Tag Archives: achievement

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).

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.