Chronic absences, suspensions down among Berkeley school district students

Priya Sundaresan/Staff

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The Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, convened Wednesday night to discuss a program aimed at aiding “underperforming” students in California.

The Local Control and Accountability Plan, or LCAP, was implemented and adopted by BUSD in 2014. The program consists of about 30 subprograms that fit into one of three goals, including high-quality classroom instruction, culturally and linguistically responsive systems and a safe and inclusive school climate.

There has been a 9 percent increase in the number of Berkeley High School, or BHS, students who say that “an adult on campus knows me well,” said BUSD Superintendent Donald Evans. Chronic absenteeism for students, which is classified as missing more than 10 percent of the school year, has decreased, according to Evans.

Suspension rates for students in grades 7 through 12 have seen a 0.4 percent decrease, which, according to Evans, is “moving in the right direction.” BHS graduation rates, on the other hand, have increased, with the class of 2016 demonstrating a 89.5 percent graduation rate.

“There is still more work to do,” Evans said.

The BHS Universal 9th Grade program, which aims to place students in smaller groups to foster student support and community-building, will begin implementation in August. Students will be organized into six or seven “hives” of about 120 students and four teachers each.

“Kids are coming in lost,” Evans said. “They are placed in a school of over 3,000 (students). … It’s hard to make friends and build relationships.”

Pat Saddler, BUSD’s director of programs and special projects, said only about 80 percent of BUSD students are mathematically inclined. The district currently has a full-time elementary school math coach, a part-time middle school math tutor and two high school math coaches. The district is looking to offer more frequent assessments to monitor students for intervention needs so that students can continue to be successful and take higher-level math classes in high school, according to Saddler.

“We really want to build a system where we really can monitor our students and where we can really improve our math achievement, because that seems to be something we really struggled with,” Saddler said.

According to Saddler, since the implementation of LCAP, the district has been able to build stronger connections with students and their families as well as improve issues including chronic absenteeism.

“I think it has really focused our work,” Saddler said. “We’ve really focused on the three goals and we’ve seen a pretty nice increase in our students’ ability to read. We’ve also seen progress in our A-G completion and our students eligible to go to UC or CSU. We’ve seen a decline in chronic absenteeism, which means that our students are coming to school.”

Ella Colbert covers schools and communities. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @colbert_ella.