Tag Archives: achievement

Happy first week of school!

I’m a middle school parent now, a transition that is harder on me than it is for the newest middle-schooler in our family. She’s adjusting fine, loves her new school and is even thrilled about the new school lunch choices in the Beanery. Between her MealPayPlus account (she just gives her PIN to the cafeteria supervisor and the cost of her lunch is automatically debited; I can go online and check to make sure she actually bought lunch instead of fizzy Izze juice and a cookie) and her youth Clipper card, she’s feeling quite grown up. It’s fun to watch but still a bit sad to see my baby grow up. (I should also plug School Loop, which has been more fully implemented at the district’s middle and high schools than elementary schools — it’s great to be able to log on, see her assignments and other information from the school. )

Anyway, the first day of school was a whirlwind. I escorted my friend and Mayoral candidate Dennis Herrera on a tour of George Washington, Roosevelt MS and KIPP Bayview , and also attended a district press conference on our CST scores. Proficiency rates in English/Language Arts and Math are up for the 6th straight year for all students,  including our African American, Latino and Samoan subgroups. However, large numbers of students with IEPs now take the California Modified Assessment [CMA], which is based on “modified achievement standards” according to the state.  My concern is that the steep rise in students with disabilities taking the CMA may well have lifted subgroup CST results by eliminating the lowest scorers. We will take this issue up at a later Curriculum Committee meeting to examine whether too many students are taking the CMA and what those results actually measure about their progress vis a vis our graduation requirements.

Assignments continue to be a challenge. Many parents lined the sidewalk outside of district headquarters on Monday, unhappy with the seats their children had been offered and waiting to speak with a counselor about their options. I don’t have any information to indicate that the number of unhappy parents was bigger this year than in previous years, but staff was reduced in the Educational Placement Center over the summer and those reductions definitely made the lines longer.  In addition, there is a problem with middle school capacity. We’ve been forecasting an increase in middle school students, but I think most people in Educational Placement didn’t realize the increase would hit us this soon. The closure of Willie Brown and the merger of Horace Mann Academic MS with Buena Vista also reduced middle school capacity — my own back of the envelope estimate is that 80 -100 seats may have been eliminated. The result? Many parents seeking a 6th grade placement for their children are finding the pickings very tight. As of last week, counselors at Educational Placement were telling parents that only Visitacion Valley Middle School had spaces; over the weekend there was some movement and prospective students did gain admittance to other middle schools. Still, it’s clear that capacity for 6th grade is much tighter than it has been in previous years, and that is making parents very anxious.  In addition, the district’s new policy about wait pools needs to be re-worked. It appears that someone made a decision to prevent children who are placed in one of their choices in the August run from participating in assignment runs after the three-day count.  There’s some logic in this: the district is trying to give parents a disincentive towards holding out until the bitter end for their first choices, and instead hopes to encourage people to accept A choice.  In the end, though, it doesn’t work to force people to accept what they don’t really want. All this tactic accomplishes is forcing parents who have fewer resources and options into schools they don’t want, while parents who have the financial resources to hold out or hold on to private/parochial school seats are the ones who benefit.

I do agree with the new policy establishing a spring “transfer period” for students who enroll in an SFUSD school for the fall semester. Previously, parents who were able to hold their children out of school for at least a few weeks could wait out the district’s “transfer deadline,” which prohibits students changing schools after the first month unless there is a compelling safety reason.  So, any open seats that arose after the first month were up for grabs. Under the new  policy, however, schools that had a waiting list on the first day of school are not open to students new to the district until they are released for the transfer round later in the fall.

Wednesday marked the end of the three day count, and schools have now forwarded their updated totals of enrollment and open seats to the placement center. Hopefully this means there will be additional options for families who are still waiting for a seat they’ll accept for their children.

In other news, I finally listened to a recording of the student assignment committee meeting I missed when I was on vacation last week. There was a particularly interesting discussion on the district’s planning for transitional kindergarten, but Commissioners were left with more questions than answers. As many people know, last year the state passed a law requiring the Kindergarten eligibility date to be moved back to September 1 from the current December 2. For 2012-13, only children who will be age 5 by November 1, 2012 will be allowed to enroll in Kindergarten. Children who will turn 5 between November 2 and December 1, 2012 will be offered the opportunity to enroll in new Transitional Kindergarten programs, which districts are now required to offer.

At the meeting, Educational Placement Center head Darlene Lim told commissioners that district staff believe about 300 children citywide will be eligible for the new Transitional K program next year, though not all of them may seek enrollment. They envision a two-year program, where eligible applicants would be offered Transitional K seats for 2012-13 and expected to stay on for full Kindergarten during 2013-14. Commissioners asked a lot of questions about what curriculum and differentiated instruction the district was planning, but Ms. Lim was not able to answer much because planning is still preliminary. We plan to bring this item to a Curriculum Committee meeting next month for more discussion and explanation.

The committee also heard a presentation from Orla O’Keeffe on the district’s annual review of attendance areas. Several attendance areas were flagged by community members as needing adjustment:

  • Adjusting the Alvarado attendance area to expand one block south (from 29th to 30th street) and north to 22nd street.
  • Moving Grattan‘s attendance boundary to the east to include the Upper Haight;
  • Moving Commodore Sloat‘s attendance area north to include St. Francis Wood;
  • Moving Sunnyside‘s eastern boundary to include Sunnyside Playground and Sunnyside Conservatory;
  • Moving Rosa Parks‘ northern boundary to the area north of Geary Boulevard.

While many of these changes make sense from the perspective of a neighborhood continuity, Ms. O’Keeffe said there is not enough information yet available for staff to recommend making these changes. The Board’s first full monitoring report on the new assignment system will not be ready until October, too close to the deadline for printing materials for the 2012-13 assignment round. For this reason, staff is recommending making no changes in attendance areas before next year.

To illustrate the issues with shifting attendance areas, Ms. O’Keeffe shared startling preliminary 2011-12 Alvarado enrollment data indicating that the school’s attendance area may already be too large. Alvarado has 88 Kindergarten seats — 44 of those seats, or 50% are citywide seats because they comprise the popular Spanish immersion language program at the school.  Applicants from the attendance area have preference, along with siblings, for the other 44 seats. In March alone, there were 81 applicants for Alvarado who resided in the school’s attendance area. Additionally, there were 42 younger siblings applying for a seat at Alvarado (in either the spanish immersion or general education program) — 37 of those applicants did not live in the attendance area (the remaining 5 are a subset of the 81 attendance area applicants referred to above).  In other words, changing the Alvarado attendance area to make it align with accepted neighborhood boundaries would likely reduce the chances for attendance area applicants.  The Board needs to make a policy decision about whether it is more important for attendance area boundaries to align with neighborhoods, or to maximize certainty by aligning the likely number of applicants in a particular area to school capacity. I don’t want to be forced to make that decision without having access to full information and analysis about this first year of the process. And as I said above, that information will simply not be available until October.  The staff presentation is here for those who want to dig deeper.

 I also want to update readers on the presentation Board members heard earlier in the week about the Early Education Department’s fiscal review, but this post is already too long.  So, I’ll try to get to that information over the weekend.  I hope everyone who had a student begin school this week had a great first week!

The national reading emergency

A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation sounds the alarm on the national failure to bring children to reading proficiency by the end of third grade. The authors say:

If current trends hold true, 6.6 million low-income children in the birth to age 8 group are at increased risk of failing to graduate from high school on time because they won’t be able to meet [a] proficient reading level by the end of third grade.

Reading proficiently by the end of third grade is a major benchmark; after that age, students are expected to read, understand and analyze increasingly complex material to learn. Failure to learn to read in the primary grades is highly correlated with failure to complete high school.  In general, California’s 4th graders score just above the “basic” level on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Federal test that is the most reliable comparision across states. On the California Standards Test (CST),  just 44 percent of the state’s 3rd graders scored advanced or proficient in English/Language Arts in 2008-09;  among 4th graders that year, 61 percent scored advanced or proficient on the English/Language Arts test that year. 

And San Francisco? I don’t have NAEP data for our district (if it exists at all, since the Federal test is not given in every district every year, and even then to a subset of students). But on the CST, 47 percent and 66 percent, respectively of 3rd and 4th graders scored advanced or proficient in 2008-09.

I keep thinking of Deputy Superintendent Carranza’s statement to the Board last month that — due to the district’s lack of data/assessment on student progress throughout the year — he could not give us any idea of how our third graders would do on the CST this year. That lack of data means that our annual CST results, to be reported in August, will be more like an autopsy than a diagnostic exam.  I’m glad the Deputy Superintendent in charge of instruction in this district is focusing on the need for more and better data on student achievement — the lack of reading proficiency is an urgent problem that we’ve been talking about for far too long.

The link between learning and physical activity

A major literature review conducted by the Centers for Disease Control has further proved that there is a strong link between academic achievement and adequate physical activity, either through organized P.E. activities or unstructured play at recess.  The CDC reviewed 50 studies, and found strong associations between physical activity and academic performance, representing measures of academic achievement, academic behavior, and cognitive skills and attitudes.

Hat tip to the National School Boards Association’s daily BoardBuzz for bringing the study to my attention.

State identifies chronically underperforming schools

* Updated to reflect that the state later deleted Burton and Thurgood Marshall High Schools from the list after the district requeste a re-examination of its data.

Today the California Department of Education released its list of 187 “chronically-underperforming” schools — an action required under legislation enacted this winter to help the state qualify for Race to the Top funds (yeah, we know how that turned out).  Twelve Ten schools in San Francisco appear on the state’s preliminary list, which will have to be formally adopted by the State Board of Education at a meeting later this week. The 12 10 schools are:

  • Brown, Jr., (Willie L.) Elementary
  • Bryant Elementary
  • Cesar Chavez Elementary
  • Everett Middle
  • George Washington Carver Elementary
  • Horace Mann Middle
  • John Muir Elementary
  • Paul Revere Elementary
  • John O’Connell Alternative High
  • Mission High
  • Phillip and Sala Burton Academic High
  • Thurgood Marshall High

Under state law, the district will be required to implement one of these four school intervention models  at each of the 12 10 schools by the beginning of the next school year:

  • Turnaround Model: Undertake a series of major school improvement actions, including but not limited to, replacing the principal and rehiring no more than 50 percent of the school’s staff; adopting a new governance structure; and implementing an instructional program that is research-based and vertically aligned from one grade to the next, as well as aligned with California’s adopted content standards.
  • Restart Model: Convert the school to a charter. A restart model school must enroll, within the grades it serves, any former student who wishes to attend the school.
  • School Closure Model: Close the school and enroll the students in other higher-achieving schools in the district.
  • Transformation Model: Implement a series of required school improvement strategies, including replacing the principal who led the school prior to implementation of the transformation model, and increasing instructional time.

No word yet from the Superintendent on which model(s) he might recommend for these schools.

Nation’s math achievement lags

The latest math scores are in from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a rigorous test given to students in all 50 states), and the news isn’t good:

“The trend is flat; it’s a plateau. Scores are not going anywhere, at least nowhere important,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a research organization in Washington. “That means that eight years after enactment of No Child Left Behind, the problems it set out to solve are not being solved, and now we’re five years from the deadline and we’re still far, far from the goal.”

On the most recent test, just 39 percent of 4th graders and 34 percent of 8th graders nationwide scored proficient or above. The data for California is even worse, with just 30 percent of 4th graders and 23 percent of 8th graders scoring proficient of above. I haven’t gotten the specific SFUSD data yet.

In response to the NAEP data, The New York Times web site has an interesting blog debate on what should be done to improve mathematics instruction – the prescriptions are all over the map from more testing to less, but there does seem to be agreement on the need to teach more basic computation skills in the early years — e.g., that rote memorization of addition/subtraction facts and multiplication tables has its place.

API scores looking good

I already feel I’m behind on the news and it’s been just a day since my last post. First the news, quoted from the district’s press release on the newly-released Academic Performance Index (API) scores for 2008-09:

The district met its Academic Performance Index (API) targets and improved by
five API points to reach a district-wide API of 777, a score that exceeds all other large urban districts in California. This year approximately half of all schools (46%) have an API score of 800 or above, up from 40 percent (40%) in 2008.

Over two-thirds of the schools (68% or 71/104 schools) met their school-wide API targets, which is ten more schools than last year. The greatest success was seen at the elementary school level where 77 percent (or 54/70) of the elementary schools met their school-wide API targets.

“We are moving in the right direction. More and more schools are meeting their academic improvement targets and almost half of our schools are at the state standard for academic excellence,” said Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

That’s all very good news, but it’s still important to note that African American students, Latino students, Pacific Islander students and students in special education did not meet the (ever-increasing) targets set by the Federal government, so the district remains in Program Improvement, Year 3 status.

Schools that experienced the highest API gains include:

  • Malcolm X Elementary +99 points
  • Buena Vista Elementary + 93 points
  • Raoul Wallenberg HS  +69 points
  • Sunnyside Elementary +68 points  (over 800!)
  • Tenderloin Community School + 52

Schools that lost the most ground (in terms of API points) include:

  • Thurgood Marshall HS – 54 points
  • Burton HS -47 points
  • Ida B. Wells HS – 44 points
  • John Muir ES  – 42 points
  • Garfield – 38 points

The state’s goal for all schools is 800 on the API, but the overall scale goes from a low of 200 to a high of 1000. There are no schools in San Francisco with an API of 1000; below are the schools with the highest 2009 API scores at each grade level:

  • K-5 schools: Clarendon –  API  950
  • 6-8 schools: Presidio MS – API 875  (honorable mention: Roosevelt MS – API  873)
  • 9-12 schools: Lowell HS – API 949

However, it’s also important to remember that API scores are just a piece of the overall data files on a particular school.  Many of the schools I consider to be the best in the district are not included in any of the above lists. The best way to evaluate the quality of a particular school is to GO AND VISIT. I guarantee that after 30 minutes in any school, you will know in your bones whether it is the right fit for your student.

CAHSEE results are in

From the district’s press release on our California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) results:

Fewer SFUSD seniors in 2009 met the requirement for the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) compared to district seniors in 2008 at this same time last year. The SFUSD cumulative rate for high school seniors meeting the CAHSEE requirement in 2009 is approximately 87 percent whereas the 2008 pass rate was 90 percent.
“SFUSD has done as well or better than the state overall in previous years. This year’s lower pass rates raise concerns. We’re analyzing the results to understand where to focus our support for students who are not meeting this important requirement for graduation,” said Superintendent Carlos Garcia.

The state has made CAHSEE results available on its web site, though I am not seeing the cumulative rate referred to above — probably because the pass rate for a cohort of students — say, those who were seniors in 2008-09–who may take the test at different times throughout high school. The majority of students pass the CAHSEE in 10th grade, but a significant number of students must take the test multiple times before they pass. And then there are those who don’t pass before completing the 12th grade.

Once I have cumulative rates for students who are english learners and those enrolled in special education, I’ll post them for comparison, but the pass rates for both groups appear pretty dismal.

Good news, bad news

What a day!

The good news: California schools showed gains on the 2008 state testing, adding to a consistent record of improvement on the books since 1999. San Francisco did well too, improving as a district to an API score of 772 from 764 ayear earlier.

The bad news: Deputy Superintendent for Instruction, Innovation and Social Justice Tony Smith was hired by Oakland Unified School District to be Superintendent of the Oakland public schools.  Of course this is a loss, since Dr. Smith was part of the heart and soul of the change happening in San Francisco. But we wish him well and the work here will continue even as he moves on to other challenges.

The good news: President Obama’s handpicked Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was in San Francisco today meeting with students, teachers and district leaders to see first hand the change that is happening here in San Francisco, and gave what was described as an “inspiring” address to 700 community leaders at a lunch this afternoon.

The bad news: Earlier in the day, Secretary Duncan told mayors and urban Superintendents that California had “lost its way” on education reform. Hopefully that rather depressing statement means that we are on the short list to qualify for “Race to the Top” funds that the U.S. Department of Education will be awarding later this year.