Math achievement: Looking at the data

I thought it would be interesting to look at the math achievement data that district leadership reviewed, in detail, before recommending our math placement policy. I should note that the data is from the California Standards Test (CST), which has now been discontinued in favor of the Common Core-aligned Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBAC). You cannot compare SBAC results to CST results, because they are very different assessments. So, while we do have one base year of SBAC scores, I’m only using CSTs here because of the comparability issues. That’s why there are no scores past 2013 — the state stopped administering CSTs after 2013 and did not administer SBACs until 2015.

ENROLLMENT: The graph below shows the percentage of students in each grade who took each version of the California Standards Test. This graph documents the overall trend in the 2000s towards more students taking Algebra I in 8th grade, which in turn increased the number of students taking Algebra II in 10th grade.  Percent TAKING tests

PERFORMANCE: More students took these courses earlier in middle and high school than previously, but how did they perform? Perhaps not surprisingly, as more students took these courses, that were previously considered to be very advanced, performance gradually declined. The next graph shows the percentage of students in each grade who took each test and scored advanced or proficient. I find it troubling that achievement in Algebra I, as demonstrated by the CST anyway, clearly flattened out at under 50 percent scoring advanced or proficient in recent years. And Algebra II scores — remember, by 10th graders, who would most likely have to have been placed in Algebra I two years earlier to take Algebra II in 8th grade — show an even sharper decline.

Percent taking who scored adv prof

The last graph is a different perspective on the size of the cohort of students scoring advanced or proficient on each state test. Instead of basing the percentage on the universe of students who took the test, as in the graph above,  I calculated students in each grade scoring advanced or proficient on each test as a percentage of their entire class cohort — not just those who took the test. If you accept that these CST scores are a reasonable proxy for mastery of the subject (and there are arguments about that), you can see that indeed we had little to brag about in terms of math proficiency in secondary school. The Algebra II CST scores are particularly dismal — just 14 percent of all 10th graders (and 40 percent of those who took the course) scored advanced or proficient in Algebra II in 2013.

Percent of all students in grade who are adv prof

 

 

 

 

 

I have shared the underlying data for these charts in a Google Doc which you may view if you’re interested. That data and much more is also available here, from the California Department of Education.

What the data tells me is that we really did/do need to overhaul math instruction to improve achievement in Algebra and other advanced math topics. In my view, reasonable people can disagree on the district’s chosen course for math policy, but it’s not an unreasonable assumption that giving students time to develop a firmer foundation in math — particularly as the rigor of the Algebra courses most students will encounter under the Common Core has increased dramatically — is a good idea if we want to improve achievement and get more students to attain higher levels of mathematics.

Anyway, Algebra II is a basic gatekeeper to the future: you cannot go to a four-year college as an 18-year-old if you cannot pass it. And even good “vocational” careers requiring apprenticeships rather than college degrees (like being a union carpenter, for example) require this level of math mastery. I’ve been hearing a lot from the parents who are concerned their children need to move at a faster pace. I would like all of us to pause for just a moment and contemplate how many students’ futures have been curtailed because our system has not prepared many students very well for the math they need in the future.

That said, I am continuing to have a dialogue with parents and with district leaders about how we can continue to improve our Common Core implementation: I’m particularly interested in additional class size reduction in middle school math, because I believe teachers need that space to fully realize the paradigm shift that Common Core represents. I’m also really inspired by some great conversations that are starting around redesigning high school, which is another pillar of the district’s Vision 2025. By deepening and extending our relationship with City College, for example, we can expand the acceleration options available to students, while allowing much more flexibility around where (and when) students take courses.

Recap: Final meeting of 2015

We had a very packed agenda last night, with many substantive items and some good discussions. First up is a summary of actions:

  • We recognized winners of the 2015 QTEA Innovation Awards — these are schools that successfully applied for innovation funds provided through the 2008 Quality Teacher and Education Act (the school parcel tax that also provides key support for teacher salaries and professional development);
  • I was proud to sponsor a resolution commending the California Academy of Sciences‘ Guest Services Department for their amazing support of students with disabilities by providing job support and training for students from AccessSFUSD:The Arc. It was kind of an accident that we ended up issuing the commendation during Inclusive Schools Week but utterly appropriate. I am so grateful to the Academy and also to Heidi Seretan and Jennifer Kabbabe of AccessSFUSD:TheArc. I also love seeing their students (I care about them all but there is a special place in my heart for DeMian and Chris — love you guys!).
  • The Board voted 6-1 (Wynns voting no) to issue a charter to Mission Prep, previously a state-authorized charter school in SFUSD . I’ll add more about that below.
  • We unanimously passed Commissioner Fewer’s resolution recognizing the historical contributions of Chinese Americans in San Francisco public schools. It was an honor to hear from retired principal Lonnie Chin and family members of Gordon J. Lau (San Francisco’s first Chinese American Supervisor), and chilling to be reminded of the horrors of the Chinese Exclusion Act and its impact on Chinese Americans in San Francisco and all over the country. There are some similar xenophobic strains reverberating through the country right now, so it is more important than ever that we learn from our history.
  • The Board approved the 2016-17 instructional calendar, which has school starting on Monday, August 15, 2016 and ending on Monday, May 26, 2017. The full calendar is printed on page 59 of the agenda. (big PDF document; don’t download on your phone).
  • We also accepted the Balanced Scorecards/Single Plans for Achievement for every school. If you would like to see your school’s Balanced Scorecard, please visit this link, then click on the link for the school you would like to view.
  • Finally, we heard an informational presentation on the progress towards fully-realizing the Afterschool for All initiative. The vision is that there will be ample, sliding-income-scale capacity for any student who needs or wants afterschool enrichment programming at every school. We aren’t there yet, but great progress has been made, and the goal is to make sure the vision is fully-realized during the 2016-17 school year. I commend the staff for the great work that has been done on this initiative so far.

In depth: The Mission Prep charter was a tough decision for many members of the school board. This is a charter that five years ago was not at all ready for prime time when it was first submitted. It was unanimously denied, but subsequently granted by the State Board of Education. In my opinion, the State Board approves many sub-par charter petitions that were appropriately denied by school districts and county offices, more out of ideology rather than some deep understanding of educational value. However, because of the actions of the State Board, Mission Prep was established and began enrolling students in 2012-13.

They have, contrary to my expectations in 2010, done a good job. We have had three hearings on the renewal petition — in the Budget and Curriculum committees, and again last night at the Board. It’s been clear at each of those hearings that the Mission Prep families are passionate about their school, and that they believe strongly that the school is serving their children well. The school’s outcomes are so far very good. And the staff analysis of the petition and the program found no deficiencies and a strong financial position. Here are the remarks I prepared for last night’s meeting about the Mission Prep application. I didn’t deliver them verbatim, but they’re close enough:

I intend to support the petition, for two reasons.

First, the petition is a very strong petition. I have no doubt that should we deny this petition this evening it will be granted by the State Board of Education, which has granted much weaker petitions than this and imposed schools we didn’t ask for and didn’t want on this school district. Given that reality, it makes sense for us to have a relationship with Mission Prep as the authorizer of its charter.

The second reason is the families. I have heard in testimony tonight and at the Budget and Curriculum committees that this school is a positive place where your children are learning and growing. That counts for a lot. I cannot look each of you in the eye and say you can’t have a school that is working for your children.

I do, however, want you to understand the impact your request for a building is going to have on other students and families in the school district. Prop 39 requests displace existing school communities or they result in co-locations, which rarely work. There are many in-district schools that are working for their families and their students as well — your request for space may result in this board having to disrupt some other student’s education. I don’t think it’s fair and I think the law is a bad law.

I hope that should this petition be successful this evening, you will be mindful of your impact on the entire district and on other students.

The ongoing and most difficult issue with the charters, as I see it, are facilities. (Note that I said most difficult, as facilities are not the only issue). Prop 39 requires school districts to offer appropriate space to charter schools (meaning, that if a school is a high school it should have, for example, science labs and athletic facilities, so that it can meet the requirements of the education code ). We must comply with the law even if we denied a charter and the state is the authorizer.  This drives me crazy because it is so unfair and so contrary to the principle of local governance. We have school communities that may well be displaced or forced to co-locate with charter schools because the State Board thought that a charter was a good idea for our district even when the locally-elected board unanimously denied it.

Anyway, in the case of Mission Prep, I think we’re trying a somewhat new tack. We could easily have denied the petition, because in the end it would have made no difference, as I said above — indeed, in her remarks last night Commissioner Wynns said we could regard the hearing on the Mission Prep petition as a “procedural requirement,” or a box to simply be checked before proceeding to virtually guaranteed reauthorization by the State Board. In that scenario, it would have been the state’s job to oversee it and SFUSD still would have had to provide an adequate facility. (Note also that “adequate” is a key word — charters do not get to choose the facility they are offered, though often these offers are subject to intense negotiations. So long as the district’s Prop. 39 offer meets the adequacy standard, the district has met its legal burden under Prop. 39.)

However, as I also said, simply kicking the can down the road to the State Board probably wouldn’t have been fair to Mission Prep either — the school is clearly doing a good job for their students and there is an argument to be made that we, as the SFUSD governing board, have an obligation to make sure that continues to happen.

Anyway, when it comes to charters there aren’t any easy answers. It would help if state law created more of a level playing field, but the current education code basically says charter schools have more rights and fewer responsibilities than traditional schools. I fail to see how that kind of skewed policy-making helps all students in California. It certainly helps a few, but very likely at the expense of the many.

All of that said, I congratulate Mission Prep for successfully navigating the renewal process, and most importantly for their demonstrated commitment to their students. Now that the district has reauthorized their charter, I hope we can forge a newly collaborative and mutually beneficial relationship going forward.

A mini FAQ, and a book review

Lots of email after last Tuesday’s Board meeting, and comments too. I got one comment I decided not to post because I thought it was too likely to be misconstrued. Still, I engaged in a great exchange with the author–a parent of a young child new to SFUSD–and based on that exchange I think it’s helpful for me to rephrase his comment as a series of questions and answers. After that, some thoughts on the book Mission High by Kristina Rizga. But first, the FAQ:

  • Has GATE been eliminated? GATE is not being eliminated, though new GATE identifications have been suspended for a time due to the lack of standardized testing data. Read my post on this topic, which goes into much greater detail.
  • Are all honors and AP courses being eliminated?  First, let’s be very clear up front that Honors courses are not the same thing as AP. Honors at the middle school level has been eliminated. Some high school honors courses for 9th and 10th graders will be eliminated. No AP courses are being eliminated that I know of. AP courses are overseen by the College Board, with a recommended curriculum and a test at the end. Honors courses do not have a standard curriculum from school to school, and prior to 11th grade a student receives no consideration from UC for taking most Honors courses. My opinion:  I am much more comfortable with the idea of expanding AP than I am with Honors, which seems to me to be somewhat arbitrary. I do, however, acknowledge that with the elimination of Honors in middle school, we need to be sure that teachers have the resources and the foundation they need to adequately differentiate curriculum for students at every point in the spectrum of learning. I also think we should begin to look beyond AP as a stand-in for rigor, and deepen our partnership with City College to expand dual enrollment in SFUSD and the College. Students who have real college courses, and credits, on their transcripts will be incredibly attractive to colleges.
  • Will the district turn Lowell and SOTA into ordinary lottery schools?  No.  It’s possible–for example, in response to my resolution last year that called, among other things, for examining the audition process at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts–the district may from time to time tweak admissions processes at these schools. My opinion: I do not expect, nor am I advocating for, any major changes in the competitive-entry admissions at either of these sites.
  • Is there a desire to remove any workaround (summer school, doubling up, validation exams) for students who wish to advance more quickly in math before 11th grade?  District policy does allow students to double up on courses and students who have either passed online courses or the validation exam have already been allowed to advance prior to the “decision point” that is envisioned as coming at the end of 10th grade looking forward to 11th grade. Those options aren’t necessarily recommended, but they are available. My opinion (not necessarily district policy): I see some equity issues, particularly with the online course that some students have taken, since it costs a considerable sum of money. However, I do not think that if an online course is accredited, and accepted by the UC regents as a CCSS Algebra course, that we should refuse to offer credit for it, and I also acknowledge that allowing students who can pay for such a course to move ahead doesn’t feel quite right if there are other students who want to take such a course but can’t pay.  (My children would rather poke their eyes out with hot pokers than take a summer math course online, but maybe that’s just my kids.)  I am discussing this issue internally and asking for some ideas and solutions to that problem.
  • Will students be forced to take non-math-based physics in 9th grade? No. The Board just heard a presentation on the implementation of the Next Generation Science Standards in the Curriculum Committee and was told that schools will either choose Biology or Conceptual Physics for 9th grade OR every school will offer both Biology and Conceptual Physics as options. The final decision is still yet to be made–the Curriculum Committee strongly came down on the side of students having options at every school–but requiring every student to take Conceptual Physics in 9th grade is absolutely off the table.
  • How do the new the CCSS  Math for 8th grade and CCSS Algebra I course in 9th grade compare to the previous Algebra I taught in 8th grade?  Well, I’m glad you asked. Here’s a handy graphic that shows the overlap between the old/new courses:

Screen Shot 2015-11-20 at 12.34.03 AM

And now a book review:

I’m really excited to recommend the book Mission High to anyone who cares about the future of public education, and in particular about the future of public education in San Francisco. Kristina Rizga, a writer for Mother Jones, spent several years “embedded” at the school, building strong relationships with students and teachers so she could tell their stories. Even before I read the book I was recommending Mission to people because of what I know about the teaching and leadership at the school. And the book just underscores my positive impression, giving a deeper and more detailed view of classrooms where teachers are working every day to encourage students to do more, learn more, and think harder. The book makes it so clear that much standardized testing only captures a fraction of what students know and can do (I knew that already but she makes a great case). I love social studies teacher Robert Roth’s focus on writing — “analyze, don’t summarize” he is quoted as saying over and over again to his students — because as a writer I know how much harder it is to write a good argument, citing evidence,  than it is to answer a true or false or multiple choice question.

I love the way the students at Mission High grow in confidence and ability and become powerful advocates for themselves and their school. I love the way they reject the label of “failing student” or “failing school” even though the school’s test scores aren’t stellar. The students, through the course of the book,  become writers and advocates and scholars. They go to college. They achieve. They lead.

Reading about the teachers and students profiled in “Mission High” makes you believe in the power of teaching to transform any life — not just the lives of those who have experienced incredible adversity–but also the life of any young person who has great potential and needs encouragement and instruction to reach it. I believe this kind of teaching is present in every school in SFUSD. Perhaps not in every classroom, perhaps not every day of every year– yet the ability and the potential is there. “Mission High” challenges me as a Board member to create those conditions where great teaching can flourish, for every student, in every school, every day. Have you read the book? Tell me in the comments what you think.

Recap: Board Meeting Nov 10 2015

A large crowd for public comment tonight, mostly to advocate against the District’s Common Core math sequence, now in its second year of implementation. Jill Tucker from the Chronicle did a good job summarizing the comments, so I’ll just link to her article, which quotes me, parents and the Superintendent.

Last spring, when families began to advocate against the math sequence, I hosted a meeting of concerned parents with Jim Ryan, our STEM expert, and Lizzy Hull Barnes, our math curriculum expert. The input we heard at that meeting, and in subsequent public comment at the Board, as well as conversations with outside experts, led me to propose additional investments in coaching for middle school math teachers and decreasing class size in 8th grade Common Core math to 22-24 students. That’s what has been implemented this year, and I’m watching the results. The Superintendent has also set benchmarks he’s willing to be judged against as we complete implementation of the Common Core, and he’s announced those benchmarks publicly (see this update from the San Francisco Parent PAC for more information).

A community member recently forwarded me this interview with Donna Ford, PhD, a professor at Vanderbilt University, conducted by one of our parents who is critical of the district’s math sequence and heterogeneous class groupings. I actually think the professor is quite insightful on these issues and I encourage you to listen to her comments — the interview is about an hour long.

We also heard an update on our Lau Plan implementation to serve English Learners. (Here’s the background on Lau v. Nichols, the landmark court case that led to SFUSD’s being under court supervision to provide appropriate supports to English Learners). There was a lot of data presented — the biggest takeaway for the Board is that being more aggressive to reclassify English Learners has had a positive effect on achievement. The plight of LTELs (Long Term English Learners) who languish for years without achieving fluency is appalling and unacceptable. So seeing that many of the students who we managed to reclassify are now achieving at the same rate (or higher) as their English-fluent peers is a good thing. Of course we still see a significant gap between the achievement of Spanish-speakers and Cantonese/Mandarin/Korean speakers so that is still a major issue.

There were also some parents present to protest the district’s support for SB 277, which was signed into law months ago. They are requesting transcripts from one of our committee meetings, so as a public service here is how you can get recordings of our meetings, as well as other information:

Regular board meetings are streamed on sfgovtv.org and broadcast on KALW FM 91.7. You can stream or download video or audio of all of our regular meetings by visiting this link.

Committee meetings are recorded and I’m told this year the recordings are now digital, though it doesn’t appear they are posted for easy download. I’ll try to work on that. In the meantime, you may request a recording of any public committee hearing of the Board of Education by contacting the office of Equity Assurance at 415-355-7334. You can also always make a public records act request of the school district by filling out this form and faxing it or mailing it to the school district (the fax number and address is on the form). There may be a nominal fee for recordings or document reproduction.

So let’s talk about GATE . . .

GATE is the acronym that stands for Gifted and Talented Education. It’s established by the state of California, which has posted what looks to be a pretty comprehensive history of educational programs and requirements for students who are academically gifted.  I’m not going to go into all that, and instead mostly confine this discussion to San Francisco Unified and where we find ourselves today.

Here is what the research, as I understand it, says: fewer than five percent (most say two to three percent) of the population is truly gifted–meaning they are Einsteins or Mozarts or similarly brilliant artists, thinkers or theorists. That two to five percent absolutely need differentiated instruction and academic supports tailored to their needs, just as the 10 percent of students identified as having a disability absolutely need differentiated instruction and academic supports tailored to their needs to derive a benefit from their education. For the academically gifted, those supports could include: individualized learning plans, more challenging material, a faster pace, and less structure.

Now let’s talk about San Francisco Unified, and many other districts that, like us, relied on test scores and academic performance to identify gifted students. In SFUSD, 32 percent of students are currently GATE-identified. One of my favorite segments from Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion show on NPR  is News from Lake Wobegon, “where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.” Sorry. Though I think highly of our SF students, including my GATE-identified daughter, there’s no way that 32 percent are Mozart- or Einstein-level gifted. We aren’t Lake Wobegon. So how did we get here?

Prior to 2014-15, the California Standards Test (CST) served as the primary identification mechanism for GATE students. This led to the state of affairs we have in SFUSD, as in other districts, where we tend to lump high-achieving students together with those who are truly gifted and talented. But using the CST favored students who are good test takers and those who know English well, creating a selection bias. The CST was suspended two years ago to align new assessments to the Common Core.

In the two years since the CST was suspended, the district’s Office of Equity and Access suspended new GATE identifications and has been reconsidering how students should be identified as gifted  in SFUSD. Current research, as summarized for the Board by district curriculum experts, suggests that we should be wary of several issues in GATE identification: that the use of traditional academic tests will place undue value on test-taking skills; that no single measure should be the sole bar for identifying giftedness; and that giftedness exists in equal proportion across language, racial and class groupings.

But identification is only part of the issue. The much more important part, of course, is curriculum. To provide an experience that is meaningful for gifted and talented youth, it’s important that the district respond to and meet their individual differences and tailor learning to their needs. It’s important that gifted and talented students be afforded opportunities to work with other GATE students in addition to their non-GATE identified peers. We also need to be mindful of the needs of high-achieving students who aren’t necessarily GATE, but still need challenging classes to realize their academic potential.

The Curriculum & Instruction Department is working to craft all of the above into a future proposal for the Board. The important thing for parents to understand is that GATE is not going away, but it is likely to change to provide a richer experience to a smaller, more rigorously identified group of students.

WordPress, which hosts my blog, allows you to add a poll to your posts. I’m experimenting with it — curious to know what you think and if this is a helpful feature for blog readers to share their views (I do moderate comments, so sometimes it takes a while for me to post comments).

Recap for Oct 27 2015 — Focus on African American students

Short meeting tonight with two major items on the agenda – a report from our African American Parent Advisory Council (AAPAC) and then an update on our African American Achievement and Leadership Initiative (AAALI).

  • AAPAC was established in 2013 as part of a district-led process to interrupt inequitable outcomes for African American students in SFUSD. This group of parents and community members has been meeting regularly since then, working together with district staff to organize itself into an effective advisory body that listens to and reflects the concerns of African American students in San Francisco Unified, educates families on district initiatives  and resources, and advocates on behalf of African American students and families. Tonight, the group reported on its accomplishments so far this year (including adoption of and distribution of a letter supporting the district’s math sequence) and made a few recommendations, including expanding its opportunity to speak to the Board on a regular basis, encouraging more site-level AAPACs, and extending the focus of the AAALI initiatives (below) beyond high schools). The committee meets monthly (next meeting is November 19). More information here.
  • AAALI is headed by Landon Dickey, a Special Assistant to the Superintendent who joined the district last year. While Landon is responsible for coordinating the many strands of work around the district to improve academic outcomes for African American students in SFUSD, the Superintendent took pains tonight to emphasize that every educator in the district owns this work — not just Landon. The AAALI was established last spring through a resolution authored by Commissioners Haney, Murase and Walton, and is supported by a partnership with the San Francisco Foundation and the City of San Francisco.  There are a number of academic initiatives in place for 2015-16 — too many for a complete list but notably some programs to support African American students in applying to, enrolling in and persisting in college.  Of 253 African American students in the class of 2015, only 113 actually sent a transcript to a 2- or 4-year university. So we have our work cut out for us.

In other news, you might have read that the Obama Administration has reversed itself, somewhat, on testing. The President and his Secretary of Education now say they don’t think students should spend so much time taking tests.  The reason for the change of heart? Perhaps a new report, kind of jaw-dropping, from the Council of the Great City Schools, showing that the average American student will take 112 mandatory standardized tests between Pre-K and high school graduation, consuming 20 to 25 hours of class time per school year. (The press release summarizing the study is here).

San Francisco students do take standardized tests that are required under state and Federal law, and they also take some district-sponsored assessments that are designed to inform instruction and help teachers see where students need more or less support. To learn more about testing in San Francisco schools, you can read the Superintendent’s column about the study from today’s Examiner newspaper.

Quick recap: assignment projections, SBAC results at Board meeting

Last night’s Board meeting didn’t end until almost midnight, and I have to get to my day job soon, so very little time for a recap today. There were a few items I wanted to quickly highlight, however.

The first is a high-level preview of the work the staff has been doing to refine our enrollment projections over the next 15-20 years. The City is growing, and the current housing affordability crisis has pushed a huge increase in building permits for housing at all price points. Those new units will come on line gradually over the next decade, but the impact on potential school enrollments will be huge. These numbers show we need to urgently begin the work of  planning new schools — not only in Mission Bay, which some of us have been saying for a while, but in Hunter’s Point and also Treasure Island. Parkmerced and the Financial District will also see big increases. These are all places where we don’t have schools or where existing schools are at capacity! I’ll have a lot more to say about this later.

The other presentation was an in-depth look at our SBAC results. There is a lot of very interesting information there, even if you already absorbed the headlines from the release last week. While we have some good news, there are also clear challenges in the data when you look at our subgroups. It will be interesting to hear how some of the other CORE districts were able to move their subgroups  (CORE is the consortium that received a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements).

Thank you to the Community Advisory Committee for Special Education, which gave a measured report of successes and challenges for students in district special education programs. I am so grateful to these volunteers for the work they do on behalf of our students with disabilities.

Congratulations to Commissioner Walton, whose resolution (co-sponsored by Comissioners Haney and Wynns ) on cultivating SFUSD graduates for future employment opportunities in the district passed unanimously.

Finally, we had a lot of wrenching public comment from families and community members about Willie Brown MS. Opening a new school is challenging, but families are rightly upset about the way the first six weeks of school have played out. I believe the problems are fixable, and we are getting daily updates of things the district is doing to address all of the issues from behavior support for a few disruptive students to facilities glitches to staffing needs. Still, it’s important to acknowledge that the families are right — they had a right to expect the first six weeks of school to proceed much more smoothly than they have. Last week we announced that Bill Kappenhagen, the well-loved and effective principal of Burton HS, will take over the helm of the school later this month. The problems at Willie Brown are not about one person, but I do think that having this strong and experienced leader in place will help.