Students are ‘Beating the Odds’

San Francisco’s public school students continue to advance in reading and math on state standardized tests — part of a national trend for urban school districts, which are scoring at their highest levels, according to a study released Tuesday.

The San Francisco Unified School District was among 66 urban school districts studied in “Beating the Odds,” the eighth annual report on urban-school progress from Washington, D.C.-based Council of the Great City Schools.

Like other districts in the study, SFUSD is seeing more and more students reaching proficiency levels, and fewer scoring below basic — in both cases outstripping peers statewide, according to Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools.

Mayor Gavin Newsom said the good news was a reflection of The City’s “Partnership for Achievement” with the school district, a formal agreement that outlines ways the city government can support the district, such as promoting adequate school funding and finding ways to retain teachers.

“These improving scores show that our collaborative approach is beginning to show results,” Newsom said.

The City’s schools chief cautioned, however, that more must be done to keep San Francisco’s minority students from falling behind.

“If you look at the data, our Latino and African-American kids are getting left behind,” Superintendent Carlos Garcia said during a news conference Tuesday. “They’re progressing, but the gap is getting wider, because high-performing kids are progressing faster.”

Between 2002 and 2007, San Francisco’s black fourth-graders taking the California Standards Test boosted reading-proficiency scores by 2.2 percent per year. Hispanic fourth-graders saw an annual proficiency increase of 3.2 percent per year, while white students had an annual 3 percent gain, according to the study.

In mathematics, black fourth-graders showed a 3 percent annual gain in proficiency, compared with 5 percent for Hispanics and 5.4 percent for whites.

Garcia stressed the district’s effort to develop a long-range plan that would track students’ performance data and examine which schools are making the greatest strides in closing the achievement gap between students of different races and socioeconomic backgrounds.

“We have some schools that have done an outstanding job, and will allow those folks to do in-house training at other schools,” Garcia said.

Although urban districts are showing gains, performance levels are impoverished when compared with suburban counterparts, according to Bob Wise, executive director for the Alliance for Excellence in Education.

Education leaders Monday stressedthe importance of stable leadership and adequate funding to ensure urban students succeed.

Graduation rates near best in U.S.

The nation’s urban high schools earn an “F” when it comes to making sure students get a diploma, but San Francisco’s graduation rate is near the top of the class, according to recent study.

Only half of the students in the nation’s 50 largest cities — 52 percent — graduate from high school, according to a study released this month by the America’s Promise Alliance, a nonprofit focused on children’s issues. The study focused on graduation rates in the 2003-04 school year.

Bucking the average, 73 percent of San Francisco students earned diplomas, placing The City in the top five nationwide, according to the report.

Although the district’s student population currently includes 19,226 high school students, some of The City’s public high schools have found success by acting less like large urban schools, according to Margaret Chu, assistant superintendent in the San Francisco Unified School District’s High School Division. The high schools offer personalized instruction through subject-specific academies or small schools that make learning more interesting for students, she said.

“We try to break away from what I call the ‘factory model’ of learning,” Chu said.

While San Francisco’s graduation rate is well above the average, “it still means that one out of four students is not graduating from high school,” said Bob Wise, director of Washington, D.C.-based Alliance for Excellence in Education.

Urban and suburban schools alike should aim for a minimum 85 percent to 90 percent graduation rate, if not 100 percent, to make sure students have a chance at success, according to Wise.

Students attending school in urban settings were 15 percent less likely to graduate than peers in suburban areas, according to the study.

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