City schools fall shy of federal benchmarks

A seven-year growth streak on state test scores wasn’t enough to save San Francisco’s public school district from a potential
complete overhaul or takeover by the state.

Although local test scores keep climbing, they’re not climbing fast enough by federal measures that require every school and every group of students — from Hispanics to special-education children — to reach proficiency in math and English by 2014.

This year, 50 percent of The City’s public schools met the federal Adequate Yearly Progress targets, or AYP, required under the No Child Left Behind Act — less than the state average of 52 percent, according to the California Department of Education.

This is not the first year the San Francisco Unified School District has failed to reach its federal targets. The district is now in its third year of what federal education officials call in need of Program Improvement, the top rung on a ladder of sanctions that means state officials could replace district personnel, overrule the school board or restructure the district.

“It’s unfair — it doesn’t recognize the hard work people are doing, or the fact that we’ve had seven straight years of improvements,” SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia said. “That’s OK — we will do our best with it.”

The state has yet to determine the measures the SFUSD will face, district spokeswoman Gentle Blythe said.

School districts enter Program Improvement when, as a whole, they fail to meet federal benchmarks for two years in a row.

Other Bay Area school districts — including Oakland and Berkeley Unified — faced similar overhauls in the 2004-05 school year, according to the Department of Education. In Oakland, state officials replaced the superintendent to help get the district back on track; Berkeley avoided external interventions by overhauling from within.

Fifteen of the SFUSD’s schools are also in Program Improvement, meaning leaders must overhaul those schools’ academic models or replace the majority of their staff.

By some measures, San Francisco’s progress continues to outstrip the stage average.

Forty percent of local schools reached the state target of 800 or higher on the Annual Performance Index, or API, up from 37 percent in 2006-07 — and higher than this year’s statewide average of 36 percent. 

The state API is separate from the federal AYP, which is based solely on proficiency rates. The API ranking — a number between a low of 200 to a high of 1,000 — rewards schools with more points for moving students up from the lowest levels of test performance, according to state officials.

One of San Francisco's challenges is helping its minority students perform well on state assessments, Blythe said.

“We know we aren’t serving certain subgroups well, and that’s why we’re in [Program Improvement] and why we keep progressing in PI,” Blythe said.

Program Improvement requires a district to set aside money for intensive teacher training and support — a funding source many schools say is one key to turning things around.

Jose Ortega Elementary School was in its second year of program improvement in 2005-06. Some of its diverted funds went toward hiring an instructional reform facilitator — a huge help on campus, Principal Jolynn Washington said. This year, the school is no longer on Program Improvement and has now broken through the 800-point barrier on the API.

Yearly sanctions

Schools not meeting yearly federal benchmarks that determine whether they have made progress are assigned Program Improvement status. Each year a school remains on PI status, it receives additional assistance from the state — but faces heftier sanctions.

* Parents notified of PI status
* School must set aside funds for professional development
* Parents allowed to transfer children out of school
* S.F. schools:
William Cobb Elementary, Francisco Middle

* Year 1 guidelines apply
* Students receive supplemental educational services
* S.F. schools:
Cleveland Elementary, George Washington Carver Elementary, Tenderloin Community School

* Year 1-2 guidelines apply
* District must do one of the following:
Replace school staff, implement new curriculum, decrease management authority at school level, appoint outside expert, extend school year or day, restructure school
* S.F. schools: Chinese Education Center, Marshall Elementary, Martin Luther King Jr. Academic Middle

* Year 1-3 guidelines apply
* District must prepare plan for alternative governance of school
* District must do one of the following:
Reopen school as a charter, replace all or most staff, including principal, contract with outside entity to manage school, state takeover, additional restructuring
* S.F. schools: Bessie Carmichael, John Muir Elementary, Leonard Flynn Elementary, Newcomer High

* Year 1-4 guidelines apply
* District must implement alternative governance plan developed in Year 4
* S.F. schools:
Bryant Elementary, Cesar Chavez Elementary, Daniel Webster Elementary, Fairmount Elementary, Hillcrest Elementary, Malcolm X Academy, Mission Education Center, Monroe Elementary, Paul Revere Elementary, Rosa Parks Elementary, Willie Brown Jr. Elementary, Everett Middle School, Horace Mann Middle, Marina Middle, Visitacion Valley Middle

No longer on PI: Alvarado Elementary, Roosevelt Middle

Source: California Department of Education

Related stories

San Francisco API test scores

Peninsula schools still strong, but state gaining ground

San Mateo County API test scores

California students show gains on standardized tests

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