Tag Archives: achievement

From tonight’s meeting: English Learner achievement

At tonight’s meeting we heard a fascinating presentation of the results of the district’s research partnership with Stanford. Specifically, the partnership has looked at longitudinal data on English Learner achievement in several pathways — English Plus, Bilingual/biliteracy and Dual Immersion (full descriptions of each of these pathways are here).

I’ll post the presentation as soon as I have an electronic copy, and it’s pretty straightforward to understand. But basically, our concern as a district has been that we didn’t have solid data supporting the big investment we’ve made in dual-language immersion as a strategy to support the achievement of English Learners. (And in addition, until the last two years, we didn’t have accurate data on the English proficiency/background of all the students enrolled in our language pathways).

Dual-language immersion–offered in Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin and Korean– is wildly popular among English speakers and was designed to support both the English language instructional needs of target language native speakers as well as their content instruction needs.  These programs have exploded throughout the district and have been one of the district’s key strategies over the past decade for integrating schools (look at Bret Harte, Fairmount, Monroe, James Lick, DeAvila . . . the list goes on).

There is some data — not unique to our district — indicating that English Learners who are educated in dual-language classrooms (the ideal ratio is debated but generally held to be 2/3 English Learner/bilingual with 1/3 English native speakers) are slightly more likely to be reclassified English proficient by middle school than English learners educated in other environments.  Still, the sample sizes of the existing studies are small and the data they generated hasn’t been regarded as definitive (though to be fair it is considered “promising”).

But the Stanford longitudinal results are  much more robust and definitive than past studies, and I have to say that I was relieved when I saw that they basically support the earlier studies and our general approach up till now.

Essentially: students in English Plus programs (where they are immersed in content instruction in English much of the day and pulled out for specific English Language Development for a certain number of minutes per day) become English proficient faster and achieve at a higher level  in the earlier grades, but students in Bilingual and Dual-immersion pathways eventually catch up by middle school.  The takeaway is that it doesn’t really matter what pathway you’re in by the time you reach middle school.

The down side is that there is still a significant gap in achievement and overall English proficiency between students whose first language is Spanish and those whose first language is Chinese (Cantonese or Mandarin).  And an additional down side is that all students — whether their first language is English, Chinese or Spanish — are not achieving at an acceptable level in math by middle school.  So we have a lot of work to do.

Also from tonight’s board meeting:

  • We reauthorized charters for Gateway High School and Life Learning Academy;
  • We heard public comment from community members at the Claire Lilienthal K-8 Korean Immersion Program, the Filipino pathway at Bessie Carmichael K-8, and Hunter’s View residents advocating for the district to refurbish and reopen the Hunter’s Point Youth Park;
  • We celebrated 33 teachers who achieved the rigorous National Board Certification this year — bringing the number of district teachers who have achieved this professional honor and badge of achievement to 239! Congratulations!

Update – new math course sequence proposed

At last night’s meeting, the Superintendent proposed (for first reading, which means it hasn’t been discussed or acted on by the full Board yet) a new math course sequence to better align math instruction in middle and high school with the Common Core.

A graphic showing the proposed new course sequence is here: math core sequenceA paper explaining the rationale behind the proposed new sequence is here. The proposal was discussed at the Curriculum committee earlier this month, and will return for second reading on Feb. 25.

Big news on student achievement

The school district’s Academic Performance Index (API) for 2012 has been released, and it breaks through an important psychological barrier: 800. The state has set that number as the target for all schools, and last year the district fell just shy at 796. This year — 807.

“Surpassing the 800 API mark is a huge milestone for our city and our schools,” Superintendent Carranza was quoted as saying in the school district’s press release on the API data (PDF). “San Francisco can count itself among only a few large urban school districts in the State that have exceeded the 800 target for academic performance.”

Out of 98 schools reporting, 51 have an API score of 800 or above; of the schools with an API of 799 or less, most met their state “growth targets” — the minimum level of improvement expected by the state.

Of course, it’s important to keep these things in perspective –many schools did not meet their growth targets for all subgroups — African American students, Latino students, Samoan students, students with disabilities–and the school district continues to have a broad gap in achievement between different racial groups, between English speakers and English learners, and between students with disabilities and their non-disabled peers.  Still, the state has set the yardstick: an API over 800 means that more students are achieving at grade-level than not, and that is something to pause (briefly) and celebrate.

Download district schools’ 2012 API scores (PDF) >>>>>>>>

Meeting recap: 2012 achievement overview

Another relatively light agenda, with the meatiest item being an overview of the district’s achievement results from the 2011-12 school year.  The highlights of our results on the California Standards Test were previously reported several weeks ago, so tonight’s presentation was intended to dig deeper into the results and brief the Board on how they will inform curriculum and instruction for the current school year.

Probably the most interesting results were the “matched student cohorts,” which compare individual students’ CST scores in 2011 with their scores in 2012, then counts the number of students who remained proficient or advanced or who moved up a level (say from Below Basic to Basic) between 2011 and 2012. According to the analysis, of 30,301 SFUSD students in grades 3-11 who took the English/Language Arts CST in 2011 and again in 2012, 70 percent (or 21,084) moved up at least one level or remained Proficient or Advanced.

Similarly, of 17,087 SFUSD students in grades 3 – 7  who took the CST in Mathematics, 173 percent (or 12,538) moved up at least one level or remained Proficient or Advanced.

Deputy Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero also highlighted several groups of “celebration” schools,  from top-performing schools to schools that are closing the gap for specific student subgroups. There are 27 schools in the district where 75 percent or more of the student body is proficient or advanced on the CST:

  • John Yehall Chin ES
  • Grattan ES
  • Robert Louis Stevenson ES
  • George Peabody ES
  • Lafayette ES
  • Yick Wo ES
  • Rooftop K-8
  • Dianne Feinstein ES
  • A.P. Giannini MS
  • Alice Fong Yu K-8
  • Ulloa ES
  • Claire Lilienthal K-8
  • Sunset ES
  • Alamo ES
  • Francis Scott Key ES
  • McKinley ES
  • Argonne ES
  • Lowell HS
  • Clarendon ES
  • Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila (ES)
  • Sherman ES
  • Lawton K-8
  • Miraloma ES
  • West Portal ES
  • Jefferson ES
  • Presidio MS
  • Ruth Asawa HS for the Arts (SOTA)

Schools that are closing the gap for one specific subgroup, English Learners (meaning the rate of improvement for ELs at those schools was greater than the rate of improvement for all students at the school), are:

  • Argonne ES
  • Garfield ES
  • Gordon J. Lau ES
  • Sunset ES
  • Hoover MS
  • Lowell HS
  • Paul Revere K-8
  • Chinese Immersion School at DeAvila (ES)
  • Grattan ES
  • John Muir ES
  • E.R. Taylor ES
  • Roosevelt MS
  • Washington HS
  • Cleveland ES
  • Bret Harte ES
  • Rosa Parks ES
  • A.P. Giannini MS
  • Lincoln HS
  • Lawton K-8

It’s still important to recognize, however, that while we have made a modest dent in the achievement gap, it’s still very much apparent in our test results.  In 2012, 74 percent of White and Chinese students scored Proficient or above on the CST –compared to just 38 percent of Latino students and 36 percent of African-American students.  In 2008, 66 percent of White and Chinese students scored Proficient or above, compared to 28 percent of Latino students and 23 percent of African-American students.  The comparison shows a modest narrowing of the gap in achievement between groups, but 38 percent proficient is nothing to write home about. We need to do better, and at this rate, we won’t close the gap anytime soon.

So what is the district doing to accelerate our progress?  Implementation of a common core curriculum — a set of standards, milestones and assessments that helps teachers across the district teach to a common set of expectations so that my 5th grader in School A is being taught the same material as your 5th grader in School B–is proceeding. This should not mean “dumbing down” what is taught or holding back students who are ready to move ahead ; it should also not be a scripted curriculum.  Instead the “core curriculum” should foster a common understanding of what a 5th grader should be able to do, regardless of challenges or advantages outside of the classroom.  If your 5th grader needs to be challenged, teachers should still have the tools to guide him or her to a higher level. And if my 5th grader is struggling, supports should be in place to help him or her succeed. Nevertheless,  teachers in School A and School B should be using the same yardstick to determine which students are doing well and which students are not — in other words, I don’t want your “advanced” to be my “basic”.

Superintendent Carranza did stress several times tonight that we are moving from “a confederation of independent schools” to a “unified school system,” which will definitely raise red flags in some quarters. I think the Board needs to know more about what that means at the classroom and school level, because I don’t like the idea of “wall walkers” coming through schools and demanding uniformity in everything from lesson plans to student work. On the other hand, if a “unified school system” means consistently and uniformly high expectations across the district, and a culture that stresses supporting the classroom with actual resources as opposed to “good luck, you’re on your own,” then I’m interested.

Tonight’s presentation also included some discussion of how to share the best practices we are discovering in our Superintendent’s Zone schools; these schools are accelerating students at twice the rate in English/Language Arts compared to the district as a whole and three times the rate in Mathematics compared to the district.  Part of the answer was (as I feared it would be) that the money we are spending in those schools has made a difference. I’m glad that we have made progress in the 14 Zone schools, but we can’t afford to duplicate our Zone spending in non-Zone schools. Our challenge this year is to figure out, now that we know some specific strategies that work in our schools, how to implement these strategies — common planning time, intensive job-embedded professional development and coaching for teachers — for little or no money if we aren’t able to develop/find/win (there’s a big election coming up) more money.

SFUSD posts strong academic results for 2011-12

Last Friday, President Norman Yee and I were proud to stand alongside Superintendent Carranza and other district leaders to announce the district’s scores on the 2011-12 California Standards Test (CST or STAR test). The scores added another data point to the trend of gradual improvement for all SFUSD students in English/Language Arts and Math.

English/Language Arts:
Overall, 60.5 percent of all students in grades 2-11 scored proficient or above, up from 50.5 percent in 2008. In the Superintendent’s Zone, fewer students scored proficient (35.5 percent) but compared to just 19.4 percent proficient in these schools in 2008, the gains were impressive. The nine SIG schools (those receiving three-year Federal School Improvement Grants ending in 2013) increased to 36.6 percent proficient compared to 18.2 percent proficient just four years ago.

Overall, 67.6 percent of all students in grades 2-7 scored proficient or above, up from 59.4 percent in 2008. In the Superintendent’s Zone, fewer students scored proficient in Math (48.8 percent) but compared to just 25.1 percent proficient in these schools in 2008, the gains were impressive. The nine SIG schools (those receiving three-year Federal School Improvement Grants ending in 2013) increased to 50.4 percent proficient compared to 23.5 percent proficient just four years ago.

More data and charts are posted here, and at the Committee of the Whole on Sept. 18 the Board will receive an in-depth presentation on our 2011-12 achievement data. Stay tuned!

Meeting recap and other goodies

As most SFUSD-watchers know, the Board generally meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays of each month. All meetings are cancelled in July, and the second meeting in both November and December is also cancelled. This month, however, due to Election Day, we rescheduled our one meeting for the third Tuesday — tonight.

There really isn’t much to report from tonight’s meeting. We heard a brief presentation from the Youth Commission on the Immigrant Youth Summit organized by Youth Commissioner Happy Chang, a senior at Balboa High School. Everyone clapped for the passage of Prop. A last week, a $531 million bond issue that will help us complete the work of retrofitting and upgrading all of our school buildings (including a new Willie Brown MS in the Bayview).

A handful of parents came to again complain about the principal at Paul Revere and ask for her removal; two neighbors of the new Buena Vista Horace Mann combined campus came to discuss the worsening traffic situation around the school (Bartlett St., where many parents drop off their students in the morning, is a very narrow street, and double-parking and congestion have caused several near misses).

The Superintendent also introduced a proposal to rename John O’Connell High School Alternative High School of Technology simply “John O’Connell High School.”  In fact, according to the Superintendent’s resolution, the school has at least six different official or unofficial names:  John O’ Connell Alternative High School of Technology, John O’Connell Altemative High, John O’Connell Altemative High School, John A. O’Connell High School, John O’Connell High School of Technology, and John O’Connell Technical High School. The school has a highly-regarded new principal, Dr. Martin Gomez, who is trying hard to turn around the school. The name change, the Superintendent says, will help change the perception among Mission District families that the school is a credit recovery school — the use of the word “Alternative” in the name, some say, adds to that perception.

In other news . . . 

Last week at the Curriculum Committee we heard an interesting followup report on the district’s “Early Warning System,” which I wrote about last spring. Essentially, the high schools are now “flagging” students who leave the 8th grade with a GPA lower than 2.o, and/or an attendance record of lower than 87.5 percent, because those two indicators are strong predictors of students who will later drop out of high school. Focusing resources on these particular students allow schools to address their needs and specific issues.

Mission High is doing a lot of things right in this respect. Since last year, its “flagged” 9th graders (50 this year) have shown improved levels of achievement. The school attributes success to several promising practices, including assigning each target student an additional counselor as well as a faculty mentor (even Mission Principal Eric Guthertz has 10 student advisees).

It’s important to note that every middle school has students with these indicators, and they attend every high school in the district, in greater or lesser numbers.  In addition, Mission is not the only school making progress by focusing on students with risk factors.

About Prop H . . . 

There are still provisional ballots being counted, but Prop. H appears to have ended in a statistical tie, with the “Yes” side (at last count) receiving a slight edge with 89,517 votes vs.  the “No” side’s 89,136 votes. In response to questions being asked about the impact of this advisory-only measure, President Mendoza has issued a statement on behalf of the Board.

Board meeting recap: Sept. 13, 2011

The most substantive item on the Board’s agenda Tuesday night was an update on the district’s performance on the California Standards Test and the state-reported Academic Performance Index (API).  Dr. Ritu Khanna, the district’s head of research, presented an overview of how various subgroups (racial groups, English learners, special education students) fared on the tests, and for the most part, the news was mildly good. On average, scores have continued to increase a few percentage points per year, and the achievement gap is narrowing, slowly (though the pace of improvement is nothing to write home about).  Here is the best chart I saw in the presentation:

% of 8th graders Proficient or Above in Algebra 1 or Higher

Yes, the rate of proficiency went down about six percentage points over the period depicted. But the number of students who are actually proficient has increased. What this chart says to me is that we are encouraging more students to enroll in algebra and higher-level math courses, and more students, in absolute terms, are finding success in these courses. This is essential if we are going to realize the Board’s policy of graduating every student college- or career-ready.

Here is the worst chart I saw in the presentation:

The “percent proficient target” of 67 percent is the Adequate Yearly Progress target required under No Child Left Behind — as you can clearly see, the district as a whole did not make AYP in English/Language Arts, and most of its subgroups did not reach the target either.  (The district and most subgroups did not make AYP in mathematics, either, but came a bit closer).

The chart below was also pretty shocking to me, but needs a bit more explanation. It depicts the percentage of students with disabilities (grades 2-11) taking each kind of test each year. (“N” is the total number of students with disabilities tested each year). The California Standards Test (CST) is the state’s general standardized test given to all students without IEPs; the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) is a modified test given to students with severe disabilities — it measures basic arithmetic and reading skills.  In 2007, the state began offering the California Modified Assessment (CMA), also known as the “gap test” or “2 percent test.” When CMA was first introduced, I was told by district administrators (as a parent, not a school board member) that CMA measured students’ learning in an “alternate” way and was not for students with cognitive impairment. In fact, as I understand it now, the test is for the small number of students who are too “high” for the CAPA and too “low” for the CST — the two percent that are not cognitively impaired but are severely learning disabled.  It is not for widespread use as an alternative assessment and most students with IEPs should take the CST with modifications rather than taking the CMA. The CST is the test that most accurately measures whether students are learning the material spelled out in the state’s content standards for each grade.  When you see the chart below, you can see that SFUSD is testing far too many students with disabilities using the CMA rather than the more objective CST.

The Board also approved a five-year renewal of Metro Arts & Technology High School’s charter — the school recently relocated to the Gloria R. Davis site in Hunter’s Point and staff, parents and students expressed relief to have a more permanent home after years of moving around. Board members expressed concern about the school’s low enrollment (127 students at last count) but agreed that the school had more than met the criteria required under California law to grant a charter renewal.

The Board also approved a revised policy to notify students 15-1/2 or older that they are eligible to opt-out of providing information to the JAMRS (Joint Advertising and Marketing Research Studies) database created by the Pentagon to be used for recruiting purposes. Except as required by law, the school district does not provide students’ personal information to any government agency or private organization without permission, but there are many ways JAMRS can gain access to students’ information. The district’s new policy, originally authored by Commissioner Fewer, allows us to explicitly notify students and their parents that they have the right to opt out. More information on JAMRS and how to opt out is here.

The Board also issued commendations to Dana Woldow, longtime SFUSD parent and chair of the Student Nutrition and Physical Activity Committee, and Karen Bishop, the recently-retired President of our classified employees union, SEIU 1021. Ms. Woldow has been a champion for quality, healthy school food, and is a nationally-known advocate for school lunch reform. Ms. Bishop joined the district as a library tech employee at James Denman MS just after her graduation from SFUSD, and never left. She has been a tireless and forceful advocate for her members, and has never stopped fighting for school secretaries, cafeteria workers and other clerical staff to be seen as essential partners in the district’s overall mission.

Finally, the Board also commemorated the 100th anniversary of Jean Parker Elementary school in Chinatown, attended by our own Vice President Norman Yee back in the day (we are too polite to say which day).