District awaits results as 2020 Vision plan enters early stages

Although nearly all of the Berkeley Unified School District’s plans to close the district’s racial achievement gap by 2020 are under way, measuring the progress so far remains difficult, since the programs are still in their early stages.

The plan, called 2020 Vision, is composed of 87 action steps that were outlined at the district’s Board of Education meeting Wednesday night, and although not all have been implemented, district officials remain hopeful that the district can achieve its goal within the next nine years. The report showed the most progress has been made at the kindergarten and elementary level.

“It’s a really exciting project — it’s huge,” said Tanya Moore, leader of 2020 Vision. “There’s so many moving pieces, but I feel encouraged with the direction it’s been going.”

2020 Vision is an over-arching plan formalized more than three years ago with the goal that all children born in or after 2007 “receive a healthy start and are equally ready to learn and succeed in the Berkeley public schools” and that the high school class that graduates in 2020 will do so without an achievement gap.

To achieve this, 2020 Vision stresses the importance of kindergarten readiness, and according to the report, steps that have been most fully implemented include an assessment to gauge student performance at the kindergarten level.

“A lot of what is important is early development,” Moore said. “We have a prekindergarten program called Power Play, designed to help children develop self-regulation skills. Being ready for kindergarten is more than if these kids know their ABCs and one, two, threes, but can they manage their emotions? Can they sit in circle time?”

Under 2020 Vision, children entering kindergarten this fall will be assessed on both academic and social skills to help teachers develop more customized lesson plans, Moore said.

However, the district has struggled at the high school level, with the percentage of students in the district who passed the California High School Exit Exam in the 10th grade decreasing this year, a trend that was accompanied by a widening of the achievement gap.

One of the district’s biggest challenges is reducing truancy and raising attendance rates, for which the plans have not been fully implemented, according to the report.

Just last year, 4,749 students in the district had three or more unexcused absences or tardies, bringing the truancy rate to 50.54 percent, according to the California Department of Education.

“We’re taking attendance more seriously, but we’re doing this in as much of a positive way as we can,” said district Superintendent Bill Huyett.

This year, a three-strike program was implemented in schools, with a graduated set of consequences for students who are consistently truant.

The 2020 Vision program also implemented a strategy to increase literacy proficiency by the third grade. According to the report, that goal has been “substantially implemented.”

Moore said teachers and tutors are now centering their work on increasing literacy proficiency and are receiving training to target students who fall below proficiency rates.

“We’re really progressing, and so far so good,” Huyett said.

However, because the literacy program is in its first year, it is too early to tell what affect it has had on students thus far, Moore said.

The steps least implemented include district assessments in language arts and mathematics at the high school level.

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