School District Receives $400,000 in State Intervention Funds

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday October 09, 2008 - 09:28:00 AM

The Berkeley Unified School District received a one-time $400,000 Program Improvement Corrective Action grant Tuesday as part of the millions of dollars in intervention funds awarded to 92 school districts by the state Department of Education. 

Berkeley Unified was identified as a Program Improvement District under the federal No Child Left Behind Act two years ago when it was unable to meet participation targets for the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), which is based upon the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program and the California High School Exit Exam.  

The district is in its third year of Program Improvement because it did not meet performance targets for AYP in 2008.  

Data from the state Department of Education shows that the district failed five different subgroups in English language arts and two in math. 

The data also reveals that although the district’s overall proficiency level is good, there is a huge difference between white and African-American students. 

“This year the targets were increased and we did not meet our performance targets,” said Christina Faulkner, the district’s director of Curriculum and Instruction. 

Faulkner said the district hoped to use the funds to provide additional services and formal assessments to students. 

The AYP targets for students expected to score proficient or above on state assessments increased nearly 11 percent from 2007 and will keep rising steadily every year to meet the federal requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act until 100 percent of students achieve proficiency by the 2013–14 school year. 

State educators said that fewer schools and local educational agencies achieved AYP in 2008 because of the increased targets.  

Only 39 percent of local educational agencies achieved AYP in 2008 compared to 54 percent in 2007. 

Under No Child Left Behind, each state defines what it considers to be proficient levels in English language arts and math, and California—state educators said—has some of the most rigorous standards in the nation. 

Although some educators remain skeptical about the relevance of Program Improvement, Faulkner said the district was committed to raising performance levels for all students. 

“We have to remember what the purpose of No Child Left Behind was,” she said. “It was to raise the performance of the underperforming population, although the school’s average performance was very good. We still need to focus on those students.” 

Faulkner said that she hoped the 2020 Vision—a collaborative effort between Berkeley Unified, the City of Berkeley and United in Action—initiated earlier this year would close the achievement gap between the district’s highest and lowest performing students. 

Seven schools in Berkeley Unified—including all three middle schools—are in different years of Program Improvement. Washington Elementary School came out of Program Improvement status this year. 

By law, schools that have been identified for Program Improvement must send letters to parents informing them about the school’s status and giving students the option to transfer to a better school with the district paying transportation costs. 

“It’s a bit of a challenge for the middle schools since all three of them are in Program Improvement, and there’s no way to transfer students from one school to the other,” said Rebecca Cheung, the district’s director of Evaluation and Assessment. 

Faulkner said the district was negotiating with the Oakland Unified School District about moving some students from Program Improvement schools in Berkeley over to Oakland. 

The 92 school districts currently in Program Improvement were divided into three groups this year—high, moderate and light need—depending on how severe their needs were, Faulkner said. 

Berkeley Unified was given a “light” need status, which means that the district had to re-write its local education plan and have it approved by the Berkeley Board of Education and the state Department of Education. 

“We began implementing it in the new school year,” Faulkner said. 

“We have adopted a new math curriculum that involves more coaching, assessment and professional development. Part of the plan is introducing new ideas and continuing the old ones.” 

Faulkner added that if Berkeley Unified continued on Program Improvement based on performance, then it was possible that the school would face additional sanctions