There were few bright spots in the overview of the Berkeley Unified School District’s high school student data for 2009 at the Berkeley Board of Education meeting last week, especially not the challenges posed in analyzing the test results.
The data took into account student performance at Berkeley High School, Berkeley Technology Academy (B-Tech) and the Independent Study Program.
An hour-long presentation to the school board by the district’s director of evaluation and assessment Rebecca Cheung showed that student participation in the California Standardized Tests (CST) continues to be dismal district-wide, something some district officials blamed on the community’s reluctance to see it as a valid measure for student performance.
The analysis showed that the scores of African-American students were the most underperforming in the data, which included the CST, the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), college entrance tests, GPAs, attendance and suspensions.
White students performed higher than all other groups in these areas, followed by multi-ethnic and Latino students. African Americans were also the lowest performing racial group and were involved in more discipline incidences.
About 70 percent of white 10th-grade students scored in the top 50 percent nationally on the 2008-09 PSAT.
Cheung told the Planet that the district had not included the scores of Asian students in the presentation because they represented less than 10 percent of the student population. She said that in general, Asians did not outscore white students at Berkeley Unified.
Cheung pointed out that some of the challenges to data analysis at the high school level include the lack of state test scores to allow comparison over time for the individual students.
Additionally, 12th-graders are not required to take state tests and only 70 percent of Berkeley High ninth-graders attended a Berkeley public middle school, making it difficult for educators to track data back to the middle school.
BUSD also lacks district-wide assessments or course-specific exams which can be used for comparison over time, Cheung said, and district officials have little to no capacity to track beyond high school indicators such as college entrance, college completion or vocation training.
High school student demographics for 2009 showed changes in population since 2003, with slight decreases were reported in African American, white and English-learner students and a slight increase in Latino students.
In the last six years, the total high school population in Berkeley has increased by 18 percent—from 2,949 to 3,482 students.
B-Tech reported a large percentage of African Americans (65 percent), as opposed to Independent Study (16 percent) and Berkeley High (28 percent).
The Independent Study program had the largest percentage of multicultural (33 percent) and white (41 percent) students.
Berkeley High’s enrollment demographics showed large differences in its six programs, which includes The Arts and Humanities Academy (AHA), Communication Arts and Sciences (CAS), Community Partnerships Academy (CPA), The School of Social Justice and Ecology (SSJE), Berkeley International High School (BIHS) and The School of Academic Choice (AC).
African Americans formed the largest group (55 percent) at CPA, and white students emerged as the largest group at BIHS (38 percent).
The international school—which showed the lowest enrollment of BUSD graduates (38 percent)—also reported the most parents with a college or higher education degree (58 percent).
CAS, at 80 percent, had the highest number of BUSD graduates, followed by CPA.
Board President Nancy Riddle asked district staff to provide more information about the BUSD high school students who had not attended a Berkeley public school before entering 9th grade.
Berkeley High science teacher Aaron Glime replied that earlier reports indicated that students who were new to the district in 9th grade had a higher GPA than those from the Berkeley public middle schools.
Caifornia Exit Exam
All California public school students are required to pass both sections of the CAHSEE to graduate from high school and must take it for the first time in tenth-grade. Students who fail to pass the test as tenth graders can take the test twice in 11th grade and if they continue to be unsuccessful they get five more opportunities as seniors.
Data from the California Department of Education showed that in 2008, the district pass rate for first-time test takers in English Language Arts and math was lower than the state average.
Last year, African American students reported a significantly lower first time pass rate on the CAHSEE math and English tests than their peers.
Overall, BUSD saw a cumulative pass rate of 90 percent—which takes into account students who passed both tests—for the class of 2008 which was exactly the same as the state's pass rate.
60 percent of B-Tech seniors did not pass by June.
Cheung told board members that it was a matter of concern that the district’s pass rate, during the first attempt, was lower than that of the state, posing a greater challenge for the district and the school.
California Standardized Tests
In 2008, student participation on the standardized tests declined betweens grade 9 and 11 district-wide, and was lower than in neighboring districts such as Alameda, Albany, Piedmont and San Leandro.
Cheung said that the other districts started with more participation in 9th grade, and although it lessened in grades 10 and 11, the decrease was still less severe than that of Berkeley Unified.
Berkeley Superintendent Bill Huyett said that lagging participation rates prevented the district from engaging in any kind of longitudinal studies.
Glime said that a variety of factors were behind the low participation, one of them being students’ and parents’ hesitation about the validity of standardized tests since the state had made them optional.
Huyett retorted that although this applied to all public high schools in California, many other districts did not suffer from such low participation rates.
“It starts with the belief system of the school,” he said. “I am not putting blame or shame on the school but the high school has to take participation rates seriously. We all know students are at that stage in life when they will ask ‘what’s in it for me?’ Maybe we should ask them instead what they want.”
There was significant variation in the performance between the different programs at Berkeley High, with incoming 9th graders at Berkeley International High School scoring the highest proficiency in English Language Arts and math in 2008-09 and those at Communication Arts and Sciences reporting the lowest.
Berkeley International High School also scored the highest proficiency rate in both English Language Arts and Math among all the programs in 2008.
Board Vice President Karen Hemphill pointed out that it was very troublesome that programs having students of color from BUSD middle schools had the lowest score.
“Regardless of what good programs and good intentions we have, we are losing our children,” she said. “The programs are not working. Kids of color are worse going out of Berkeley High than they were coming in. It really has to start in middle school. We have to engage them and install a college bound culture in our district.”
SAT, GPA, attendance and discipline data
The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), a standardized test for college admissions scored by Education Testing Services, provided data to Berkeley Unified for the analysis.
Cheung said that the district decided to base the analysis on how students had performed in the SAT in 11th grade because that was when most students took the test.
In 2008, white and multi-ethnic 11th graders had higher performance rates on the SAT than Latino and African American students.
Of the 11th graders who took the SAT, white students had the highest average score, followed by multi-ethnic students.
Scores of African American students had little variation across the six programs at Berkeley High and were the lowest.
African Americans also reported the lowest participation rate for the practice version of the test, the PSAT, in grades 11 and 12, and while 70 percent of white 10th-graders scored in the top 50 percent of the PSAT, only 5 percent of African American students scored in the top 50 percent.
White students had the highest average GPA and African-American students had the lowest. African Americans also had the highest rate of D and F grade rates.
In 2007-08, the range of GPAs for African Americans across programs represented a .5 differential, with the lowest average GPA being 2 and the highest 2.5.
For Latinos, the range of GPAs across the six programs represented a .3 differential, with the lowest average being 2.4 and the highest around 2.8.
Whites had a larger variance between the programs, with the lowest average GPA being 2.5 and the highest 3.4.
Attendance and enrollment patterns for Berkeley High were relatively stable in 2007-08, although B-tech reported changes in enrollment almost every month, with new students joining and others dropping out.
In 2007-08, African American students also reported the highest rates of suspensions.
At Berkeley High School, the number of “one-period suspensions” increased last year while both “one day of on-campus suspension” and “off-campus suspensions” decreased.
About 81 percent of discipline incidences resulted in a “suspension for one period” and 14 percent of the incidents resulted in an “off-campus suspension.”
At B-Tech, most of the suspensions resulted from a small number of students in 2007-08.
A total of 46 suspensions took place at the school, but only 21 students were involved, some of them getting repeatedly suspended.
According to the data presented by Cheung, seven students had more than one infraction, two students had eight infractions each, five Latino students were involved in 12 suspensions and two students were involved in nine infractions.