Gold stars

My last test score post was about the big picture in Oakland Unified. But the story wouldn’t be complete without looking at how individual schools are doing. Some are making dramatic improvements in their scores — for the most part, at the elementary school level.

These 21 schools made double-digit percentage point gains this year in the number of kids who tested at “proficient” or better in reading and/or math:

ACORN Woodland Elementary – 19 in math, 23 in reading
Allendale Elementary – 14 in math, 11 in reading
ASCEND Elementary – 13 in math, 11 in reading
Bridges at Melrose – 11 in math
Brookfield Village Elementary – 10 in math
Franklin Elementary – 16 in reading
Grass Valley Elementary – 12 in math
Horace Mann Elementary – 16 in math
Howard Elementary – 16 in math
La Escuelita Elementary – 11 in math
Manzanita Community Elementary – 17 in math
Markham Elementary – 24 in math, 16 in reading
New Highland Academy – 12 in math
Peralta Elementary – 14 in math, 14 in reading
Piedmont Avenue Elementary – 13 in math
Reach Academy – 14 in math, 13 in reading
Sankofa Academy – 30 in math, 14 in reading
Sobrante Park Elementary – 10 in reading
Whittier Elementary – 11 in reading
Edna Brewer Middle School – 15 in math, 10 in reading
Oakland Community Day High School – 15 in reading

You can see for yourself, thanks to these two handy spreadsheets prepared by OUSD’s data guru, Amy Malen. This one shows the reading scores, and this one shows the math scores, by school. Note: This analysis doesn’t include charter schools.

Read the full story here.

Why do you think so much of the improvement (in scores, anyway) is being made at the elementary school level? What’s happening with Oakland’s high schools?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Sue

    I’ve said some pretty scathing things about my neighborhood school in the past. And I’ve refused to identify it, because I hoped/thought it was improving since the old principal retired. Seems my hopes are being met – it’s on this list of double-digit improvement.

    Of course, it’s too late for my kids to ever go there. Younger son will be starting middle school very soon. But the school he did attend is still out-performing that now-improving neighborhood school that was so bad six years ago.

  • Fruitvale Res

    Katy –

    Was there a reason you did not include Oakland charter schools?

  • Katy Murphy

    Charters weren’t included in the district’s analysis, and pulling the individual school reports — with no school-wide averages, at that — is far too cumbersome a task for a lone reporter to do in one day.

    If I find a separate analysis of Oakland’s charter schools, or all of the schools, I’ll certainly post the data.

    Thanks for pointing out the omission.

  • Fruitvale Res

    Thanks for the response. Makes complete sense.

  • Nextset

    The primary school results are important, but it is at the high school level that the gap is most revealed. Differences in cognitive function are most measurable after puberty.

    The scores are being looked at in an attempt to measure what kind of added value was had due to the schooling – and the real question is whether or not these numbers show that. Have the schools failed the students or have the students failed the schools? If what is really going on is a product of student failure, punishing the teachers due to dissatisfaction with the results is wrong.

    And I find it troublesome to be supporting the teachers and school administrators – I sure don’t intend to. But the stats can be looked at more than one way.

    NCLB is created to punish the teachers and there isn’t much leeway in that.

  • Traveler

    It doesn’t mean much to show advances at the elementary school level if the dropout rate for African American students is almost 50% at the high school level. It makes you wonder, do all these baggy pants and street uniform that is brought into the schools with students walking around holding their pants up prevent learning?

  • Sharon

    Here’s one likely contributor to the stagnant high school scores.

    Richard Rothstein took a thorough look at variables in the home which contribute to academic achievement in “Class and Schools.” According to his research, children from middle class homes have parents who are more likely to ask their children open-ended questions. As a result, the children are stimulated to develop greater abstract reasoning or conceptualization abilities – abilities needed to master high school level academics.

    In many lower income homes, parents are less likely to ask their children open-ended questions. Instead, they are more likely to give direct instruction. Children are more likely asked to recite facts, identification and simple recall – similar to elementary school learning. As a result, the thinking abilities which are stimulated in these homes help to master elementary school level academics only. The abstract reasoning or conceptualization abilities needed for high school are not sufficiently developed.

    I suspect that compliance with the mission of the school would also be higher at the elementary level.

  • Nextset

    Sharon: You’re getting into the “Nature vs Nurture” argument. I counter that the parents of the underperformers for the most part are measurably cognitively impaired/ungifted themselves and they’ve passed this biological trait to their kids. The children are a biological reflection of their Bio-parents – especially with the regression to the norm issue. This means that even the kids of smart or dull parents – or for that matter tall or short parents – will tend regress to their group averages.

    It doesn’t mean that parents don’t love their kids – although who knows sometimes… but the kids are – in terms of group averages – not far departed from the abilities of Bio Mom and Dad. And that’s why the groups of lower class kids have more performance failure than groups of higher class kids. They are like their parents collectively.

    Notice I’m talking about group averages not individuals – I have to keep stressing that. Compton vs Beverly Hills will have different averages no matter what the schools do – even if the kids are scooped up and sent to the same boarding school where the parents do not interact with them much.

    So what are the schools supposed to do to rewrite all this programming? What can they do to make the Compton kids compete with the Beverly Hills Kids?

    By the time they are in High School it’s too late to do anything. The Compton Kids don’t come equiped with enough cognitive skills to meet CA HS graduation requirements especially with the newly added Math requirement – they have a massive drop rate. Do we blame this on the high school teachers? Do we blame it on the bio-parents? Is this nobody’s fault??

    It’s great they we see some good news in the statistics here – but can we take credit for adding value – or is what we are seeing just a reflection of the parents of each groups of students? And if that’s all it is we shouldn’t be congratulating anybody.

    A better use of the stats is to find which schools do best compared to like student bodies. That would indicate that there was something about the academic program at that school that got a better result than would have been predicted based on the SES of their students. Likewise we need to analyze the stats to see which schools got poorer results compared to other schools with the same SES students. Such a school is clearly doing something wrong even if the scores are superficially acceptable (they should have been better based on what the students were).

    All of our public schools should be adding value to the kids. Every year and every class. That added value should be measured so that we have a feel for the amount the school’s “products” do against the estimate of what they would have done anyway. Regardless of race, class, ethnicity and age. A school should make the kid sharper than what self study would have done.

  • Katy Murphy

    Does anybody think that the test score gains made by this group of elementary school kids will translate into better high school scores, years from now?

    Social pressures are clearly at play at the secondary level, but it will be interesting to see what the middle and high school scores look like in 2015.

    One more thought about the Gold star list: Since these schools have many of the same students from one year to the next, it seems that their dramatic improvements across the grade-levels are a strong indication that they are, in fact, “adding value” — even though it’s not a precise measure.

  • Catherine

    I do think some of the students will have higher test scores in high school. I also think that it will translate to more kids being able to pass the high school exam.

    AND. . . although Nextset and I do not often see eye to eye, I think that many kids will drop out.

    There has been a discussion about “standard English” and by using that term I am not singling out African American families – I still cringe when I remember my whole family saying “I don’t got no damn cigarettes, ya hear.” My niece barely made it out with a diploma from continuation high school and she was tested before kindergarten with an IQ in excess of 140.

    I believe that sending home really good test scores and helping parents understand that the scores are good will help. The parents may want to know how to keep them rising – which will introduce the dialog of conversation that facilitates learning.

  • Nextset

    Something I have forgotten to mention over time: I am familiar with San Francisco’s Delancey Street Foundation. I’ve placed a few people there over the years and have become familiar with their education philosophy – Toughlove.. Many of the disfunctional adults sent there are young adults who are high school dropouts and are in the early to late 20s.

    Delancey changes their diction, has them in classroom training, teaches them how to dress, walk and interact with people, and in general rehabs the residents from a lifetime of permissiveness. Make no mistake, DSF operates as a totalitarian state. When the resident has done the minimum 2 year term in the program many opt to stay awhile longer. Education is a continuous requirement, especially vocational training. Some residents take college classes. Getting a driver’s license for those who are eligible is a serious thing with DSF.

    I’ve sometimes gone over to their restaurant for dinner and watched the staff – drug addicts and ex cons all – carry themselves like the best wait staff in the City. I hate the fact that they had to go to prison or in and out of jail for years before someone offered them a program that teaches them what they need to be able to function smoothly in society. They should have got this from their public schools (as well as their families).

    But their schools and families wanted to be less confrontational so they didn’t accomplish what DSF does. Delancey is nothing if not confrontational. Their vocational work includes retail, movers, bus driving, limo services, fund raising and PR, a large correspondence section, auto mechanics and other areas.

    I know the public schools can buff up the ghetto kids and make them saleable if they ever set their minds to do so. This country used to do that in it’s urban schools 50 years ago. Whatever the cognitive levels of students there is a place in society for everybody if they take all the training/education available to them and learn to co-operate with the rest of us.

    That may mean accepting instruction on diction and apparrel. At DSF for example the residents are told how it’s going to be in such areas. They can do things their way when they are self sufficient.

    Our urban public schools should offer no less.

    All the good scores the some of these primary schools show won’t save the kids if they begin to go feral at puberty and the schools aren’t trying to keep them in line. It’s High School where the scores crash and the dropouts flee.

  • Jose, Former Student

    I believe hard work in school is the best way to get good grades and test scores.

    Does anyone have a better method?

  • Nextset

    Jose: Hard work will not get better grades and test scores in subjects requiring higher cognitive ability that a given student has.

    The student must be suitable for the subject.

  • Nancy (Fancy)

    Students from many backgrounds are very bright and cognitively able to learn, score on tests, and become successful through advanced degrees. And yes Jose, the mother-tongue method (acquiring Academic language abilities for 2nd, 3rd, and sometimes 4th languages of the host country), is the method which includes listening, speaking, reading, and writing, and without home modeling and daily support from parents, care-takers, and/or guardians, there will most likely only be a few of these kids who go on to upper-middle class academia. And even then, how many of these kids who are now adults (even those from White trash) are equivalent in net worth (from working wealth as a reward for all of this effort) to their upper-middle class non-working wealth peers. Many have been declassed (put in their place so to speak) and have not economically benefited, and in that instance should have probably gone with the “hard-work” model and built him/herself a life among those in their group of origin.

  • Catherine


    In some grades what is taught is already known by the students in the class. Because these kids know the information they do not have to study or work hard.

    What happens is that the children are not challenged and begin to believe that they do not need to work hard to succeed, get good grades and get great test scores. This shows up in High School (as we can see in test scores) when study habits are not in place, so now the teens are having to learn how to study, how to not be the top 5% of the class automatically, adjust to the expectations of those around them AND learn the material.

    One of the best things we can do for our students is begin teaching them at the point where we build on the knowledge they already have. This means that all students must work to achieve.

  • Jose, Former Student


    I have more faith in hard work than excuses.

    You can blame it on achivement gap, culture, race, income, gender, cognitive ability, or any thing else.

    I reviewed every school in Oakland’s test results and each subgroup. The tree Indian schools and the two OCA school have blacks, Mexicans, and Indians who have better test results than Asians and whites.

    I contacted their principals and each one of them said, “Our students and staff work hard.”

    Do any of you have a better recommendation than our educators and students working hard to improve their test results?

  • Nextset

    Yes, working smarter. That is, putting the energy where it is most likely to produce results.