2020 Vision: Skills improve, absences down, gap remains

The Berkeley Unified School District showed improvements in student reading proficiency by third grade between 2012 and 2013. (Click to see the full report.) Chart: 2020 Vision

The Berkeley Unified School District showed improvements in student reading proficiency by third grade between spring 2012 and 2013. (Click to see the full report.) Image: 2020 Vision

A citywide initiative proponents hope will close the achievement gap in Berkeley public schools appears to be working, though significant disparities remain, according to data presented Tuesday night in a special session before the Berkeley City Council and School Board.

The 2020 Vision for Berkeley’s Children and Youth — called “2020 Vision” for short — is a broad collaboration dating back, in its earliest form, to 2008, and is designed to chip away at the achievement gap among racial groups in Berkeley schools by the year 2020.

According to organizers, African-American and Hispanic students consistently perform “significantly below their peers on state and district standardized tests and other measures that predict academic success, such as chronic absence, truancy, suspension, and dropout rates. By some measures, the disparity in the academic performance of Berkeley students along race lines, commonly known as the ‘achievement gap,’ is one of the widest reported in California.”

To begin to address this problem, organizers have been tracking “key indicators” and trying out a range of initiatives, via a plethora of community partnerships, they hope will make a difference. The eight indicators include everything from kindergarten readiness and reading proficiency by third grade to data related to attendance and the disproportionality of police contacts across racial groups in the Berkeley Unified School District. (See a presentation overview here.)

Tuesday night, staff affiliated with the effort, now in its third phase, said data show trends in the right direction, with coordination improving among a variety of youth-serving agencies, and new spin-off efforts underway.

African-American children showed the most growth in kindergarten readiness between 2012 and 2013, Debbi D’Angelo, director of evaluations and assessments, told local officials Tuesday. Hispanic students showed the least, and have the largest gap to close.

In 2013, 44% of African-American students entering kindergarten were able to identify 10 letters by sound, compared to 34% the prior year. Hispanic and white students showed little change in that measure from year to year, with 30% of Hispanic and 58% of white students able to complete the task last fall.

In 2013, African-American children entering kindergarten also showed growth in rote counting up to 20, with 68% successful in that task, compared to 54% the year before. White students also improved, to 82% from 72%. Hispanic students received the lowest scores and showed the smallest growth, with 53% successful last fall, up just 2% from the prior year.

Tanya Moore, a city staffer working on 2020 Vision, credited a Berkeley public health program called “Be a Star” with helping to make a difference in those areas. As part of that effort, public health nurses provide screenings at preschools, during in-home visits and at doctor’s offices. They also offer home visits for pregnant and postpartum women to screen for depression.

The district reported “incredible growth” for all three groups of students in reading proficiency by third grade for fiscal year 2012-13, said D’Angelo.

It’s a particularly critical measure because, via Tuesday night’s staff report, “According to a national longitudinal study released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, high school students who did not read proficiently by 3rd grade are four times more likely to drop out than students who demonstrated 3rd grade reading proficiency.”

Hispanic students showed the biggest jump, with 51% deemed proficient in 2013, compared to 31% the prior year. Fifty percent of African-American students were measured to be proficient, up from 41%; and 90% of white students made the grade, up from 82% the prior spring.

Moore said a literacy tutoring program called BUILD, which connects Cal students with more than 300 elementary school kids across 15 after-school sites, was believed to have made a big difference in reading proficiency for local youth.

Chronic absenteeism has been a focus for the 2020 Vision team. Image: 2020 Vision

Addressing chronic absenteeism has been a focus for the 2020 Vision team. Image: 2020 Vision

The district also showed improved attendance rates across all three groups between 2010-11 and 2012-13, said D’Angelo. Chronic absences — defined as missing 10% or more of the school year — dropped from 45% to 35% for African-American students; 38% to 24% for Hispanic students; and 18% to 13% for white students.

“It’s a demonstration that our interventions are working,” she told officials.

Programs such as Alive & Free, which addresses youth violence, as well as the comprehensive Berkeley High Bridge program, focused on academic guidance and support, are believed to be helping students succeed in those areas, Moore said.

In March, the district held its first ever “College and Career Day,” yet another sign of the Berkeley school system’s commitment to creating a success-focused atmosphere, programs organizers said. College and career readiness is one of 2020 Vision’s key goals.

Police contacts and suspensions are still primarily experienced by African-American students, according to data from Tuesday night’s staff report. Of 307 total suspensions in the 2012-13 academic year, 57% were of African-American students, 17% of Hispanic students and 14% of white students. (No other data were provided.)

Of 124 total contacts with police in calendar year 2012 for students under 18 years of age, 52% were with African-American students, 17% were with white students and 16% were with Hispanic students. (No other data were provided.)

Raising awareness will be key moving forward

Donald Evans. Photo: Lance Knobel

Donald Evans. Photo: Lance Knobel

Berkeley Schools Superintendent Donald Evans told officials on the School Board and City Council that plans are in the works to continue spreading the word throughout the community about 2020 Vision, including its eight priorities. In addition to those noted above, other goals include the successful completion of ninth-grade math standards and improving academic engagement.

Evans said the district plans to continue working to reduce disparities among different “targeted” groups, from foster youth and students receiving free or reduced-price lunches, to those who are learning English as a second language.

School Board member Julie Sinai said one of the challenges going forward will be to find a way to communicate “the human story” behind the numbers as a way to increase community engagement.

“So much of what we’ve done is what people asked us to do around systems change. It’s hard to communicate systems change, how to tell the story: How does it impact the life of the child?” she said. “We need to somehow pull that out.”

In the not too distant future, Berkeley will be forced to rethink school finances in line with changes at the state level related to school budgets and Proposition 30. Those changes are expected to bring more money into local coffers. And, due to efforts such as 2020 Vision and existing programs and thinking related to equity, Board Member Karen Hemphill said Berkeley is “far ahead of the pack” in terms of preparedness statewide.

She agreed with Sinai, however, that the 2020 Vision effort needs higher visibility in Berkeley to succeed.

School Board Vice President Judy Appel said she was happy to see various improvements across a range of measures, but added that there’s still more work to do if the city hopes to meet its goal of closing the achivement gap by 2020.

“It’s great to celebrate the amazing movement, but we really have a long way to go,” she said.

See the full staff report from Tuesday night’s meeting, with much more data and context, here on Berkeleyside. Learn more about 2020 Vision on its website.

[Clarification: The first sentence of this piece was adjusted slightly after publication to clarify that correcting disparities, rather than inequities, is the focus of 2020 Vision.]

Alcohol, marijuana use decline in Berkeley schools (11.21.12)
Mobile asthma clinic makes its debut at Berkeley school (10.22.12)
2020 Vision symposium highlights progress in Berkeley (10.15.12)
School board candidates respond to key questions (10.18.10)
Pilot 2020 Vision projects announced (03.24.10)

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  • Guest

    2020, Wasted Money.

  • Gus

    Great story. Thanks.

  • EBGuy

    School attendance is important. Who knew?!

  • Woolsey

    Disparity is not going away. Even white males in Junior High get harassed at least verbally for doing well, or at least trying to do well – like completing their homework. For black males the pressure is worse. They are accused of “trying to be white” if they participate academically. It’s great to see some substantial progress but schools with significantly diverse student bodies will always have achievement gaps.

  • West Berkeley Neighbor

    I take issue with the use of the word “inequities” in the first paragraph. Do you mean to say that these differences are caused by unfairness? Or perhaps you mean “disparities” or “differences”? As written, your first sentence is pretty inflammatory.

  • emraguso

    I did mean disparities, actually. Thanks for the suggestion.

  • Guest

    “Of 307 total suspensions in the 2012-13 academic year, 57% were of African-American students, 17% of Hispanic students and 14% of white students.” Attention School Board… Go down to our elementary schools and figure out how to better treat and support our African-American boys. Positive behavior support is a much better alternative than the discipline methods being utilized which teach our young, Black boys that people think they are bad so they must be.

  • bgal4

    This data collection, reporting and minimal analysis is basic school district function and requirements. Considering how many years have passed since the initiative co-opted and watered down the BIRI design, the 2020 program is hardly worthy of praise, it is more a model of expanded bureaucracy than an effective student services delivery system.

  • Charles_Siegel
  • EBGuy

    Look at the API test scores for BUSD schools, the Asian population is not “numerically significant” for two years in a row for any elementary or middle school. Whites, African Americans and Latinos/Hispanics are the three largest student groups (all over 20%).
    The only Asian couples with kids at BUSD that I’ve run in to are affiliated somehow with the university. Admittedly, I don’t get out much…. YMMV.

  • guest

    Pathetic. Instead of expecting students to behave and show some respect they simply lower standards.

    No wonder the USA is so far behind in education.

  • guest

    The persistence of the gap, in Berkeley of all places, suggests to me that what Berkeley has been doing doesn’t work to reduce disparities. And yet I never here the administrators suggest that they have been employing strategies that just don’t work, and haven’t worked for decades. Why is that?

  • rhuberry

    It is much easier to bash all the “bad” teachers than to take a look a little higher up the pecking order. If an organization is failing, why not look to the leadership and the policies and strategies they force on the schools. We have a new superintendent every few years who is always going to address the achievement gap. They ride off into the sunset with a nice pension and we start all over again. The school board hires these guys and adopts the curriculum teachers are forced to use. But it’s still usually the teacher’s fault if kids aren’t learning. Funny how the school system is often “blamed” for the academic failures of our children and that very same system is turned to to fix everything.

  • Woolsey

    Maybe because BUSD doesn’t want high achievers. Chasing away the high achievers decreases the achievement gap. Isn’t that the reason behind the efforts to cut the science labs. Uniform mediocrity.

  • guest

    Cultural change has to start at home.

  • suckatash

    The most frustrating part of addressing “the achievement gap” as a Berkeley parent is dealing with the other privileged parents that want nothing but more enrichment (i.e. gardening/cooking) for their children. The African American and Latino parents should be screaming their heads off about gap. Meanwhile, all the PTA meetings are about fundraising to save a gardner’s non-classroom teaching position. It’s maddening. The school names are Rosa Parks, MLK, Malcolm X… The head explodes with irony.

  • Doug F

    If the black & Hispanic parents really wanted their children to do better, more of them would read to their kids from ages 1 to 6, set a good example by reading themselves instead of watching TV, provide a quiet well-lit place to do homework, help with their homework & make sure they do it instead of computer games, go to parent-teacher conferences & PTA meetings, & otherwise support the process of learning.
    It would also help if the entire educational establishment quit viewing nonwhite skin as a total excuse for bad behavior, laziness & underachievement in classrooms.

  • Just being honest

    Obviously a large aspect of the “achievement gap” has to do with systemic poverty, race and class issues in our community. Sadly, this is not something that even great teachers, curricula and specially funded BUSD programs will be able to overcome without the city focussing on the other larger challenges in our community. Yet Berkeley does little else, but count on the 2020 Vision program to turn things around. These other things are not discussed publicly. Clearly this strategy hasn’t worked well. They keep repeating the same formula and sadly I think it’s hurting, not helping.

  • guest

    Preach it.

  • John Freeman

    In your view, why dont “black & Hispanic parents” already follow your recommendations?

  • guest

    I went to BHS nearly 50 years ago and my son 14 years ago, and I was amazed how much hasn’t changed. Almost all my black friends were called Oreos by the larger AA kids, told they were “acting white” and were regarded by some as race traitors. I’m not sure what the schools can do about this. It’s an issue that begins at home

  • Charles_Siegel

    I don’t think the article says they are lowering standards. It says they are looking for more effective alternatives to suspension.

    I myself think that it is essential to remove disruptive students from classes. One disruptive child shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with the learning of the other 25 or 30 children in the class.

    But when you remove those students, is it best to suspend them? I think they are looking for ways to handle them that will have better outcomes – and I hope they find them.

    I myself think that we should not lower standards – we should be as strict as ever about removing disruptive students from classes. But the question is what to do with those students. Just telling them to stay home doesn’t help.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I think it is a matter of class rather than race. Here is a quote from something I wrote about this subject:

    After working in preschools to improve the
    vocabularies of poor children, Betty Hart and Todd Risley did research to learn
    about the effect of the children’s homes on vocabulary. They spent two and one
    half years observing forty-two families with children from 7 months to 3 years
    old. They found that the average child in a poor family on welfare heard only
    616 words per hour, the average child in a working class family heard 1,251
    words per hour, and the average child in a professional family heard 2,153
    words per hour. By age four, the child in the poor family heard 13 million
    fewer words than the child in the working class family. They also found that
    parents in middle-class families tend to be more affirmative and encouraging.
    The children in professional families averaged 32 affirmations and 5
    prohibitions per hour, the children in working-class families averaged 12 affirmations
    and 7 prohibitions per hour, and the children in poor families averaged 5
    affirmations and 11 prohibitions per hour.

  • guest

    How is that on-the-streets coverage for you in-depth report on crime in Berkeley going? We are eagerly awaiting your results!

  • Guest

    correlation =/= causation

    perhaps is is not that their vocabularies are low because they are poor, but that they are poor because they have limited intelligence and vocabularies

  • trasht

    What’s your view? Do you have one?

  • Charles_Siegel

    The study is not about how large a vocabulary they have. It is about how much time they spend talking to their children.

    When it says, “By age four, the child in the poor family heard 13 million
    fewer words than the child in the working class family,” it obviously doesn’t mean that the working class family has a vocabulary of over 13 million different words. It means the working class family has spent a lot more time talking with their children.

  • John Freeman
    In your view, why dont “black & Hispanic parents” already follow your recommendations?

    What’s your view? Do you have one?

    I believe that home home environment issues like Doug F is talking about (e.g., reading, help with homework, good places to study) matter for school achievement.

    I have trouble accepting a psychologizing narrative built up around that. For example, Doug F says (emphasis added):

    If the black & Hispanic parents really wanted their children to do better,

    That explanation invokes the next obvious question: if that’s so why don’t those parents want that (and so can anything helpful be done about that as a matter of public policy)?

  • trasht

    IF that’s so. Do you believe that it is so? And if you do believe that, why do believe it and what do think should be done about it?

  • djoelt1

    Point noted, but 2153 words per hour is 35 words per minute. We are a professional family but I don’t think either of us SPEAK 2153 words per hour, so it’s a little confusing how the baby would hear that many.

  • John Freeman

    IF that’s so. Do you believe that it is so?

    I believe that Doug F’s statement about “black and Hispanic” desire is bull.

    Worse, it’s the kind of bull that if taken seriously suggests social policies that absolve dominant classes of social responsibility because of the suggestion that “they”, considerably less powerful people, just don’t “want” to be helped.

    That reading of Doug F. is consistent with his final paragraph:

    It would also help if the entire educational establishment quit viewing nonwhite skin as a total excuse for bad behavior, laziness & underachievement in classrooms.

    I believe he’s expressing an idea popular with some that the underlying problem is too much coddling by the disciplinary state: the high incarceration rate isn’t high enough; the school-to-prison pipeline isn’t efficient enough.

    In any event the “entire educational establishment” certainly does not hold the view he attributes to it, not even close, not even in Berkeley.

    But perhaps @disqus_wbdwPR0BfB:disqus can elaborate.

  • trasht

    I completely agree with you, especially about the perniciousness of the attitude displayed by Doug F. But I don’t think we’re going to hear from him.

  • EBGuy

    I’ve always viewed the gardening/cooking curriculum as a fundamental building block to help address health and educational disparities. Did I drink the (high fructose) Koolaid?

  • Guest

    It always seems strange to me when people adopt multiple personalities so that they can have conversations with themselves.

  • Trollbane

    It always seems strange to me when people can’t agree with anything that certain people say, just because that certain person says it. For damn sure I won’t be defending any blanket condemnations based on race, ethnicity, or class.

  • John Freeman

    It always seems strange to me when people adopt multiple personalities so that they can have conversations with themselves.

    Who do you think has done that here?

  • Guest

    >recognizing that different cultures have different priorities is the same thing as condemning them

    What a privileged, Anglo-centric viewpoint.

  • Trollbane

    Those are your words, not mine. I try not to judge people as if they were the embodiments of a culture; instead I try to judge them as individuals. The post that started this thread has a condemnatory tone, let’s face it. And it lumps people together based on race and ethnicity. What “different priorities” possessed by “different cultures” are you referring to?

  • suckatash

    I’m as much a fan of Michael Pollan as anyone here in B-Town. But the parents of kids who are doing well academically systemically ignore the achievement gap. It’s simple privilege. Local PTA programs have only so much money to spend and folks of privilege don’t spend enough of it on helping the kids who truly need it. Because those kids need to READ. Gardening is nice and it addresses some great public health issues. But frankly those problems are much easier to fix than poor reading and math skills.

  • suckatash

    Teachers get blamed unfairly for lots of things. But the biggest one is getting blamed for bad parenting.

  • millermp1

    How powerful do you need to be to register for a library card?