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.

Oh, OK. Just a small, personal digression into the testing issue. My younger daughter does fabulously, effortlessly well on the CST. Her older sister does not, but I have never felt that her test scores adequately measure what she knows and what she can do. What I think they measure is her limited ability to focus, stay on task and  continue working on problems that she finds difficult, boring and pointless when she would rather be thinking about Alvin and the Chipmunks. Of course, these are skills that are necessary in the adult world, and so we continue to work hard to help her in these areas. But single-minded focus and staying on task are never going to be the way that she shines in school, or in life. The more interesting issue, I think, is resisting the temptation to believe the younger daughter’s path will be golden and limitless just because she was born with a brain that conforms beautifully to our society’s current expectations for achievement.

Anyway. What I was going to write about was the state of the special education achievement gap in the San Francisco Unified School district, and post some data I’ve culled from the massive binder of 2009 CST statistics I brought home from the board office this week. So here goes:

  • Percentage of San Francisco students (grades 2-11) scoring proficient or above on the CST in Math:  55.2% (non-sped); 18.2% (sped);
  • Percentage of San Francisco students (grades 2-11) scoring proficient or above on the CST in English/Language Arts:  56.7% (non-sped); 16.3% (sped).

Then I went and pulled out schools with the lowest and highest proficiency rates for special education students (I eliminated schools that tested 10 or fewer special education students on either test).

ENGLISH/LANGUAGE ARTS

Elementary schools with the highest percentage of special education students scoring proficient or above (number of special education students tested is in parentheses):

  • Alamo 72.2% (18)
  • Commodore Sloat  60% (15)
  • Claire Lilienthal (grades 2-5)  57.7%  (26)
  • Miraloma 53.3% (15)
  • West Portal  50% (24)

Elementary schools with the lowest percentage of special education students scoring proficient or above (number of special education students tested is in parentheses):

  • Bessie Carmichael (grades 2-5) 5.9% (17)
  • Lakeshore 7.1% (14)
  • Cleveland  7.7% (13)
  • Hillcrest  8.7%  (23)
  • Cesar Chavez  9.4% (32)

Middle  schools with the highest percentage of special education students scoring proficient or above (number of special education students tested is in parentheses):

  • Claire Lilienthal (grades 6-8)  84.6% (13)
  • Rooftop (grades 6-8) 66.7% (18)
  • Hoover 33.3% (36)
  • Aptos 33.3% (24)
  • Lawton 33.3% (12)

Middle schools with the lowest percentage of special education students scoring proficient or above (number of special education students tested is in parentheses):

  • James Denman 1.5% (65)
  • Francisco 3.5% (57)
  • Visitacion Valley 3.9% (51)
  • Marina 4.1% (73)
  • Martin Luther King 14.3% (28)

High schools with the highest percentage of special education students scoring proficient or above (number of special education students tested is in parentheses):

  • Lowell 34.5% (29)
  • Gateway  20.4% (49)
  • SOTA  19%  (42)
  • SOTA Academy  12.5% (16)
  • Washington  11.3%  (133)

High schools with the lowest percentage of special education students scoring proficient or above (number of special education students tested is in parentheses):

  • Thurgood Marshall 2.4%  (83)
  • John O’Connell  3.2% (62)
  • Burton  4.4% (68)
  • Mission  4.9% (61)
  • June Jordan Small School for Equity  5.3%  (19)

MATHEMATICS*

Elementary schools with the highest percentage of special education students scoring proficient or above (number of special education students tested is in parentheses):

  • Alamo 75%  (20)
  • Clarendon  68.2% (22)
  • Jefferson 66.7% (18)
  • McCoppin 63.6% (11)
  • Claire Lilienthal (grades 2-5) 57.7% (26)

Elementary schools with the lowest percentage of special education students scoring proficient or above (number of special education students tested is in parentheses):

  • Garfield  5.9% (17)
  • Alvarado  7.1% (14)
  • El Dorado  9.1% (11)
  • L.R. Flynn 12.5%  (16)
  • Cesar Chavez  13.3%  (30)

*The mathematics picture gets muddy when you start parsing out Middle and High school scores, since students can take a few different tests once they pass 7th grade. Therefore I haven’t pulled out Middle and High school data, but I think I’ve made my point nonetheless.

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