Test Scores Appear to Validate SCUSD’s School Reform Efforts
‘Priority Schools’ students make big gains on state test

Press release

Sacramento: State test score data released today suggests that Sacramento City Unified School District’s bold initiative to turn around low-performing schools is working.

Students in the Superintendent’s Priority Schools made nearly across-the-board gains in math and English on the California Standards Tests (CSTs) administered last spring, validating a host of reforms
implemented at those campuses last year.

For example, at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Oak Park – a school where 100 percent of students come from homes that meet the federal poverty threshold – math scores rose by a dramatic 19 percentage points. More than half the students – 57 percent – are now ranked “proficient” or “advanced,” which means they are performing at or above grade level.

Only 38 percent met this grade-level indicator last year. Language arts scores rose 6 percentage points.

Oak Ridge was ranked as one of the lowest-performing schools in California in terms of test scores, languishing in the bottom 5 percent. It is now on a trajectory for success, which will make a huge difference in the lives of students, said Superintendent Jonathan Raymond.

“I am very proud of our hard-working Priority School principals, teachers and staff who have embraced these reforms and who now have the data to back up their efforts,” Superintendent Raymond said. “Change is never easy, but we cannot allow some kids in some schools to exceed expectations while
others fall behind their peers.”

The data released by the state Monday relates exclusively to CST scores. Academic Performance Index numbers, state rankings, similar schools information and Adequate Yearly Progress statistics – which determine whether schools are in or out of Program Improvement – are not expected to be released until later this month.

Further, standardized test scores should not be seen as the sole indicators of student learning, Superintendent Raymond cautioned. Priority Schools also saw increased attendance, a drop in student suspensions and improved parent involvement last year.

“One test taken on one day can’t be the only measure of a school’s improvement,” he said. “We need to look at multiple measures of data, including such yard sticks as behavior referrals and day-to-day attendance.”

At Hiram Johnson High School, the Priority School with the largest attendance, English scores rose 7 percentage points. In 2009, only 19 percent of 11th-graders were either proficient or advanced. Last
year, 29 percent scored in this range. Johnson’s science scores went up 11 points, math scores rose about 3 percent and history scores increased a whopping 23 percent. Forty-five percent of students now score proficient in history, as opposed to only 22.5 percent last year.

At Fern Bacon Middle School, nearly twice the percentage of students scored proficient in general math – 31 percent in 2010 compared to 16 percent in 2009. Scores in language arts improved by about 4 points.
The Priority Schools initiative was launched by Superintendent Raymond in the spring of 2010 to accelerate the rate of student learning in struggling schools and close achievement gaps. Six schools were initially selected for participation: Oak Ridge, Father Keith B. Kenny and Jedediah Smith elementary schools, Fern Bacon and Will C. Wood middle schools and Hiram Johnson High School. Last year, Rosa Parks Middle School was added to the program.

Priority School teachers have been trained to use research-tested strategies for improving student learning. School staffs use data analysis techniques to identify both student-centered problems and instructional problems that need to be solved to achieve learning gains. The intention is to replicate
effective strategies piloted at these “learning laboratories” throughout the district.

The Priority Schools, it should be noted, were not the only SCUSD schools to post big test score gains. H.W. Harkness, Susan B. Anthony, Edward Kemble and C.P. Huntington elementary schools, California and John Still middle schools and Rosemont High School also showed marked improvement. Like the Priority Schools, those campuses employ a range of successful  strategies, including interventions targeted at struggling learners.

Overall, the number of SCUSD students scoring at grade-level in English language arts remained flat at about 49 percent. The number of proficient and advanced math students rose 2 percent to 49 percent.

The district-wide scores point to the need to make Priority School reforms systemic so that students in all schools benefit from the best classroom practices, Superintendent Raymond said.