Public Comment

Berkeley Schools’ API Scores Are Cause for Congratulation

By Michael Mascuch
Thursday September 25, 2008 - 09:57:00 AM

Berkeley Unified School District students, parents, teachers, administrators, community members, and taxpayers should be commended for their schools’ achievement reflected in the 2007-08 Accountability Progress Report recently released by the state Board of Education. The results tell us that the provisions of Measure A, part of a unique and fruitful partnership between Berkeley schools and their community, are benefiting students. 

Last week the Daily Planet noted that the district scored 760 on its 2008 Academic Performance Index (API), a gain of 14 points from the previous year, bringing it significantly closer to the state goal of 800 (out of 1000). This is good news. However the Planet missed the real story, which lies in the details. It overlooked the fact that all 15 Berkeley public schools for which an API is available posted gains in their individual APIs (the sole exception, Berkeley High, did not receive an API because it did not attain the federally mandated assessment participation rate). All but one of the 15 schools made its API growth target set by the state. Seven schools scored APIs over 800, and four others scored APIs over 780. This is better news. 

The 2008 results indicate continued progress in the district’s efforts to improve student achievement. To get an idea of how far it has come, consider that in 2002 Berkeley Unified had just one school with an API over 800 and a district API of 719. 

But the recent news gets even better. More significant than the APIs of individual schools are the gains made in 2008 by district-wide subgroups. Socio-economically disadvantaged students, which comprise nearly 40 per cent of Berkeley Unified’s student population, gained 33 points, from a base API of 641 to 674. African American students gained 22 points, from a base API of 597 to 619. English Learner students gained 21 points, from a base API of 649 to 670. Hispanic or Latino students gained 16 points, from a base API of 672 to 688. White and Asian students also gained, but modestly in comparison to other subgroups. Eleven of the fifteen individual schools made or exceeded their growth targets for all significant subgroups. Of the four schools that did not, each missed for only one subgroup, and two schools fell just one point short of the target for that group. 

These results tell us that not only is academic achievement improving among the entire diverse student population of Berkeley Unified, but also that the achievement gap between white and Asian students and their peers in other subgroups is narrowing. To a community that has identified closing the achievement gap as a major educational priority, this is very positive news. And it deserves notice. I still hear far too many ill-informed friends and neighbors describe the public school system as a “disaster,” as a colleague of mine said to me just the other day. It simply isn’t so, and the public ought to know, especially because it has elected to be involved in Berkeley schools’ achievement. 

Of course there are various and diverse factors contributing to Berkeley Unified’s ongoing achievement. The many sensitive and dedicated professionals who work in our school system are critical, yet they do not succeed alone. To coin a phrase, it takes a village to educate a child. For those engaged in the process, the truth of this cliché is blatantly obvious. But the public may need reminding of its participation: a major factor in Berkeley Unified’s sustained success since 1986 has been the Berkeley Schools Excellence Project (BSEP). BSEP brought us Measure A, a supplemental tax in support of specific educational goals, which was renewed by nearly 80 percent of Berkeley taxpayers in 2006. 

BSEP is a cause for self-congratulation in Berkeley now for two reasons. First, because it provides some of the resources our educators deem necessary to support the accountability measures and practices (which brought us APIs) that federal and state agencies have recently mandated (since No Child Left Behind, in 2001), but failed to fund. Second, and more important, BSEP’s oversight provisions create numerous ways for education professionals, school parents, and members of the community to work together to define meaningful academic goals—such as closing the achievement gap—and to identify ways of achieving them. The requirement that individual schools form School Governance Councils to develop a School Plan annually is just one such way that has, for me, provided a means to engage in a genuine partnership of diverse people seeking to realize common educational objectives. The process and the product of this partnership have been greatly rewarding: to me personally, as a community-building experience, but best of all, to my children and their peers, as well as to the city in which they work and play. The reward is apparent not merely in my school’s API, which is surely something of which we all can be proud, but more significantly in the manifestation of such rich human intelligence everywhere around us. 

The current results of the Accountability Progress Report confirm what many Berkeleyans (and others) know from our direct engagement with the Berkeley public schools: we are part of a concerned and dedicated community that nurtures its humanity. That by itself is no small achievement, these days. Thank you, Berkeley; as we say at Malcolm X Elementary, “Together we can!” 


Michael Mascuch is a Berkeley public schools parent and co-chair of the Malcolm X School Governance Council.