Tag Archives: testing

Catching up: Notes from the Nov. 12, 2013 meeting

I have been neglecting the blog — I am so sorry about that. In my defense, though there is a lot happening, there hasn’t been much actually decided in the last few meetings — most of the big initiatives happening at the moment are in community engagement mode, or in the hands of the State Board, or just not quite cooked. Mainly, though, I’ve neglected blogging because I’m working full time and there is only so much I can juggle.

Anyway, let’s get a little caught up by reviewing events from last night’s meeting:

  • The Quality Teacher and Education Act (QTEA) — also known as the 2008 Prop A parcel tax — Innovation and Impact cash awards for 20 schools were announced last night. To receive the $15,000 prize for Innovation or for Impact, a school serving historically underserved student populations must demonstrate an impact on student achievement or innovative strategies and practices (some schools received two awards, including Paul Revere K-8). A  full list appears here.  Heartfelt congratulations to these 20 school communities: you are making a difference and I am very grateful for your efforts!
  • In his remarks for the evening, Superintendent Carranza noted that the Council of the Great City Schools (an advocacy group formed by the nation’s 50 largest school districts — of which SFUSD is one) is completing a study of outcomes from Federal School Improvement Grants (aka “SIG”) in their member districts. Though results aren’t yet final, SFUSD’s results are very positive compared to other districts, and our SIG work was highlighted at the organization’s most recent conference last month in Albuquerque.  Superintendent Carranza also noted that the number of books in circulation in SFUSD libraries has reached 1 million — pretty impressive!
  • The Board discussed the charter renewal petition for Creative Arts Charter School, a K-8 charter currently co-located with Gateway Middle School at the old Golden Gate Elementary School campus on Turk and Pierce Sts.  Creative Arts (CACS) is one of the oldest charter schools in SFUSD and no Board member seriously opposed renewing the charter, though several (notably Commissioner Wynns) noted the lack of racial diversity — the school is 45 percent white and 9 percent decline to state — compared to the district as a whole (11 percent white and another 10 percent not-reported).  Commissioners also pointed out that the school’s academic scores rank it as a 2 among schools with similar demographics — meaning it is underperforming based on its demographics under the state’s (very imperfect and now moot) API accountability system.  Nevertheless, the Board voted unanimously to renew CACS’ charter for another five years.
  • We heard a report from the Indian Education advisory committee, a Federally-mandated advisory committee that advises the Board on the education of students who are of American Indian descent. One of the bigger issues for this group of students is that there is no permanent space for the many cultural artifacts and curriculum materials the advisory committee maintains. The Superintendent pledged to make a recommendation for permanent space and to make sure that the group has access to the materials it needs to function.
  • We also heard an update on the district’s implementation of Behavioral RtI (Response to Intervention, a major component of the district’s strategy to reduce the number of African American, Latino and Samoan students being referred to special education). Teachers and the principal at Lakeshore Elementary demonstrated new, positive discipline strategies they are using in the classroom, with good results. Overall, the 25 schools in the first cohort of school communities trained in Behavioral RtI have seen a 33.5% decrease in referrals to special education, compared with a 23.9% percent decrease for schools not in the first training cohort. Referrals of African American students to special education have declined 14% at schools in the training cohort, compared to a 5% reduction at schools that have not received training.
  • We heard a very short update on the district’s Vision 2025 process — a large group of parents, students, educators and community leaders are meeting over the next few months to help the district envision its goals for 2025 — the next frontier for our strategic planning. It’s been exhilarating and sobering at the same time: there is so much to do and really so little time and resources to do it with; and it is so exciting and energizing to think about where we can be in the future.
  • Finally, the Board voted to extend the district’s contract with the Friends of School of the Arts (FoSotA), a nonprofit that raises funds for the Ruth Asawa School of the Arts (RASotA) and has over the past few years administered the essential Artists in Residence program at the school. The Superintendent said he will move this program back under district control starting in the 2014-15 school year but needs a bit more time to put the necessary structures are in place to be sure that the transition is smooth.

There’s a lot more to dig into– the plans for the A-G graduation requirements for the class of 2014 are slated for a Board discussion on Nov. 26, and the Board must also have a discussion soon about the plans for reauthorizing the Public Education Enrichment Fund (PEEF, also known as Prop H), which expires at the end of the 2014-15 school year. In addition, there are community conversations going on about the possibility of combining PEEF with the reauthorization of the Children’s Amendment in some way — the Children’s Amendment is up in 2015 and currently provides upwards of $200 million in funding for all manner of children’s services from childcare to nutrition to violence prevention  in San Francisco (including $5o million in annual funding for the Department of Children, Youth and their Families).  Commissioner Haney is currently drafting a proposal to ban “willful defiance” suspensions, which disproportionately affect African Americans. While no one really disagrees with the proposed ban, it will require some careful analysis and discussion to be sure we really address the root causes of disproportionate suspensions of African American students.

Also, hopefully you heard that there are big changes coming to student assessment. Because of the adoption of the Common Core, students won’t take the CST this year — instead the district will pilot new computer-based assessments.  There are still a number of very key questions to be answered about the implications of this change — like the effect on Lowell admissions for the 2015-16 school year and beyond, since in the past Lowell admissions for SFUSD students have used  CST scores to help determine academic ranking;  in addition our cohort analysis that determines which schools get what services under the multi-tiered systems of support adopted this year is based at least in part on CST scores.

More next time.

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.

News roundup – Oct. 2-9, 2011

Some very interesting education-related news this week:

There were also some great blog posts/news articles about how the late Steve Jobs created technology that has really benefited children with disabilities, particularly the iPad.  This one, by Tim Carmody in Wired, is the best. 

Finally, hot off the presses, Governor Brown came through and signed SB 946 (Steinberg), which introduces a limited mandate for health insurers to pay for autism treatment — at least until the Federal health care bill is fully implemented in 2014. This is great for families who have been struggling to pay for autism treatment, or fighting with their insurance companies because autism treatment should already have been covered by California health insurance policies under AB 88, the state’s mental health parity law. It’s a big step forward and should provide the state budget with some relief, because schools and regional centers will no longer be the payers of last resort for autism treatment.

CA reading scores hit rock bottom

. . . and, it’s back to bad news, judging by this article in today’s SF Chronicle:

State shares rock bottom in U.S. reading scores
California remained at the bottom of the barrel in national test scores for reading, sharing last place with Louisiana, Arizona, New Mexico and Washington, D.C., according to the Nation’s Report Card released Wednesday.
. . .
In California, 54 percent of fourth-grade students and 64 percent of eighth-grade students tested in early 2009 scored at or above the basic reading level, a measure indicating a partial mastery of grade-level content. Nationally, 66 percent of fourth-graders and 74 percent of eighth-graders scored at basic or above levels.

Given California’s size and diverse student population along with the relatively low amount of money spent per child on education, the state’s scores aren’t as bad as they appear, said David Gordon, Sacramento County schools superintendent and member of the National Assessment Governing Board.

“It’s not really helpful to compare California to most of these other states,” he said. “The level of investment we’re making in our school system is really shameful.”

California spends about $8,000 per student. New Jersey and New York spend about twice as much and score among the top states.

“I think given its circumstances, I would say California is holding its own,” Gordon said. “It’s hard to expect a lot more.

Students with disabilities make modest gains

The Center on Education Policy has examined three years of reading and math scores on state tests for students with disabilities nationwide, finding that students made small gains between 2005 and 2008. According to Education Week:

The study found that students with disabilities showed progress at all levels of proficiency in 4th grade, where the median percentage scoring at the basic level or above was 71 percent. Most states showed more gains than declines among students with disabilities over the three-year period.

But there is still a yawning gap between students with disabilities who take the regular state tests (those with cognitive impairments usually take modified assessments) and their non-disabled peers. At the 4th grade level, for example, the median reading score for students with disabilities was 41 percent proficient, while 79 percent of  non-disabled students scored proficient. The gap continues to worsen in the upper grades – at the high school level, the median reading score for students with disabilities was 31 percent proficient, while 77 percent of  non-disabled students scored proficient.

The study represents a glimmer of hope that our schools are starting to take the achievement of students with disabilities more seriously, but there’s still a ways to go. Fully-funding IDEA to take some stress out of the system would help a lot; so would an overhaul of curriculum to make sure we are really offering students content in a way that supports their learning. Taking some of the “special” out of special education might help too — meaning that we should advance the idea that all of our students are all of our students and dispense with the “these are mine, those are yours” kinds of programs that deprive students of uniformly high expectations and rich content.

The special education achievement gap

UPDATE: (Sept 13) The data have been updated by the CDE and so I’ve reposted it.

I learned tonight (August 25) that the CDE has pulled all of its special education results to recalculate them due to some unspecified error. So I’ve redacted the figures I posted last week and will correct them when new figures are available. This would be more suspicious if some kind of correction didn’t happen every year, but it does. More info as  it becomes available.

The gap in achievement between students with special learning needs and their typical peers gets less attention than the racial achievement gap, but it is no less important and no less shocking. Every once in a while someone points out that African American students in San Francisco have in recent years scored lower than special education students (that is actually not true this year, in English/Language Arts or Math). Does that mean it is somehow OK to expect special education students to score the lowest of all, and the height of shame when another group captures the bottom rung of the ladder?

The vast majority of students in San Francisco Unified identified as having a disability are not cognitively-impaired, but rather students who learn differently and who need more individualized attention and teaching strategies. This does not mean that these students cannot learn; nor does it mean that you cannot measure their learning in the same way you would measure the learning of a typical student. Assuming a student with a learning disability has been appropriately taught and receives appropriate accommodations during testing (say, a quiet room, extra time or strategies to curtail visual distractions during test-taking), we would expect that student to post a reasonable score on the tests.  Perhaps, if we were particularly enlightened, we would also recognize that many students do not adequately demonstrate what they actually know on multiple choice testing, and so we would consider test scores as only part of an overall measure of student achievement, but that is another discussion.

Continue reading

Mind the (achievement) gap

Much has been said already about the encouraging results on the California Standards Test for students statewide and here in San Francisco. In case you’re late to the party, students in grades 2-11 in San Francisco scored 54 percent advanced or proficient in English/Language Arts, a 3.5 percent increase over last year; San Francisco students  in grades 2-7 scored 62 percent advanced or proficient in Math, which represents a 2.8 percent increase over last year.

In addition, our African American and Latino students improved at a greater rate than their white and Asian counterparts — which means we made progress on our achievement gap. Still, even taking into account steady improvement over the past few years, it would take 30 more years at this rate to completely close the gap, which is among the widest in the state for African American students. (Statewide, at current rates of progress, it would take 105 years to close the gap for Latinos and a whopping 189 years to close the gap for African Americans, according to Jill Tucker’s analysis in the SF Chronicle.)  So it seems a little premature to open the champagne.

What I found striking about yesterday’s press conference was the strong agreement between each of the principals who spoke about the factors behind their schools’ successes. We heard from Dina Edwards of Sheridan Elementary; Paul Marcoux of Aptos Middle School; and (my friend the fabulous Assistant Principal) Zoe Duskin of Galileo High School. Each admininstrator remarked that encouraging teachers to collaborate and plan with one another, and a stringent and continuous focus on achievement data, were key to their strong results.

What also seems clear is that San Francisco is in better shape because of the significant investment by our community. This month I spent some time with family who live in Contra Costa County; their fourth-grader sadly told me that every fourth grade teacher in his school had been laid off, to be replaced by teachers with more seniority who had in turn been laid off from other schools.  Because of the Rainy Day Fund, the parcel tax, and the ongoing support of the Public Education Enrichment Fund, we did not have to take such drastic steps, and our schools were relatively unscathed (if bare bones) from additional cuts in 2008-09 and 2009-10.

San Francisco used to be known as “The City that Knows How,” a name we picked up from the City’s incredible recovery after the 1906 earthquake. And I feel like we know what to do in San Francisco Unified. We are finally starting to make some progress because for the most part everyone (administration, community, parents, students, teachers, etc.) is pulling in the same direction. But I am worried because the Rainy Day fund is running out; the state’s revenue problems promise to continue for at least two or three years. Superintendent Garcia has said consistently that the budget pain we are seeing in other districts is “a preview of coming attractions” — and (pardon the tortured metaphor) this is a movie that couldn’t be opening at a worse time. What we should be doing now is doubling down on our investment, because there are signs that it has started to pay off. But instead we may be forced to reverse direction.