Berkeley students narrow achievement gap, work needed

Berkeley Unified School District headquarters

Berkeley Unified School District headquarters: Berkeley schools overall experienced a second consecutive year of growth in the state’s Academic Performance Index (API). Photo: Kaia Diringer

Berkeley students on the lower end of the achievement gap made critical academic gains in the past year, according to a report released last week by the California Department of Education. The Academic Performance Index (API) for Socio-Economically Disadvantaged students rose by 21 points, for African American students by 16 points, and for students with disabilities by 11 points. API scores increased for Asian students by only 3 points and for white students by 2 points.

But a comparison of actual scores shows the achievement gap is still painfully wide in Berkeley. The API for white students in the district was 925, while for African American students it was 675. Hispanic or Latino students are steadily making gains, but at 766 points their score still doesn’t hit the state benchmark.

“For the API as a district we did see an achievement gain because our white students only showed a 2 point gain, whereas our African American students had a 16 point gain,” said BUSD’s director of evaluation and assessment Debbi D’Angelo. “But that doesn’t mean the work is done. That just means we’ve made some gains.”

The report reveals that Berkeley schools overall experienced a second consecutive year of growth in the state’s API. API scores are based on California’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program. The target score set by the state is 800 out of a possible 1000.

The API score for the Berkeley Unified School District was 821, which reflects a 10 point increase from last year.

All but one of the BUSD schools (John Muir Elementary) ranked in the index met or exceeded the 800 target. Thirteen out of the 14  elementary and middle schools continued to score above the 800 mark, with Jefferson Elementary and Rosa Parks Environmental Science Magnet scoring in the 900 range. Nine of the those schools experienced a decline in their scores from last year. Berkeley High School continued to experience slight growth in API scores but still fell below the 800 target.

API scores for BUSD schools based on Local Educational Agency List of Schools compiled by the California Department of Education

API scores for BUSD schools based on Local Educational Agency List of Schools compiled by the California Department of Education

A detailed breakdown of Berkeley’s API results is available on the state Department of Education website. The table shown above is available in its original form here.

The administration at Berkeley High School has made a concentrated effort to boost participation in the STAR test so the school will continue to qualify for an API score. The results have paid off in Berkeley, but this year was not free of problems. Students in 72 schools across the state posted pictures of California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) testing material to social media sites. An investigation concluded that few of the pictures revealed test questions and students who posted these pictures were not motivated to cheat. Students who posted pictures had their scores invalidated, but the report claimed this did not affect the overall validity of school scores.

The Accountability Progress Report also measured the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) of schools, which is a federal requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). According to a statement from BUSD, the AYP targets are more difficult for schools to achieve because the percentage of students who must achieve proficient or advanced score increases every year.

Overall, the district experienced a 1.5 percent increase in mathematics and a less than 1 percent increase in English language arts. Only two Berkeley schools, Washington Elementary and Berkeley Technology Academy, met all 21 AYP targets. At the state level, only 14 percent of California’s 9,861 schools met AYP targets. Thirty percent of schools slated for Performance Improvement (PI) have API’s of 800 or higher.

This may be the last year California measures school performance with the API and AYP. A state bill is calling for the suspension of the STAR program in favor of field-testing a new set of assessments called Measurement of Academic Performance and Progress.

“It’s time for a clean break from assessments that are out of date and out of sync with the work our schools are doing to shift to the Common Core and help students meet the challenges of a changing world,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. “It’s simply wrong to expect schools to prepare our students for the future while continuing to ask them to use tests that are products of the past.”

Berkeley students improve improve on 2013 STAR tests (08.12.13)
Berkeley schools show overall improvement in API results (08.31.11)
Berkeley schools show improvement in state tests (05.06.11)
Berkeley schools improve in statewide tests (09.13.10)

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  • Woolsey

    Significant performance drop-off going into the high school. Is that because it has a higher percentage of out-of-district kids?

  • West Berkeley Neighbor

    Maybe this is obvious somehow, but why aren’t Realm scores here? It’s a BUSD charter school, yes?

  • BUSD parent

    It looks like there’s a misprint in your table for Emerson– their current score is 851, not 759.
    Thanks for the article.

  • Thanks. There are a couple of transcription errors in the table. We’ll publish an updated table in the next 15 minutes.

  • The updated table we’ve just posted includes REALM and B-Tech scores. In both cases, the number of students taking the test was small so the Department of Education urges caution in interpreting the results.

  • sue

    I don’t understand how it works: when you look at the disaggregated Star scores for African American students at BHS – many subject areas show O% of students at various grades reaching proficient levels. At the best, in English, 33% are at a proficient level (meaning 67% are not). How can a 0% mean growth? (Scores are on ed-data)

  • West Berkeley Neighbor


  • CAS

    Especially by high school, many kids realize the test scores have no consequences for them personally (compared to SAT etc.) and tend to blow them off … So you will see plenty of privileged white kids posting lower scores…

  • El-Livro

    STAR scores include 5 performance levels (Far Below Basic, Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, Advanced). The way the API is calculated a school’s score can increase when more students score in a higher performance level even though they don’t reach proficiency. For example, If all students scored Below Basic one year, but the next year half scored Basic and nothing else changed, the school’s API would increase.

  • El-Livro

    Not necessarily. The high school API is based on a completely different set of tests (including the CAHSEE and end of course exams) than the elementary or middle school API.

  • Virginia Tibbetts

    What happened to the first and only comment I saw when I opened this essay yesterday?

  • Not sure what you are referring to Virginia. There are a number of comments on this story.