Tuesday, August 18, 2009

2009 San Leandro Schools STAR Test Scores And No Child Left Behind

San Leandro Unified School District students recorded modest improvements on the 2009 California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test compared to the 2008 results.

The summary report for 2009 showed that on the English-Language Arts test (Grades 2-11) 40.6% of students scored proficient or advanced, up from 37.4% in 2008. In mathematics, however, there was no improvement. 33.8% of students for Grades 2-7 were proficient or advanced in both 2008 and 2009. Certain schools at the elementary level showed significant progress.

However, the overall performance of San Leandro schools was less than the average scores for California and Alameda County students in 2009:

Alameda County
English-Language Arts: 54.9% Proficient or Advanced
Mathematics: 49.5% Proficient or Advanced

English-Language Arts: 49.9% Proficient or Advanced
Mathematics: 45.8% Proficient or Advanced

For San Leandro, the most significant aspect of the 2009 STAR test results is that the district no longer meets the proficiency standard set by California under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) statute. As explained by EdSource, under NCLB the state:
sets annual benchmarks (called annual measurable objectives or AMOs) for the percentage of students in each California school and district who should be proficient in English and math. Schools are expected to achieve these benchmarks in order to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward a goal of 100% proficient in 2013-14. In 2007-08, the state's performance targets began to rise sharply; and under current NCLB rules, they will continue to do so until [they reach 100% proficiency by] 2013-14.

In addition to all students at each grade level meeting the proficiency standards, students within every racial/ethnic and socioeconomic subgroups must score "proficient" or better.

The AYP goal for unified school districts in California last year was about 35% proficient or advanced. In 2009, the number jumped to 45%. Even though San Leandro's English test scores improved, the district did not meet the 2009 proficiency standard of 45%, and showed no progress in standard math. Nor given the gradual progress of the district over the past six years on STAR tests, is there any realistic chance San Leandro will meet the proficiency standards for the current school year. The standards are 56% proficient or advanced for 2009-2010. The district would have to show a 16% increase in English Language Arts and 22% increase in mathematics. While in some years test scores at individual schools have jumped significantly, there have never been such gains districtwide.

Sadly, the media may report that San Leandro schools are "failing" under NCLB. There certainly is room for substantial improvement in San Leandro's test scores, particularly given the district falls under the average for test scores in Alameda County. We should expect the best of all students.

San Leandro Superintendent Christine Lim has focused much of her work on eliminating the achievement gap among students of different races and ethnic groups within the district. While I supported this work as a board member, I also sought to ensure that the district's top goal was high academic performance by all students. The latest test scores highlight that a substantial achievement gap exists between the performance of San Leandro students and students in other districts in the county.

However, the educational experience of our children should not be distorted by overwhelming pressure placed on teachers and principals to meet unattainable performance levels. When in human history have all students at every school been proficient in every subject? In March 2008, I wrote,
The federal government has intruded in education through the No Child Left Behind Act. NCLB establishes wholly unrealistic standards of performance for our public schools. When schools do not meet these standards, they are labeled failures, triggering a set of escalating sanctions ending in the conversion of our public schools into charter schools. Congress is debating whether to reauthorize NCLB. If Congress applied the same performance measurements to itself, Congress would receive an "F." The federal government should offer a helping hand to schools in need, not punitive sanctions.

NCLB is another example of the truth of the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In time, every school district in California will be labeled a failure under the law, even districts such as Fremont and Pleasanton where students score in the 70% range or higher for proficiency in English. They will never achieve 100% proficiency - unless the state were to so water down the standards as to make them meaningless. As explained in a recent report by the Public Policy Institute of California:
NCLB requires that every student be proficient in math and English-language arts by 2013–14. In California, student proficiency rates have climbed steadily for several years. Yet California schools and districts will soon miss the mark, because NCLB’s timetable for proficiency growth is now climbing rapidly toward the 100 percent goal. Although average student test scores in California are at all-time highs in many subjects, nearly every school and school district in California will be labeled a failure within the next five years.

In the meantime, because San Leandro did not meet the proficiency standards under NCLB, the state may notify the district that it is in "Program Improvement." Program Improvement is the name for the sanctions under NCLB. It involves a succession of interventions that become more severe with each year that a district does not meet the proficiency rates. EdSource provides a summary of Program Improvement for school districts:

And as with schools in PI, consequences for districts (and county offices) in PI grow more serious over time:

The first year of PI is primarily a planning year, with the agency required to revise its existing plan for Title I dollars. In addition, 10% of Title I funds must be set aside for the staff’s professional development, and parents must be informed of the reasons for entering PI.

If the agency again fails to make AYP, it enters Year 2 and must implement its revised Title I plan. In addition, the California Department of Education is to provide technical assistance.

In Year 3, the district enters the “corrective action” phase, and the CDE must take one of the following actions:

* Defer programmatic funds or reduce administrative funds;
* Institute new curriculum and professional development for staff;
* Replace the district staff;
* Remove individual schools from district jurisdiction and arrange for governance;
* Appoint a trustee in place of the superintendent and school board; or
* Abolish or restructure the district.


  1. This is a message from school board Trustee Morgan Mack-Rose that she requested I post:


    Its not clear to me that your blog is the principle way people read your post so I'll just reply here and hope you forward it on to the progressives I guess?

    Looking at the test scores is important and reporting them out is as well so thank you for offering your summary of an extremely complex set of data. There is no doubt that SLUSD needs to do better. The goal of all students being proficient or advanced in math and English (ELA) is a challenging one but anything short of that is failing our kids. However, when looking and talking about this data it is important that it is seen in the relevant context. What is the trend in the District? Are all subgroups (white, african american, latino, etc) making progress towards the goal? The answer is yes. All children are scoring higher now than they were back in 2003, the baseline for the testing data. And when you look at Alameda county averages it is worth while to consider the highly varied districts that comprise the county. Is it relevant to compare San Leandro to, say, Livermore?

    I think it is more instructive to look at districts that have demographics more similar to SLUSD such as Hayward & San Lorenzo. As much as I disagree with the punitive labeling and unrealistic time lines that go along with No Child Left Behind Act, it does point out in stark data that children of color have been completely left behind in our public education system. And it will take time to change that. But beyond that, it is important to look at the nuances of the scores.

    For example, you state that the math scores showed no improvement. Every grade level in elementary school saw a gain in mathematics ranging from 2% to 11%. There was a decline in the middle schools but I would argue that the fact that there were TWICE as many students taking Algebra I in 7th grade this year compared to last (113 in 2008 vs. 204 in 2009) and there was only a slight decrease in proficiency is a success. Similarly, there were over 3x the number of 8th graders taking geometry and they still met the bench mark not just for 2009 but also 2010.

    That is a success worth noting. The reverberating effect of moving kids up to more rigorous math courses is that there is a far greater proportion of students testing below proficiency in the lower level math classes.

    Grades 2nd thru 7th saw gains in ELA, 8th and 9th were flat and 10th & 11th dropped 1% and 3% respectively. And 4th grade saw a 15% gain in ELA and an 11% gain in math! The District will be working hard w/ 4th grade teachers to learn what they were doing differently that may be instructive to other grades. The High School and Lincoln tanked last year and the District will be looking at that as well. As far as I know, no one has discovered the magic bullet yet when it comes to improving test scores but we need to constantly be assessing our various strategies for effectiveness.

    If you could forward this addendum on to those you sent your summary to, I'd appreciate it.


  2. Here is my reply to Morgan:

    In response to your points,

    1) There has been progress made in San Leandro. I noted there had been significant improvement on the elementary level. However, looking districtwide and focusing on grade level proficiency, the progress has been gradual over the past six years. In particular, for 2009 the progress was insufficient under the benchmarks that California has set in accordance with NCLB. The school district will most likely be on the state's program improvement list this year, and that sets in motion a series of escalating sanctions. I have long argued that NCLB sets school districts up for failure and should substantially revised and/or repealed.

    2) I appreciate that for a host of reasons there will be differences in school district test scores. I wrote an Op Ed for the local papers on this topic last year. While we aren't going to have Castro Valley's scores any time soon, that's not because of the quality of teachers. I feel they do an outstanding job with challenges in San Leandro that are absent or diminished in other districts. However, I do believe we should not fall under county averages and that there are steps that could be taken by district leadership to improve student achievement that have not been utilized.

    3) I agree substantial nuance exists with math scores when dealing with middle and high school students given wider range of courses offered. I was trying to keep the analysis straightforward and based my statement on STAR summary report the state provides.