SFUSD remains state’s top urban district 

For the San Francisco school district, it’s bittersweet at the top. California standardized test scores, released Wednesday, secured the district’s place as the highest-performing urban district in the state for the fifth year in a row — but they also highlighted a glaring achievement gap between African-American and Hispanic students and their white and Asian peers.

Overall, 49 percent of San Francisco students scored at proficient levels or above in English-language arts, while 56 percent scored similarly in math, according to results from the 2007 California Standards Test. Statewide, 43 percent of students scored proficient or above in English-language arts, and 41 percent did so in math.

While districts across the nation have been battling the achievement gap for years, there is an increased focus on the issue in San Francisco: The district’s new superintendent, Carlos Garcia, who started last month, has pledged to make it his top priority. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision to restrict districts from using race to integrate schools has also raised new questions about how to address the discrepancy.

"Why do some schools have a greater success rate with African-American and Latino students?" Garcia asked at a news conference Wednesday. "We need to go replicate what they’re doing."

Each spring, California studentsin grades two through 11 are required to take standards-based exams in a variety of subjects as part of the state performance accountability model.

The results are used to develop each school’s Academic Performance Index, a scale of 200 to 1,000 with a performance target of 800. Schools face sanctions, such as loss of local control and curriculum and staff overhaul, if they fail to make adequate progress from year to year.

In 2007, nearly 70 percent of white students and 63 percent of Asian students scored proficient or above in English-language arts, while only 28 percent of Hispanic students and 22 percent of African-American students scored at those levels.

In math, 69 percent of white students and nearly 80 percent of Asian students scored proficient or above. By contrast, only 35 percent of Hispanic students and one-fourth of African-American students tested proficient or above in mathematics.

"These ethnicities are moving at the same pace as the district, but what we need is for them to improve at an accelerated pace — or we need super fuel in our train," said Ritu Khanna, executive director of the district’s Research, Planning and Accountability department.

The district’s African-American students are also performing at lower levels than their peers at large urban districts across the state. In Los Angeles Unified, for example, 26 percent of African-American students scored proficient or above in English-language arts, compared with 22 percent of San Francisco students.

In Sacramento City Unified, 34 percent of African-American students tested at proficient or advanced levels in math, while just 25 percent did so in The City.

"Our gap appears wider because our top is outperforming everyone in the state," Garcia said.

Tests gauge schools’ basic competence

Each spring, California students in grades two through 11 hunker down fora week’s worth of standardized tests that make up the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, program.

Overall test-score results are released to the public for each school, district and county in August.

Results of the test are used as barometers of progress for schools and districts; those that fail to make adequate progress face sanctions on the state and federal level.

The California Standards Test, the main exam in the STAR program, is aligned with the state’s academic-content standards for each grade.

Different grade levels are assessed in varying ways using CTS. Grades two through eight are tested in basic mathematics and English-language arts, including writing in grades four and seven.

Grades nine through 11 are tested in English-language arts, a variety of mathematics and science. Grades eight, 10 and 11 are tested in history, social science and science.

The STAR program also includes the California Achievement Test, which covers reading, English-language arts, spelling and math in grades two through eight, and reading, English-language arts, math and science for grades nine through 11.

Additionally, Spanish-speaking students who have been in California schools for up to one year must also take the Spanish Assessment of Basic Education.

Next week, the California Department of Education will release high school students’ scores on the California High School Exit Exam.

During the last week of August, it will release Annual Yearly Progress and Academic Performance Index scores, both of which measure schools’ progress on the STAR and exit exam assessments.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, API and AYP scores are closely monitored, because schools and districts are required to show a certain amount of progress from year to year.

Schools and districts that do not make adequate progress face sanctions, ranging from parent notification to diverted funds or even a state takeover. — Beth Winegarner

arocha@examiner.com 
bwinegarner@examiner.com

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