Graduation rates are one of those important data points for measuring how well San Francisco public schools educate students. (Courtesy photo)

From the Superintendent: How schools measure success

As a school district we use many measures for how well we educate students.

As a school district we use many measures for how well we educate students. Looking at data is important not just to gauge the effectiveness of our programs, curriculum, and strategies for student achievement but also to ensure we’re putting our limited resources to the best possible use.

Graduation rates are one of those important data points, and the California Department of Education just released the 2019 graduation rates for school districts across the state.

I’m proud to share that SFUSD’s graduation rate reached 89 percent last year, several percentage points above the state average. We’re particularly proud of that fact that nearly every single subgroup of students increased their rate.

In fact, the grad rate for African American students reached 89.5 percent — even higher than the district average and an increase of 8.2 percentage points from the previous year. This is especially promising, given that our district has prioritized removing barriers to African American student achievement.

System-wide improvements

There are a lot of factors that contribute to student success, most significantly our students and their families. That said, our increased graduation rate is also the result of many system improvements designed and implemented over several years with support from community organizations and research partnerships.

Over the past decade, SFUSD has developed and implemented systems to better identify and track the progress of students towards graduation including the development of on-track off-track measures for early intervention. We’ve also implemented a portfolio of credit-earning options for students so, if a student needs to make up a course, they can do so without falling too far behind.

Our high schools have also expanded programs that give students real-world career learning experiences, which research shows increases student engagement, a precursor for persisting through high school.

Targeted support

In addition to serving all our students better, we prioritize closing the opportunity gap for our historically underserved African American students.

In recent years we have invested in an African American Achievement & Leadership Initiative (AAALI), a set of programs and strategies to further address inequities in outcomes for African American students.

There are many aspects to this initiative, including a stronger level of communication and alignment for African American students such as workshops, student-teacher-parent check-ins, counselor meetings, and field trips.

We know there is still work to do to ensure the success of all students, but I’m incredibly proud of the progress we’ve made by creating sustainable solutions that improve outcomes, especially for our most underserved students.

Vincent Matthews is the superintendent of the San Francisco Unified School District. He is a guest columnist.

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