December 2012

Hill Schools Test Scores Improve

Yael Chanoff

Potrero Hill has something to be proud of. The neighborhood’s schools joined the rest of San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) in improving their Academic Performance Index (API) test scores for the 2011-2012 academic year. California uses API scores to measure changes in student performance and identify struggling schools. The state wants all schools to obtain at least 800 on the API test. School district’s API test scores are calculated based on a weighted average of the schools in the district; this year marked the first time that SFUSD’s score surpassed 800.

No Potrero Hill schools made it to 800. But the neighborhood’s four public schools – Daniel Webster Elementary, Starr King Elementary, International Studies Academy (ISA) and Downtown High (DHS) – all improved their API scores over last year’s tests.

Besides assigning scores to school districts and individual schools, API reports on performances by subgroups within schools and districts, including eight racial categories, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, English learners, and students with disabilities. Fifty five percent of SFUSD schools met both their school-wide and subgroup API targets, including Potrero Hill’s two high schools.

 California’s API scoring system was created in 1999 with passage of the Public School Accountability Act. API scores are based on Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) exams, which are administered to second to eleventh graders. Twelfth graders take High School Exit Examinations. In 2003, another measurement system, the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) report, was adopted in addition to the API to comply with the federal Elementary and Secondary

Education Act, also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

SFUSD’s 2012 AYP results weren’t nearly as good as its API scores. Federal standards for proficiency, reflected in the AYP results, are higher than state API standards. SFUSD didn’t meet AYP criteria this year in English/Language Arts or Math. Potrero Hill’s two elementary schools met AYP proficiency criteria for math, but no Hill schools met the criteria for English/Language Arts. DHS and ISA didn’t meet the proficiency criteria in either category.

California overall fared poorly according to AYP standards. Last summer, the California State Board of Education applied for a waiver from some NCLB requirements. The request is currently pending; if accepted, it would do away with AYP in favor of using only API to measure school progress.

API test scores at San Francisco schools have consistently improved over time, this year reaching 807. “We’re thrilled we reached that 807 mark,” said Heidi Anderson, a SFUSD spokesperson. “It’s a milestone that we’re very happy about. We’re also really happy for the increases at the Potrero Hill schools.”

 Daniel Webster and Starr King – both of which offer coveted language immersion programs – saw overall API score improvements, although both schools failed to reach their improvement goals for all student demographics. Webster improved by 29 points, from 672 to 701, exceeding its six-point growth target. The school met its goals for English learners and socioeconomically disadvantaged students. But it fell one point shy of meeting its seven-point growth target for Hispanic/Latino students. “I know that the kids and the staff at the school worked very hard to prepare for the tests,” said Leora Vestle, a Webster parent. “While it’s nice to see the scores go up, they deserve recognition either way.”

 Starr King also exceeded its five-point increase improvement target, with scores jumping by seven points, from 786 to 793. But Starr King’s API performance for two target groups actually declined, decreasing by 31 points for English learners and 41 points for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. According to Starr King principal Greg John, the decline in API points for English learners was the result of the adoption of a new teaching model for that group. “We changed how we staffed our English Learner team and now we’ll need to make sure that the new staff assigned to supporting EL instruction has all of the training and tools they need to get the job done,” John said. “The good news is that the whole school now shares the responsibility for supporting English Learners. Sometimes, when we aim to go forward, we have to take a half step back. This year we expect to be back on track for our ELs.”

 Both of Potrero Hill’s high schools exceeded their improvement goals overall and for all target student groups. ISA’s API score increased by 17 points, from 627 to 644, surpassing its nine-point improvement objective. The school beat its improvement goals for its four target demographic groups, with African-American students performing 32 points better, Hispanic/Latino student scores rising by 15 points, a 20 point jump for socioeconomically disadvantaged students and a 16 point improvement for English learners.

According to ISA principal Paul Koh, to increase scores students first needed to understand why the tests mattered. The school held an assembly where staff explained that test-taking is a part of many career paths. “I don’t know anybody that really loves taking multiple choice tests.” Koh said. “But you can take the opportunity to teach students why they should try hard on the tests and to learn test-taking as a skill.”

 DHS started with the lowest test scores among the Hill’s schools, but made the most significant improvement. It surpassed its target 20 point overall improvement goal, jumping by 70 points. DHS is a continuation school. Students who haven’t succeeded at other high schools can take classes throughout the year, and sometimes stay for only a few weeks, according to DHS principal Ellen Wong. The school employs an innovative project-based learning curriculum that helps students achieve their potential. “We follow district policy in terms of testing,” said Wong. “But we’re focused on project based learning” with a “social justice focus.”

 Potrero Hill teachers, students and administrators worked hard to improve their API scores. But educators at all of the schools said that, while testing is necessary, it’s not the most important factor in measuring a school’s real success. Downtown High School’s social justice curriculum, language immersion at Webster and Starr King, and ISA’s emphasis on world culture are valuable and enriching, but don’t show up on the test.

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