Berkeley Student Academic Performance Improves

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Thursday September 17, 2009 - 09:55:00 AM

California’s 2008-09 Accountability Progress Report released Tuesday shows that Berkeley Unified School District received an Academic Performance Index of 769, up 10 points from last year’s score, making steady progress toward the statewide target. 

The APR includes results from the state’s API and the federal Adequate Yearly Progress and Program Improvement. 

The API—which measures year-to-year improvement and provides incentives to educators to focus on students at all performance levels—ranges from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000 with a statewide target of 800. 

The AYP determines whether or not students are proficient or above on state assessments. 

API and AYP scores are based on the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program and the California High School Exit Exam.  

State schools chief Jack O’Connell told reporters during a teleconference Tuesday that 42 percent of all California schools had met or were above the statewide target, a gain of six percentage points from the year before. 

This includes 48 percent of elementary schools, 36 percent of middle schools and 21 percent of high schools. 

“Our accountability report confirms that most California schools are continuing to make solid gains in academic achievement,” O’Connell said. “The API results also show a slight narrowing of the achievement gap that historically has left Hispanic or Latino and African-American students trailing behind their peers who are white or Asian. I am delighted to see this trend of progress continue.”  

This year’s API report shows that all student subgroups statewide demonstrated improvements ranging from 11 to 15 points. African-American, Hispanic or Latino and poor students increased their API by 15 points while white students showed a gain of 14 points. 

O’Connell noted that despite the slight narrowing between subgroups, white and Asian students continue to have higher API scores, a stark reminder of the achievement gap. 

A total of 6,154 Berkeley Unified students were included in the 2009 API, out of which Asian and whites were the only two student subgroups who met and surpassed the state target.  

African-American students showed a growth of only two points from last year, and Hispanic, English learners and students with disabilities showed negative growth, with the last two subgroups showing a decrease of 17 and 19 points, respectively. 

Berkeley Unified Superintendent Bill Huyett said that although African-Americans showed gains in the elementary and high schools, they recorded a loss in the middle schools. Those numbers, along with an increase in the number of African- American students testing at the high school by 97 reduced the growth overall, he said. 

The district’s Director of Student Evaluation and Achievement Rebecca Cheung said that an increase in the number of English learners—students who have a home language other than English and who are not fluent in English—might have resulted in a low score in that subgroup. 

Data released by the state Department of Education website show seven Berkeley schools met their API growth target, including Berkeley Arts Magnet, Emerson Elementary, Jefferson Elementary, Oxford Elementary, Thousand Oaks Elementary, Washington Elementary and Willard Middle School.  

All six elementary schools, along with John Muir, Cragmont and Malcolm X elementary schools, met the statewide API target. 

Rosa Parks and LeConte did not meet the statewide API target. 

Willard (API 772) was the only middle school in the district which showed a growth in API this year. Although it was required to grow by only 5 points, it blew past it with 21 points. Calls to Willard Principal Robert Ithurburn were not returned by press time, 

Huyett said that Willard was concentrating on student data and working closely with teachers to improve performance. 

“When I walk into the classroom at Willard, students are doing their work diligently and teachers are giving good instruction to their students,” Huyett said. “The principal works together with his team, and that helps.” 

API growth for the other two middle schools, Longfellow (API 784) and Martin Luther King (API 779), dropped by 3 and 12 points, respectively. 

The API for seven Berkeley schools remained the same or declined, all failing to meet their growth targets. 

Berkeley High School for the fourth time in a row did not get an API score because the school failed to test a significant proportion of students for at least one 2009 STAR content area used in the API. 

Huyett said that although there had been a jump in student participation at the high school this year, not enough students tested in 11th grade American history, which led to the school not qualifying for an API score. 

“The principal and I spoke with the staff at the high school and stressed the importance of the tests,” Huyett said. “The staff and students took it seriously—there was a ‘togetherness’ attitude.” 

Only 34 students were included in the 2009 API for Berkeley Technology Academy, a continuation high school, which did not meet its growth target of 10 points this year, and saw its 2008 API score decrease from 596 to 490. 

Cheung attributed this to the fact that the majority of B-Tech’s students enrolled at the school in the 12th grade, when they were not eligible for the STAR test. 

“When you have a very limited number of students participating, the scores swing wildly,” Huyett said.  

The state Department of Education warns that APIs based on as small number of students are less reliable and should be carefully interpreted. 

O’Connell said that under the federal AYP system, the percentage of students required to be proficient had increased significantly this year—about 11 percentage points from last year—with many schools, while still “making real academic gains,” falling short on this measure. 

AYP targets will continue to rise every year to meet the federal No Child Left Behind standards. 

O’Connell acknowledged that the state and federal accountability systems often sent conflicting messages to educators and parents. 

“While we can never abandon the goal of proficiency for all students, I continue to support efforts to create a single accountability system for California that combines the best of the state and federal systems in order to reduce confusion and still push schools to help all students improve,” O’Connell said. “I am hopeful that the Obama administration will be a partner in this effort through the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.” 

Fifty-one percent of schools made AYP this year, a decline of one percentage point from 2008. 

Berkeley Unified did not meet AYP criteria for 2009 because it failed to have enough members in African-American, Latino, socioeconomically disadvantaged and disabled student subgroups who were considered proficient in English-language arts or mathematics.  

Only four schools in Berkeley Unified—Cragmont, Jefferson, LeConte and Oxford elementaries—met both English-language and math criteria for the 2009 AYP.  

School districts, schools and county offices of education who fail to make the AYP criteria for two consecutive years and receive Title I money fall under Program Improvement (PI). 

Berkeley Unified is currently in its third year of Program Improvement. 

Berkeley Arts Magnet is in its fourth year of PI while LeConte Elementary is in its third year. 

Thousand Oaks Elementary entered into Program Improvement for the first time. 

Rosa Parks Environmental Science Magnet and all three middle schools—Longfellow, Martin Luther King and Willard—are in their fifth year of PI. 

Berkeley Technology Academy is also in its fifth year of Program Improvement. 

Program Improvement schools are given a five-year timeline for introducing intervention activities,  

“One of the problems with AYP was the way it was structured,” Huyett said. “We should set high standards, but we ought to set targets that are reachable and doable. Now California has hit the place that is not reachable and doable, at least for the short term. 

Huyett said that Berkeley Unified was introducing a number of interventions, including a new math curriculum in elementary schools, training all teachers in math and English and providing study and homework sessions in all after-school programs.