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SFUSD misses federal mark

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Although San Francisco Unified School District was recently named the top performing urban school district in the state, the district is not making enough progress to meet federal standards, according to just-released state and federal test data.

To meet the federal benchmark this year, the district needed to get 26.5 percent of its elementary and middle school students performing at grade level in math and 24.4 percent in English. At the high school level, 22.3 percent of the

district’s high school students needed to prove proficiency in English, and 20.9 percent in math.

Highlighting the intent of the federal No Child Left Behind education act, the district was given a failing mark because it did not get enough black students and students with learning disabilities up past the proficiency bar. Other categories of students did meet the minimum federal requirements.

Robert Maass, a district assessment analyst, said the passing rate for special education students was not a fair measure because some students need disability accommodations that may not be allowed under the federal requirements.

Interim Superintendent Gwen Chan said she has already assigned strong principals and more resources to struggling schools this year and that narrowing the achievement gap is her "No. 1 priority."

Although a number of schools within the district are accelerating the achievement of black students, one school this year is a standout: the KIPP [Knowledge is Power Program] San Francisco Bay Academy charter middle school. With black students comprising nearly two-thirds of the school’s population, KIPP SF Bay Academy was the fourth-ranked middle school in the district, and had an impressive 140-point jump in the state’s numerical ranking from the previous year.

The school’s principal, Lydia Glassie, gives the credit to some staff turnaround and the school’s focus on individual achievement.

"I think the solutions are, ‘don’t blame the kids,’ you figure out what we need to do systemically and instructionally to better serve kids," Glassie said.

Although 70 percent of San Francisco’s public schools showed improvement in their overall standardized test scores, about 25 percent of elementary schools and 47 percent of middle schools did not get enough students past the federal proficiency bar for two years in a row, and as a result are in what’s known as Program Improvement status.

Under that status, a school faces an escalating list of sanctions. After four years in the remediation program, a school may have its staff replaced, turn into a charter school and face possible closure. Seven of the district’s schools are in their fifth year of Program Improvement.

What the state and federal test results mean

If districts and schools were ranked by letter grades, like students, it would be easier for parents to know theacademic strength of their city’s public schools.

Instead, the federal government — under the No Child Left Behind education act — ranks progress with a simple pass-or-fail method, called Adequate Yearly Progress.

California’s separate system, called the Academic Performance Index, gives each school a numerical ranking between 200 and 1,000. While a ranking of 800 is the state’s goal for each school, measurable improvement is also applauded by the state.

The federal government has less patience for mere improvement, and wants all students — including English-language learners and disabled students — to pass the state’s tests by 2014.

Both ranking systems, the state API and the federal AYP, are culled from student scores on state-created standardized tests, taken in the spring.

For 2006, each California school was required to have 24.4 percent of elementary school students score proficient or above in math and English in order to get a passing AYP mark. In 2008, the percentage will go up to 35.2 percent. Each subsequent year, the bar will go up approximately another 10 percentage points, according to state education officials.

If a school doesn’t get the set percentage of students each year past the grade-level proficiency bar, it fails by federal standards.

On Thursday, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said the state’s focus on improvement is a fairer way to view achievement, particularly for those schools with more challenging students.

"The starting line is not the same for all schools," O’Connell said.

If a school fails to reach the AYP mark for more than two years, it faces an escalating list of sanctions, beginning with providing students with free tutoring and an option to transfer, and after four years, possible closure or staff replacement.

beslinger@examiner.com