Berkeley schools see improvement in test scores

Despite not fully meeting federal standards, the Berkeley Unified School District’s overall test scores are up, and students are performing better than last year, according to data from the California Department of Education.

Although this year’s results showed increased participation in student testing at Berkeley High School and significantly higher Academic Performance Index scores — the state’s analysis of test results — within the district’s elementary schools, the district continues to be a “Program Improvement” district due to unmet standards under the national No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 — a highly contentious federal mandate.

This year, the district’s total Academic Performance Index — measured on a scale of 1,000, with 800 marked as proficient — improved six points from 784 to 790.

This year is the first time since 2002 that Berkeley High School has received an API score — this is the first year that it met the 95 percent participation criteria required for scoring — making the district’s overall score more significant, according to Debbi D’Angelo, the district’s director of evaluation and assessment. She said that high schools normally score lower than elementary and middle schools due to more comprehensive exams.

“We’re really excited about the overall improvement,” D’Angelo said. “We’re seeing continued growth overall and within the subgroups.”

The high school boasts higher graduation rates than the state average as well as higher ACT scores, she added.

Despite having the second-highest Academic Performance Index score in the district, Oxford Elementary did not meet the federal goals called Adequate Yearly Progress standards — widely regarded as unrealistic —which require all subgroups within a school to meet a standard in English-Language Arts and Mathematics.

As such, the school — along with 10 other public schools in the district that had already been designated “Program Improvement” — must immediately direct 10 percent of its federal funds toward staff development and is subject to a major restructuring if the status continues for five consecutive years.

“At school, after school and among every significant ethnic group, California’s students are performing better than ever. The failure here is in our politics, not our public schools,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a press release.

In the upcoming years, reaching the federal standards is going to be even more of a challenge as they continue to rise in order to keep up with the 100 percent success rate expected for 2014, D’Angelo said.

“If you look at the state report, you are going to see fewer and fewer schools meeting the AYP score … the API is a static model, you want to get to 800 — that never changes,” she said. “The AYP changes, so that by 2014, you want to hit 100 percent (of students meeting the goals.)”

For the 2011-12 school year, 85 schools statewide exited from Program Improvement by reaching the federal standards set by No Child Left Behind for two consecutive years, while 913 schools entered the category. In total, there are 3,892 schools in the state in Program Improvement.

For the first time ever, Rosa Parks Elementary in the Berkeley Unified School District met the AYP goals this year and also increased its API by 28 points, surpassing the state goal with a score of 825.

Other schools that showed significant increases include Berkeley Technology Academy, which jumped 131 points from 527 to 658. However, the scores of five of the schools in the district, including John Muir Elementary, went down.

According to D’Angelo, 10 out of 15 schools in the district have made over 100-point growths in API scores since 2002; since 2007, 12 schools have had 50-point increases, she said. The biggest improvements were in math, she said.

D’Angelo said she believes it is important to see the overall growth.

“(Federal exams have) flawed expectations that 100 percent of students will meet proficient and advanced standards, (without) understanding that we do have second-language learners and students that have disabilities,” D’Angelo said. “(However,) it’s been a good thing we have those targets, since it’s just been incredible growth.”

Weiru Fang covers local schools.