Blog: Latino Ed Beat

Study Evaluates How Well California School Districts Educate Latino Students

An annual report by The Education Trust-West that grades California school districts on how well they educate Latino, black and low-income students finds shortcomings in many districts.

The “district report cards” evaluated 147 districts for the 2010-11 school year and assigned letter grades in four separate areas: performance, improvement, achievement gaps and college-readiness. For the most part, districts received the same grades they had the previous year.  The measures were pretty tough: The highest overall average grade in 2011 for a district was a B+, with most districts receiving Cs and Ds.

The ratings were based in part on state testing data and the California Academic Performance Index (API). College-readiness was based on how many students completed coursework required for admission to the University of California and California State University systems.

There were some good scores in the subcategories, though. “Overall, ‘A’ grades are found in each indicator category and in high-poverty and low-poverty districts alike, dispelling the myth that poverty and low performance are inexorably connected,” the organization’s press release said. Four districts with enrollments that are more than 40 percent low-income and that serve a population that is more than 55 percent African-American or Latino ranked in the top ten: Corona-Norco Unified, Lake Elsinore Unified, Covina-Valley Unified and Baldwin Park Unified. Researchers point out that many wealthier districts ranked lower in the study.

In Southern California, about 15 percent of the districts earned an overall grade of “D,” while in Northern California about 72 percent of districts earned a “D.” You can look up specific reports here.

Education Trust-West Executive Director Arun Ramanathan said that many parents and other groups used last year’s grades as a resource. ”Once again, the report cards reveal the important role that districts play in focusing attention on their highest need students and improving results,” he said.

Many media outlets covered the study. The San Jose Mercury News reported the surprising finding that the affluent Palo Alto Unified district in Silicon Valley scored next to last with a grade of “D.” ”We need to teach differently,” the district’s school board president, Melissa Baten-Caswell, told the newspaper. “Just doing the same thing over and over isn’t going to change things.”

Palo Alto parent Ken Dauber, a Google software engineer and member of the group We Can Do Better Palo Alto, also told the paper the outside study is useful in highlighting the achievement gap. ”Embarrassment is often a good impetus for change,” Dauber said.

The San Francisco Examiner wrote that the San Francisco schools earned “horrible” grades, including an overall grade of “D” and a “F” for the size of the achievement gap between Latino and white students. The district received a somewhat stronger “C” grade for college readiness of black and Latino students. ”This just illustrates how much more work there is ahead of us,” SFUSD superintendent Carlos Garcia said in a statement.

Meanwhile, The Fresno Bee reported that the Fresno Unified district’s director of research, Dave Calhoun, called the study’s grades “somewhat arbitrary” and that large districts with high populations of English language learners such as Fresno struggle to score well on tests. The district received a grade of “D” overall.

Does your state or an outside organization offer similar report cards for the school districts you cover? If so, how do your schools measure up? If comparable report cards for your schools aren’t available now, would you or your publication be able to generate some using data and methodologies similar to Education Trust-West’s?