent of sophomores and 48 percent of juniors scored proficient or advanced in English, the numbers are above the statewide scores. 

At Malcolm X Elementary School, which was named a California Distinguished School in 2006, English and math scores rose by six and eight percentage points over last year respectively. 

“I am still in the process of looking at the results for my school,” said Berkeley Arts Magnet principal Kristian Collins. 

“I am going to be looking for growth and the areas that need to be uncovered for progress. The STAR tests have become very important for schools. There is an accuracy system that tracks how we do. It’s not only a measure, but we also want our children to do well in it. It’s a reminder of what we need to do to make our children successful.” 

In his statement, O’Connell repeatedly drew attention to the lack of progress in closing the achievement gap among racial groups. 

The test scores reflect that while student subgroup populations continued to improve since 2003, achievement gaps between African Americans and whites as well as Latinos and whites remain unchanged. 

"Once again, these annual test scores shine a glaring light on the disparity in achievement between students who are African American or Hispanic and their white or Asian counterparts,” he said. 

“We know all children can learn to the same high levels, so we must confront and change those things that are holding back groups of students.”  

Lawrence commented that one of the important things to be considered was the number of new non-native English speakers who came to California to attend a public school every year. 

O’Connell, in his statement, pointed out that that the achievement gap could not “always be explained away because of the poverty that has been so often associated with low performance.” 

“The results show this explanation not to be universally true,” he said. “In fact, African American and Hispanic students who are not poor are achieving at lower levels in math than their white counterparts who are poor. These are not just economic achievement gaps, they are racial achievement gaps. We cannot afford to excuse them; they simply must be addressed. We must take notice and take action.” 

An Achievement Gap Summit—which will examine strategies to close achievement gaps—is scheduled to be held in Sacramento from Nov. 13 to14.