Improved exam scores beat peers, trail ’burbs 

San Francisco public school students continue to outperform students in other urban areas statewide on standardized tests, but they still struggle to keep up with the high scores of the neighboring districts in the Bay Area, according to data released Wednesday by the California Department of Education.

The San Francisco Unified School District’s overall score — based on students’ collective performance on the tests — improved this year, bringing the district to a 764, just a few points shy of the state’s target score of 800 for all schools and districts. Schools are ranked between a lowof 200 and a high of 1,000.

When compared with urban districts across the state, San Francisco continues to come out on top. But the district rubs shoulders with higher-scoring districts, such as Alameda and Palo Alto unified, where students are scoring above 800.

"The fact is, we’re doing better than our peers — but the bar is relatively low," Mayor Gavin Newsom told The Examiner on Wednesday. "I’m proud of our progress, but we need much more audacious goals."

Boosting minorities’ performance is one of those goals, according to Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

In SFUSD, black students in The City earned an API score of 582, while Hispanics scored at 649 — compared with 843 for Asians and 849 for whites, according to the California Department of Education.

In the coming years, Garcia said he is hoping to use the API, along with other measures, to track student progress.

Garcia’s plan would pinpoint trouble spots and highlight schools that have stumbled upon ways to help low-performing students succeed, he said.

"We won’t have to hire outside consultants to tell us how to do this — we can use in-house expertise and share information on what’s working," Garcia said.

Overall, elementary and middle schools in The City are ahead of their peers — urban or otherwise. While 34.6 percent of elementary schools in California scored 800 or higher, 46 percent of San Francisco schools did. Among California middle schools, 24.6 percent reached or exceeded 800 while 31 percent of San Francisco middle schools did so.

However, only one San Francisco high school, Lowell, exceeded 800.

School wears ‘most improved’ honor proudly

"Most improved" can sometimes be a dubious honor, but the leaders of Metropolitan Arts and Technology High, a charter school catering mainly to low-income minority students, are taking it proudly.

Metropolitan saw its Academic Performance Index scores rise 95 points, from 580 in 2006 to 675 in 2007 — its second straight year of 90-plus growth, according to Vice Principal Todd Williams.

The state gives schools and districts a target goal of 800.

The school population is comprised of at least 41 percent black and Hispanic students, with numerous others listing their ethnicity as "multiple." Black and Hispanic students make up approximately 35 percent of the overall district population.

With 22 students per classroom and plenty of advisors and parental involvement at Metropolitan, which was founded in 2005, students are thriving, teachers said.

"We have a diverse population … with many coming from poverty or violence," said Abby Benedetto, one of Metropolitan’s teachers. "We’re able to sit down with a student and say ‘Working on this essay is going to be the thing that gets you out of your neighborhood.’"

bwinegarner@sfexaminer.com

The ABCs of the API

The Academic Performance Index, or API, is the state’s primary measurement of student achievement and is used to set measurable goals for student test performance improvement from year to year.

API rankings are calculated per school, based on the students’ collective performance on several tests. Schools are ranked from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000; the statewide performance target is 800.

Schools are given "growth targets" each year, 5 percent of the difference between a school’s current API "base" and the statewide target of 800.

For example, if a school has an API base of 500, then its growth target for the next year will be 15 points higher, or 5 percent of 300.

The API score summarizes the results of several statewide tests that cover English and mathematics in grades two through 11, and history and science in the secondary grades. — Staff report

How the state calculates the numbers

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Beth Winegarner

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