Superintendent Points Out Discrepancies in District Ranking

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday June 05, 2008 - 09:56:00 AM

The Berkeley Board of Education took an in-depth look at Berkeley Unified’s 2007 Academic Performance Index (API) rankings at the school board meeting Wednesday. 

District officials expressed concern at the discrepancy between the statewide ranks and the similar school rankings for Berkeley public schools. 

State Superintendent Jack O’Connell released the 2007 Base API report, growth targets and school rankings, which allow comparisons between California schools on May 21. 

Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett said he was concerned that the district was not keeping up with the progress rate in other districts. 

According to a report presented to the school board by district staff, the rankings indicate movement at some schools, with three schools (Arts Magnet, Longfellow and Willard) gaining a level on the statewide rankings and five schools (LeConte, John Muir, Oxford, Rosa Parks and Washington) losing a level compared to the previous year. 

In similar school rankings, three schools (Cragmont, Oxford and Willard) made gains, while six schools (Arts Magnet, Jefferson, Muir, Rosa Parks, Washington and King) dropped. 

“When schools receive a lower ranking in comparison to similar schools statewide, it raises questions about curricular and instructional practices, use of time and academic priorities at sites,” the district’s Assistant Superintendent Neil Smith said in his report to the board. 

Smith added that the issues would be addressed in the updated Local Education Agency Plan, which the board will consider whether to approve in June. 

Berkeley High School did not receive any rankings because it did not meet the benchmark for the 2007 API scores, due to a lack of student participation in the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) tests. 

Berkeley Unified School District’s API for 2006-07 was 747, five points less than the previous year. Ranging from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000, the API reflects a school or district’s performance level based on the results of statewide testing. The statewide API performance level goal for all schools is 800.  

Last year’s performance index was based on scores from 6,017 students, a participation rate of approximately 97 percent for elementary and middle schools and 84 percent for high school students.  

School officials said Berkeley High’s California standardized testing participation rates had decreased in 2006-07 in spite of efforts to increase student participation.  

Since the API score for Berkeley Technology Academy was based on less than 100 valid STAR test results, the alternative school did not receive a similar school ranking. 

The state education department establishes a list of similar schools by calculating a school characteristics index, which includes demographics such as student mobility, student ethnicity, percentage of English learners, percentage of students participating in the free or reduced price lunch program and percentage of teachers fully credentialed, district officials said. 

“We need to look at the data for schools similar to us but achieving higher,” Huyett said. “We are not moving up in achievement at the rate other districts are. Other school districts in California have risen significantly. We need to do a longitudinal study on where we were, where we are and how we are doing. Some schools [in Berkeley Unified] are average or close to average but many schools are trailing behind in similar school ranking. A lot of study and research needs to be done. I am not sure if this has been done before.” 

Huyett went on to say the rankings characterized a mixed set of results. 

“The similar schools ranking is not very optimistic,” he said. “We need an average of at least 6 [out of 10] and aspire for 8. But we are certainly not there yet. We need to look for shining stars within the district and have principals collaborate with each other. It may be true that some of our schools have more similarities with each other than with schools outside the district.” 

The 2007 Base API for the state, which is calculated using the results from spring 2007 testing, shows 36.7 percent of elementary schools are at or above the statewide performance target of 800, up from 34.6 percent in 2006. 

The percentage of state middle schools at or above the statewide performance target of 800 is 24.6 percent, up from 23.9 percent, and high schools is 14.5 percent, up from 13.6 percent. 

According to a statement released by the California Department of Education (CDE) website, Base API reports help the public gauge how schools in their communities are doing in comparison to schools with similar socioeconomic characteristics. 

“This bright light on school performance is an important element in our school accountability efforts." O’Connell said in a statement. “I’m pleased that California schools continue to rise to the challenge of high expectations. Our Academic Performance Index pushes schools to make improvements each year. Since the inception of the API, the median score for each decile ranking has increased each year. This reflects significant gains in student achievement in our schools.” 

For more information about the rankings, visit api.cde.ca.gov.