District's black, Latino students lag, despite gains

District's black, Latino students lag, despite gains

Michele Ellson

Alameda’s public school students are doing better on English, writing and math than they were four years ago, but black and Latino students continue to lag behind their white and Asian peers.

“We have some very exciting trends. But we also have some very disturbing trends,” Board of Education President Margie Sherratt said of testing and other data presented to the board on Tuesday.

The district met or surpassed most of the proficiency targets district administrators set for Alameda Unified’s students last year, and most of the college and career readiness targets set for students in middle and high school grades.

But its African American and Latino students saw variable results that in many instances fell far behind their white and Asian peers.

The district’s numbers show African American and Latino kindergarten and first grade students making gains in reading readiness since 2008-09, with 90 percent or more of students in all four racial and ethnic groups reading-ready by first grade. But African American and Latino fourth graders’ English Language Arts proficiency numbers lagged 20 percentage points behind the district average.

African American and Latino students also lagged behind their white and Asian peers in math across all the grades where proficiency was measured. While 55 percent of the district’s high school seniors were proficient in Algebra 2 in 2011-12, just 22 percent of its African American students and 32 percent of its Latino students were.

And while fewer white and Asian students were taking algebra in the seventh grade as part of a district effort to ensure students were ready for the advanced math, just one black student and six Latino seventh graders were enrolled in algebra in 2011-12.

“The issue with tightening up these requirements – some of our significant subgroups are not getting into courses at the same rate. That’s a concern, and a tradeoff we need to keep looking at,” said Terri Elkin, the district's achievement and assessment coordinator.

Forty-two percent of Alameda’s graduating seniors had taken the courses they needed to qualify for entry at a University at California or California State University school when they left Alameda Unified last year, up from 40 percent in 2009-2010. But just 21 percent of Latino students and 9 percent of black students had taken the required courses.

District administrators were hard-pressed to explain the numbers, though Assistant Superintendent Sean McPhetridge offered “hunches” that included the introduction of high school science classes that don’t meet the UC/CSU requirements and the lack of a requirement that middle school students take a foreign language. Trustee Trish HerreraSP Spencer questioned why those issues didn’t appear to affect different racial and ethnic groups the same.

McPhetridge said the gaps speak to administrators’ efforts to reconsider the district’s graduation requirements, and he said he thinks the district needs to serve its black and Latino students better.

“I just think it’s really important for us to remember that this is not data that we like to see,” McPhetridge said. “That’s why we’re trying to correct it. That’s what we’re putting a focus on it.”

Trustee Ron Mooney said the district needs to reduce the service gap for African American and Latino students and that providing the same services to every student doesn’t guarantee success.

“The data tells me we need to make some changes,” Mooney said.

But Trustee Mike McMahon cautioned that the data don’t necessarily measure the same set of students over the two to four years it was collected, since students enter and exit the district at different grade levels.

“How can you really measure your service gap if you’re taking in ninth grade students that are performing at a sixth grade level when they come into the system?” McMahon said.

Superintendent Kirsten Vital said the report offered some bright spots, notably high across-the-board achievement in writing. And she said it doesn’t show work being done by specific schools or teachers to reduce the district’s achievement gap.

“Those are rock star results,” she said of the writing proficiency results.

More students participated in advanced placement courses last year than they did the two years prior due to changes that opened up AP classes to more Alameda High School students; the percentage of seniors who took an AP class nearly doubled over the past four years, rising to 46.2 percent last year. Meanwhile, the percentage of students who passed AP tests also grew, by a little over a percentage point over the same time period.

Participation in career technical education classes grew over the last two years, though McPhetridge said the district has been working to reconfigure the program and that it has suffered from budget cuts.

Board trustees said they’re hopeful for a future workshop to discuss the results.


Submitted by Sarah Olaes on Wed, Oct 10, 2012

The article does not describe how this is a state wide issue, not just something occurring in Alameda.  As Sean McPhetridge states, the District is very concerned about this and is looking at their strategies to assist these students on top of what they are already doing.  Also, what needs to be mentioned is that part of Measure A's funds are allocated to closing the achievement gap which is a positive step, given the fact most Districts in California are also struggling with this issue.

I think it is important to note Mike McMahon's comments in regards to ensuring we are comparing the same student's results over time.  The meta-data approach does not show that many of these students move in and out of our district and so we need to compare the same student's results over time to get a clear picture of how the strategies are working or not.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Wed, Oct 10, 2012

Hi Sarah,

Thanks for your note. This topic of this story was indeed the district's numbers as presented at the school board meeting last night and the comments schools leaders made on them there, but if you've got comparative state data I'd love to have you add that to the discussion in a follow-up comment.

I also figured I'd add the list of Measure A expenditures re: closing the achievement gap that you cited, which I posted in a story a few months back. Here's the list:

JROTC $81,294
Math initiative $372,004
IBD initiative $260,000
SIM initiative $100,000
Restore 5 AEA days $1,106,702

IBD was raised as a factor in the students' increased writing proficiency - that's in the PowerPoint from last night and the scores are also noted in the story - but none of these other expenditures or the impact they may have had was discussed. I'd be happy to have you post anything the district has produced regarding these programs and their impact on the gap if you've got some links or materials to add.

Thanks Sarah!

Submitted by Sarah Olaes on Thu, Oct 11, 2012

Hi Michele,

The information you seek regarding programs should be gained from AUSD. Programs such as SIM are very interesting. It may even be worth doing a story just on that. It is cutting edge stuff and our District is one of the nationwide leaders bringing this teaching method to our at risk students.

AUSD is releasing all data today - our 7th grade writing scores were proficient at 96.2 percent.

I also just noticed the Press Release from the District was just released. Here is the first paragraph
"Alameda, Calif. – Thursday, October 11, 2012 – Today the California Department of Education released its 2012 Academic Performance Index (API) rankings showing that Alameda Unified School District improved its API overall from 841 in 2011 to 847 in 2012, building on the District’s API growth in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The API results show gains district-wide in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math and also significant improvement among several subgroups of students, most notably among African American/Black students and Latino student."

If someone wants to read the entire notice it's on the AUSD website.

Submitted by Michele Ellson on Thu, Oct 11, 2012

Thanks, Sarah. I have posted a story on the test scores: http://www.thealamedan.org/news/alameda-unified-sees-overall-rise-test-s...