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School Board Plans to Improve Student Performance and Close Achievement Gap

The school board will hold a two-hour study session Wednesday to review strategies for increasing academic performance and narrowing the achievement gap.

In order to attain an upward trend in all the right places, the Berkeley Unified School District is reviewing strategies for improving student performance and narrowing the achievement gap. A two-hour study session planned for Wednesday's board meeting represents the second review of district goals and strategies since the new school year. 

The upcoming session will focus on three of the district's five goals: promoting student success, ensuring cultural and linguistic responsiveness to students and their families, and allocating resources efficiently. 

Board members will review the strategies outlined in the two-year action plan received in January this year. The overall outline, District Goals and Strategies for 2010-13, was approved by the board in October, 2010 and aims to improve the performance of all students and close the achievement gap through a number of steps. The full document can be found attached to the agenda packet online here.

The second district goal, promoting student success, focuses on engaging students in their learning and eliminating barriers to achievement.

Athough the Berkeley Unified School District celebrated good news this past summer with academic scores increasing and  — an achievement gap still remains. The latest test scores show that Berkeley's white and Asian students are scoring higher than black and Hispanic students overall. The largest gap in the 2011 growth API score was between white and African-American students at 265 points.

The gap, however, is narrowing. In 2005, the API point difference between white and African American students was 290. Hispanic students were also behind white students on average by 224 points, while the gap in 2011 had narrowed to 164 points. 

Subgroup 2005 API
2006 API 2007 API 2008 API 2009 API 2010 API 2011 Growth API White 884
894 885 883 901 911 908 Asian 794 811 781 787 811 826 821 Hispanic 660 688 672 689 688 730 744 African American 594 601 597 620 621 642 643

In order to promote student success, BUSD has outlined a number of strategies, including:

  • Increasing student engagement
  • Providing academic and behavioral intervention
  • Supporting positive behavior
  • Reducing the disproportionate number of African-American and Hispanic students who are expelled or in special education
  • Expanding educational options
  • Extending extra-curricular opportunities
  • Improving the transition between school levels and from special programs to mainstream education

Student engagement is an ongoing issue at Berkeley High School — as Superintendent Bill Huyett  — where the achievement gap is also the largest in the district. The 2011 Growth API score for African American students was 53 points below the statewide average. 

Ensuring cultural and linguistic responsiveness is the fourth of the district's goals, and strategy includes increasing the number of bilingual and mutlilingual staff. The district also plans to hire a supervisor of Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Systems, who would provide support for staff of color and work with schools and departments to ensure their cultural competence. 

The final district goal is to "generate and equitably allocate resources for programs and services that enable every student to succeed." Strategy includes developing a technology task force and streamlining district operations, as well as strengthening partnerships with the City of Berkeley, the Berkeley Alliance, the Berkeley Public Education Foundation, U.C. Berkeley, and other stakeholders.

The district also aims to "provide more transparent information" about parcel tax revenue and reserves, and work closely with the parcel tax and bond committees to identify how resources can be used to support the district's mission of closing the achievement gap. 

What do you think are the best ways to engage students and narrow the achievement gap? Let us know in the comments.

BerkeleyAccountableSchools November 15, 2011 at 02:55 PM
BUSD is both overreaching and underreaching. Overreaching: they've admitted many more students than reside in the District and have thereby given themselves a population that is different from the one they are meant to serve. You can see this clearly by looking at the racial composition of Berkeley versus that of BUSD, which is a relevant metric since the achievement gap itself is presented in terms of race. The most obvious data point is the size of the African American population: in Berkeley as a whole, it is just under 10%. At BUSD, it's 30%. If the BUSD percentage were LOWER (as is the case with the white/asian populations), you could explain that with private schools. But it's HIGHER and the only way you end up with MORE kids than the community has is by adding them from outside. BUSD also admits kids of other races from outside Berkeley who falsify residency information and that's wrong too. But to the extent that the people of Berkeley are doing any soul searching about these race-based achievement metrics, it is important to know that the people tasked with solving it are also those who've allowed this cohort to be Berkeley's challenge, regardless of whether or not they live in Berkeley. I don't doubt that they feel a strong sense of purpose -- the 2020 Vision attests to that -- but BUSD has a seriously problem of "mission scope creep" to confront and for which these folks are responsible.
BerkeleyAccountableSchools November 15, 2011 at 03:13 PM
Continuation: on BUSD's underreaching... The packet has a strategy for Parcel Tax and Bond Revenues: "Provide the best possible education for all students by effectively utilizing local parcel tax and bond revenues." These are the funds Berkeley residents give to BUSD *in addition to* property taxes. They're what we, as a community, collect from ourselves so that we can have excellent schools for our residents. The parcel taxes alone are 20% of the budget and pay for a significant number of faculty positions. BSEP is the largest part of this and was sold to voters as a way to achieve "class size reductions." But as is evident from this document, that goal has been subordinated to the focus on the achievement gap -- a gap we don't really understand because of our flawed admissions processes. Associated with that strategy are two actions that are stunningly unambitious. All the district has to do show that it’s “effectively utilizing local parcel tax and bond revenues” is 1. tell some committees how much they’ve collected and expect to collect 2. meet with one of those committees to talk about using the money to address the achievement gap Not very difficult to mark these two items off of the punchlist. And indeed, in last month's update to this document, these items were marked as substantially and partially implemented. Wake up BUSD Board! Set some real metrics for "effectively utilizing" our tax revenues! The current set is a joke.
BerkeleyAccountableSchools November 15, 2011 at 03:16 PM
Here are some links to my more detailed write-ups on the topics I addressed. Underreaching in accountability for tax revenues (aka "BSEP bait-and-switch"): http://berkeley.accountableschools.com/blog/2011/10/12/bsep-bait-and-switch/ Overreaching -- how BUSD admissions yield a population that doesn't resemble Berkeley and so casts doubt on whether BUSD has an achievement gap and if so, what its contours actually are: http://berkeley.accountableschools.com/blog/2011/09/30/race-matters-in-busd-enrollment-part-two/
laura November 15, 2011 at 05:41 PM
laura 9:37am on Tuesday, November 15, 2011 Overreaching is an accurate concept. Consider the goals of the Berkeley Alliance 2020 Vision with the focus on kindergarten readiness, how can these city services supporting early childhood education apply to Contra Costa residents who fraudulently enroll in elementary school? This inherent conflict in the 2020 Vision has been acknowledged from the inception of the initiative but never addressed by public officials. How can city youth services, $12-15 million worth be available to students residing in Antioch or east Oakland? A large part of the 2020 plan relies on coordination of services between school and district. Is Alameda county paying for school based mental health services for Contra Costa residents? Is that legal? The most glaring conflict is at the pre-school level and in neighborhoods where the environmental conditions negatively affect youth development. The balance of nature versus nurture shifts for kids growing up in a drug infested dangerous neighborhood. The Harlem Childrens' Zone is a good example of a neighborhood based program and why it is so important to address place when implementing programs in support of positive youth development. This is why residents have worked so hard to clean up south Berkeley neighborhoods, so kids and families could enjoy basic community standards for health and safety.
Ira Sharenow November 16, 2011 at 03:09 AM
281 West Contra Costa USD students attend BUSD schools, according to WCCUSD. The API is structured so that low performing schools and groups can more easily gain points than high performers, so simply looking at how many points a group went up is not sufficient.

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