Berkeley school district scores slightly above state Common Core averages

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Common Core testing results released Sept. 16 indicated that the Berkeley Unified School District scored slightly above statewide averages, which fell beneath national averages.

Statewide results showed 56 percent below the English language and arts literacy standards, and 67 percent below mathematics standards. Berkeley school district students, in comparison, fell 42 percent below English standards and 46 percent below math standards.

“(The results) serve as a baseline for the districts to use as one measure moving forward,” said school board member Josh Daniels. “In general, we tend to do better than the county average and the state average. It’s very difficult to make comparisons with one year of data.”

The Common Core is an outline of academic standards that aims to prepare K-12 students for college and postgraduate careers, with learning goals in English and math for each grade level.

As of this year, the Berkeley school district’s English classes now include more writing and nonfiction reading to match the Common Core’s emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving and analytical skills.

The district, however, switched to math Common Core curriculum for kindergarten to seventh grade in the 2013-14 school year. Eighth graders switched in 2014-15, and ninth graders are switching this school year.

A team of teachers and mathematicians from educational nonprofit Eureka Math developed the prekindergarten-through-12th-grade curriculum to connect math to the real world by focusing on concepts rather than just procedures.

“One of the criticisms of American math for a long time has been that it’s a mile wide and an inch deep,” said Rebecca Burke, the school district’s sixth-through-ninth-grade math coach for the Common Core, “which means that we have done a surface look at math rather than going deep into ideas with kids.”

The results also demonstrate significant achievement gaps among those from different ethnic, economic and linguistic backgrounds. For example, in the local school district, 79 percent of black or African American students tested below the English standard, and 83 percent below the math standard, according to the 2015 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress.

“Most measures of student success in Berkeley show a gap,” Daniels said. “That’s something we have been working hard to address for a number of years and, in particular, under this superintendent and under this board.”

Angelo Paraiso-Arroyo, a Berkeley High School junior and student director of the school district’s Board of Education, suggests that after-school programs and more one-on-one assistance to help students who are struggling could help close this gap.

“The district has an amazing educational system,” Paraiso-Arroyo said. “It’s what happens after school. You can only have six hours a day with the student.”

The school district will be sending a letter to families, along with their students’ test scores, to provide context for this new measurement of academic performance, according to Daniels.

“Our students are human beings, not test takers,” Daniels said. “This is one test that is just being developed.”

Contact Danwei Ma and Amelia Mineiro at [email protected].