English learners in the San Francisco Unified School District continued to meet state testing standards at higher percentages than the rest of California last school year, according to a recent report from the district.
A summary of the report presented to the Board of Education earlier this month showed that Spanish and Cantonese speaking English learners in the SFUSD met or exceeded standards in math and English Language Arts in greater percentages than English learners across California.
The summary used test scores from the mathematics and ELA portions of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, the state’s new standardized testing system, for 2015-16 and also compared them to scores for the year prior.
The continued success of English learners in the SFUSD is connected to the special attention that the district has paid students of different language backgrounds since the 1970s, when the U.S. Supreme Court found the SFUSD violated the civil rights of students who did not speak English.
The Lau v. Nichols case resulted in a consent decree that was updated as recently as last year. Under the agreement, the school district has to file annual reports on the progress of its English learners to the federal government.
There are about 15,000 students who are learning English in San Francisco’s public schools, according to Christina Wong, special assistant to the superintendent. Wong presented a summary of the report to the Board of Education on Dec. 13.
“The system of support that we have for our English learners always needs improvement,” Wong said, noting that the district could retain bilingual teachers longer, for instance. “We’re always looking at how do we provide more consistency, more quality in services.”
English learners spoke 57 different languages in the 2015-16 school year, according to the summary. Almost half of the English learners spoke Spanish and 29 percent spoke Cantonese. Other languages spoken in SFUSD schools include Mandarin, Filipino, Vietnamese and Arabic.
Most of the English learners in California speak Spanish. Last year, just over 10 percent of them met or exceeded standards on both the ELA and math portions of the SBAC.
In comparison, about 45 percent of Cantonese-speaking English learners in the SFUSD met or exceeded state standards for ELA, while more than half met or exceeded standards in math.
As for Spanish-speaking English learners, less than 30 percent of them met or exceeded standards in English Language Arts and under 20 percent met or exceeded standards in math.
“We do better than the state, but I just think that we could probably do better,” Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer said at the school board meeting. “We still have this persistent gap between the Cantonese- and Spanish-speaking [students].”
“We can’t seem to crack that nut,” she said.
While better than the state numbers, some populations of SFUSD students in so-called “Language Pathways” fell behind their performances in 2015-16 compared to the year prior.
In the Cantonese and Spanish pathways, smaller percentages of students met or exceeded standards on the SBAC in math. The same was true for students in the Spanish Pathway for ELA in 2015-16.
Wong said the slight decrease for the Spanish Pathway was likely because the SBAC was rolled out in 2014-15.
“For the most part, it is the transition,” Wong said. “I think that the next year can tell us more.”