Test achievement gap persists in S.F.

While more San Francisco public school students are passing the state graduation exam on the first try as sophomores, large achievement gaps remain between the success rates of students who are Asian or white and their Black or Hispanic peers.

A second round of school test data released Thursday by the state Department of Education once again showed San Francisco schools holding their own against statewide averages on the high school exit exam, but the district continues to struggle with a persistent achievement gap that plagues all grade levels.

All students are required to take the California High School Exit Exam for the first time when they are sophomores. Those who fail have six more chances — three in their junior year and three in their senior year — to pass. The test, which is part of the state and federal accountability models and was first mandated for the class of 2006, has two sections: A math section, which tests to an eighth-grade math level, and an English-language arts portion, which tests to a 10th-grade level of knowledge.

In 2007, 81 percent of the 10th-graders in San Francisco passed the math portion of the exit exam, while 75 percent passed the English-language arts portion of the test. Statewide, 76 percent of sophomores passed the math section of the test, while 77 percent of sophomores passed the English-language arts section.

Within the district, Lowell High School in The City’s Sunset district had the highest pass rate, with 99 percent of sophomores passing both sections of the exam in 2007. Downtown Continuation High School in the Potrero Hill neighborhood had the lowest rate — on average, only 28 percent of students passed both portions of the test.

The exit-exam success rates at Lowell and Downtown Continuation high schools highlight a racial achievement gap within the San Francisco Unified School District that plays out on the state and federal stages, as well.

More than 80 percent of students at Lowell are Asian or white, while 70 percent of students at Downtown Continuation are Black or Hispanic. To be fair, Lowell serves 10 times as many students as Downtown Continuation, and both schools operate under different teaching and learning strategies.

Nevertheless, students who are Asian or white continue to outpace their Black or Hispanic peers in San Francisco when it comes to the high school exit exam. In 2007, 89 percent of Asian or white sophomores passed the test on the first try, while only 61 percent of Hispanic students and 52 percent of Black students did so.

Furthermore, data released last week revealed that Asian students and white students are also faring better than Black students and Hispanic students on state standardized tests from grades two to 11.

In 2007, San Francisco Unified made some progress toward closing the exit-exam achievement gap. The pass rates for sophomores in most ethnic subgroups in math and English improved from 2006 to 2007. Nine percent more Black students and Hispanic students passed the math portion of the exam in 2007 than in 2006.

New SFUSD superintendent Carlos Garcia has targeted the racial achievement gap as his top priority. Garcia, who grew up in a gang-infiltrated barrio in Los Angeles, has said there is no reason black or Hispanic students cannot achieve on par with white or Asian students.

“We want all of our students to meet the exit exam requirement and to graduate from high school with the choice to go to college,” he said.

arocha@examiner.com


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