Study gives district low ranking

The Berkeley Unified School District was ranked among the worst in California for serving African American, Hispanic and low-income students, according to a recent study by Education Trust-West, an advocacy group based in Oakland.

The study, released April 27, gathered Academic Performance Index scores of students from 146 California school districts across the state. The districts were then ranked based on a combination of college-readiness, improvement of scores over time and gaps in achievement between white and minority students.

The school district was given a “D” overall, along with several other East Bay districts, and received an “F” for a wide achievement gap — coming in at 125 out of 126 schools measured in that category. However, district Superintendent Bill Huyett said the findings of the study may be misleading.

“One of the things that is problematic about the report is that it’s very generic and general, and it doesn’t really look in depth at schools, so places like Palo Alto and Berkeley get penalized for having very high achievements in certain parts of the population,” Huyett said. “Part of that gap is because of the very high achievement of kids like professors’ children who are doing far better than average.”

Huyett also countered the study to say that the district has made large gains in achievement over the past five years, especially for African American students, who Huyett said have significantly improved their API scores in the last three years. Huyett credited this improvement to the recent Universal Learning Support System — a district-wide program that connects literacy coaches, teachers and other school faculty to struggling students in an attempt to intervene early on in situations of low achievement to craft a plan of success tailored to each individual pupil.

However, despite improvements made in Berkeley schools, Lindsey Stuart, data and policy analyst for the group, who co-authored the study with Director of Research and Policy Carrie Hahnel, said the achievement gap in the Berkeley district was “unacceptable.”

Eric Wagner, external relations associate for the group, said in an email that although the organization has done a number of research studies to expose achievement gaps, this study is the first it has undertaken to create an online data tool that California school districts may use to measure their success.

“Our hope is that this study is used by district leaders and community members to start asking questions about their schools,” Stuart said. “If students of color are scoring so much lower than their white peers, what is happening in the district?”

Overall, Stuart and Hahnel said they hope that the findings of the study will spur action among educational leaders and community members to improve achievement levels in their districts and hope that their continued efforts to update scores will allow districts to use this study as a benchmark to measure future success.

“The profiles include specific strategies, but it’s really so much about the culture of the district and the expectations that are set at the district levels,” Stuart said. “We maintain hope that Berkeley and other districts in this study will continue to move up and improve their district grades.”