This fall, the Berkeley Unified School District will launch new programs in its schools as part of 2020 Vision, an effort to close the district’s racial achievement gap.
The programs aim to improve kindergarten readiness, third grade reading proficiency and overall attendance — three of the eight improvement areas identified by 2020 Vision — as part of an attempt to prepare students early on for later academic success.
Whereas the district’s statewide test scores increased overall, the district’s achievement gap between white students and their black and Latino counterparts still exists, and is frequently called one of the worst in the state.
The Berkeley City Council and the district’s Board of Education adopted 2020 Vision in June 2008 with the goal of closing the achievement gap in public schools by 2020. More than three years later, Berkeley officials maintain that strides have been made by the initiative and change is coming.
Julie Sinai, chief of staff to the Mayor Tom Bates, said that in the past few years, the goal has been to analyze and collect data over various sources to better identify the needs of students.
“What’s the data we really want to measure — do we have baseline data, or do we need to create it?” Sinai said.
Sinai said that this month, district kindergarteners will take a universal assessment, which will inform teachers how they can be more effective in the classroom, as well as provide a baseline for the percentage of kindergarteners ready for school.
According to this year’s data from the California Department of Education, white students in the district scored more than 250 points higher than black students — an Academic Performance Index score of 908 points versus 643 points, respectively. The district’s Latino students scored 744.
Paco Furlan, principal of Rosa Parks Elementary, said that many times, it is not an achievement gap but an “opportunity gap,” where certain students benefit from certain advantages, during the summer and after school, that others cannot afford.
Students in the district identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged were 711 this year, lower than the state target of 800.
“You absolutely have to believe that every kid can learn and provide opportunities for that kid to learn,” Furlan said. “No matter where they come from … you have to meet them where they are.”
A newcomer who assumed the role of principal in 2010, Furlan saw extraordinary test score growth at the elementary school, which met both of its state standards this year. The school saw the most growth in math and science scores.
Based on 2020 Vision’s identified problem areas, he budgeted and made funding decisions accordingly, Furlan said.
District superintendent Bill Huyett said though the district can intervene at the high school level, he agrees that academic achievement must be targeted from the lower grades up.
With new programs looking to improve reading abilities amongst elementary school students on the horizon, the district is optimistic that 2020 Vision will achieve its goals.
“It’s not like a train that runs down the tracks and keeps going,” Sinai said. “It’s going to be an ongoing effort to refine and readjust and take what works and move it forward.”
Weiru Fang covers local schools.