Berkeley school district board evaluates local funding plan, identifies achievement gaps

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Alvin Wu/File

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With the school year starting next week, the Berkeley Unified School District Board of Education convened Wednesday to evaluate the beginnings of a locally driven funding plan implemented last year.

The Berkeley Unified School District was recently chosen as one of the state’s standout models of the Local Control Accountability Plan, or LCAP, a state-mandated vehicle through which local school districts set educational priorities and expenditures to specifically address the needs of low-income students, English learners and foster children.

At the meeting, school board members announced that they would present their three-year plan, which was approved in August 2014 and went into effect during the 2014-15 school year, at a statewide conference in San Diego in December.

As part of the LCAP, the district allocated funds to hire campus literacy coaches to help meet standards for reading proficiency. While presenting a report on the results of LCAP to the board, Debbi D’Angelo, the district’s director of evaluation and assessment, said there was an overall improvement in reading aptitude among third-grade students.

But D’Angelo noted a deviation in the performance of black students. Since 2011, the percentages of Hispanic and white third-graders reaching literacy proficiency went up 10 and 6 percentage points, respectively, while black third-graders in the district showed a 2 percentage point improvement.

“We’ve had this curriculum in the district for a while now, but for African American students, we haven’t seen the results,” said school board Vice President Beatriz Leyva-Cutler. “At what point do we look at ourselves and say, ‘Maybe this is not a culturally responsive curriculum for African American children’?”

D’Angelo also noted that while 84 percent of students overall were meeting ninth-grade math standards, 60 percent of black students passed with a C or better.

Although D’Angelo recommended a more systemized approach to in-school and after-school interventions — specifically academic support for black students in the district — she emphasized that the LCAP had been in effect for only a year, calling the findings “a baseline.”

“The data should not be seen as negative,” D’Angelo said. “Our outcomes have been great. We’re just holding ourselves to a higher standard.”

The board also discussed the importance of creating a college-bound culture for disadvantaged students after looking at the district’s LCAP goals to broaden college-readiness programs, such as BRIDGE and AVID. D’Angelo said there had been difficulty in recruiting college-age students to mentor in these programs.

Forty-two percent of the district’s K-12 students are socioeconomically disadvantaged — 35 percent are black, and 35 percent are Hispanic — according to the school district’s report.

Non-native English speakers make up nearly 11 percent of the district’s pupils, about three quarters of whom are low-income by federal standards.

D’Angelo is set to present additional findings regarding the second and third phases of the LCAP planning — which focus on ending racial achievement disparities and investigating matters of campus climate — to the board Sept. 30.

Staff writer Elaina Provencio contributed to this report.

Arielle Swedback is the lead schools and communities reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @aswedback.