Oakland’s API: Big gains, bigger achievement gaps

California’s 2008-09 API scores — that three-digit number commonly used to rate schools and districts — came out this morning. On a scale of 200 (low) to 1,000 (high), the Oakland school district scored a 695, about 19 points higher than last year.

photo by Hasain Rasheed, courtesy of the Oakland Small Schools Foundation

The good news: I counted 29 Oakland schools whose Academic Performance Index (API) scores went up by 50 points or more in the last year. Futures Elementary School, a small, redesigned school on East Oakland’s Lockwood campus, pictured above, improved by a cool 118 to reach 701. East Oakland Pride on the old Webster campus made a 112-point gain. And Think College Now — a majority-Latino school in Fruitvale with an English learner population of more than 60 percent — saw is API shoot up by 80 points, to 848.

On the other hand: The “achievement gap” between Oakland schoolchildren of various racial/ethnic groups narrowed ever-so-slightly this year, but it’s still broad enough to comfortably fit a double-wide. The disparities were enormous in 2003, and they remain much the same today. For example: The white-black gap is 272 points, and the Asian-black gap is 177. On average, the district’s Latino students have made greater progress than their white, black and Asian peers, but the average API for Asian students is still 147 points higher than the average score for Latinos.

No Child Left Behind: Six Oakland schools entered a probationary status known as Program Improvement after failing to hit the No Child Left Behind reading, writing and math proficiency goals for two straight years: Global Family (small school at Jefferson Elementary campus); Howard Elementary, in the East Oakland hills; E.C. Reems Academy, a charter elementary school near Castlemont’s campus; Rise Community School (small elementary school on Highland’s campus); Barack Obama Academy (new middle school formerly Alternative Learning Community), and Mandela High School (Fremont campus).

California’s NCLB bar was set higher again this year, so those six schools are not alone: Statewide, 669 other schools have just fallen into Program Improvement as a result of their 2009 scores. About 40 percent of Oakland’s schools — and 47 percent of its low-income schools, the only ones subject to federal sanctions — are in Program Improvement.

Though the NCLB goals got tougher this year and last, two former PI schools — ACORN Woodland in East Oakland and Sankofa Academy in North Oakland — hit the targets anyway. They were among a small group of 54 schools, statewide, that were able to free themselves from the dreaded list.

I made a spreadsheet just for you. It has three tabs: One, sorted by school level and API score (highest to lowest); another sorted by school level and API change from 2008 to 2009; and lastly, a chart showing achievement gap trends since 2003, as I promised Sharon I’d do. You can find it here.

I also wrote a story about the test score report, if you care to read it.

Katy Murphy

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

  • AC Mom


    Thank you for sorting the data for us.

    AC Mom

  • Katy Murphy

    You’re quite welcome, AC Mom.

    To you and everyone else: What about these results stands out to you? Any surprises?

  • Pingback: Welcome to Futures Elementary School! « Futures Elementary School()

  • http://aimschools.org John P. Glover

    There are a number of schools on this list that have made tremendous gains. Their students, faculties, and administrations should be commended. It takes commitment and hard work. There are two sites in particular I’d like to point out because of their relationships with our schools, and because of the sheer magnitude of their results.

    I’d like to congratulate the folks at Oakland Charter High School and Oakland Charter Academy. I remember when Ben Chavis was the principal at AIPCS, many said that the American Indian Model couldn’t be replicated because it was his leadership style that made it possible. Ms. Sandra Reyes (OCA), Mr. Jonathan Granucci (OCHS), and the Executive Director, Mr. Jorge Lopez, have proven those critics wrong. They have implemented the same model in their schools with remarkable success. Their students have worked hard, lived up to high expectations, and thrived within a very structured environment. The results speak for themselves. Great job. I am less excited by the fact that they’ve taken the top spot away from our high school, but we’ll work hard to get back on top next year!

    In addition, West Oakland Middle School has the highest point gains of any middle school in the district. Look at those math scores! Before Mr. David Montes began his role at the office of charter schools, he worked with AIPCS to bring some of our methods to this site. Congratulations to him, the current staff, and the students. Amazing.

    We recognize that our approach isn’t for everyone, but we are pleased that our methods have proven effective in other schools, and we remain open to building collaborative relationships with other schools (charter or traditional publics) in an effort to help more of Oakland’s kids.

    Too often, in public discourse, it is about charter vs. non-charter. It is about union vs. non-union. I believe we should all support good schools however we can. And we should learn from anyone who has something to teach us, irrespective of our personal feelings or agendas. I hope to see more of that as we move forward as a community.

    John P. Glover
    Director, AIM Schools

  • TheTruthHurts

    I’m sure some will assail the focus on test scores, but all involved should be commended for the hard work and commitment required to make these gains regardless of one’s perspective on mandated testing.

    At least this time, the truth doesn’t hurt.

  • cranky teacher

    From the reporting I’ve seen, it is precisely the similarities between Jorge Lopez and Ben Chavis — administrative ruthlessness, complete housecleaning of staff, tough guy patrolling the halls, verbal humiliation — that was credited with the former’s success.

    Lopez says the same.

  • Nextset

    As expected, the gap is fixed and immutable. There is some reason to suspect it is biologically based – at least at this point in time. If the readers don’t like that concept, too bad. It needs to be discussed. If that is what is showing here, where does that leave our educational programs? And where does that leave our immigration policy. Is it true that we are importing millions of 3rd worlders we know to have a higher IQ than the locals who have been here for a 100 years or more? What will happen to the people who were born here? Or is this just a case of international darwinism and let the chips fall where they may?

    Efforts to “erase” the gap produce increases in the various groups which serve to keep the gap constant.

    Although I wonder that the shrinking white percentage of OUSD students will at some point no longer provide statistically valid numbers. Like Los Angeles Unified we will soon have a district with 6% or less whites and a commanding majority of hispanic/mexicans. The “gap” will really be an established academic pecking order of Asians (with insignificant number of whites), followed by Hispanics whose numbers dominate all decisions, with blacks on the bottom of the heap and no longer with any significant political power.

    The chart doesn’t exactly cover mixed children and recent immigrants (Nigerians for example). Is it possible to draw distinct scores for this subgroup?

    I look at that chart with mixed feelings. My conclusions are that one size does not fit all and the trend to Charter Schools where the kids self-select (segregate) will continue until the lowest common denominator schools dwindle completely. Choice is good anyway.

    Each student group or type has a place somewhere where their particular strengths can be honed. If they know what’s good for them they will find that school quick. Things are going to get tougher.

    Brave New World.

  • Oak261

    From Katy’s chart is that the scores are creeping up. Interesting. I’m for measuring student achievement with standard metrics. Where do the experts expect the results to plateau? We can’t reasonably expect everyone to score 800 even if we keep working at it.

  • Chris Dobbins


    Thank you sharing this information and for putting these figures into an easy to read spread sheet format. I have the privilege of representing the schools with the three largest API gains: Futures, East Oakland Pride, and Burckhalter. While it isn’t rocket science, a strong leader (which is not a code-word for dictator), supportive administration, and a strong teaching staff are the hallmarks of these gains. Mr. Daubenspeck, Mr. Nguyen, and Ms. Geathers (Principals of the respective schools) have varied leadership styles, yet their schools were very successful. Futures and Pride have relatively young faculty, but Burckhalter has a primarily veteran corp. I guess if we knew the exact ingredients to a successful school the answers would be obvious. The goal of the School Board and administration is to celebrate similar gains in the high schools….hopefully next year.

    Chris Dobbins
    Oakland School Board Director, District 6

  • Oakland Teacher

    Katie – Do you have any rules on this blog about including commercial spam, such as the link in #10 above? If not, I would like to ask that rules be developed. Up until now, I always found the links that people (usually the regulars) provided to be enlightening information relevant to the topic.

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes. I’m most definitely anti-spam, but that one slipped through my defenses! I’ve deleted it, so you’re #10 now.

  • Newbie Teacher

    Oak261, why can’t we reasonably expect everyone to score 800 even if we keep working at it? There are no shortcuts to real success: hard work and a passion to learn and grow and avoid distracting negative social influences are just some of the keys.

  • wondering

    Hi Katy, the list of National Merit Semifinalists came out today. I am wondering which kids from Oakland made the list and from what schools? do you have that info? thanks

  • Katy Murphy

    Yes, I do. I’ll post it right now.

  • Oak261

    Newbie: Excuse me, I meant to (rhetorically ) write “We can’t reasonably expect everyone to score 1000 (perfect) even if we keep working at it.”. My question is, what is the reasonable expectation among experts for OUSD? Where should we expect things to plateau? NCLB and other mandates says scores keep having to go up as far as you can look ahead. Amazing.

  • http://perimeterprimate.blogspot.com Sharon

    John P. Glover: A teacher who works at another school in the neighborhood and visited the Oakland Charter Academy School posted this comment on a listserv to which I belong:

    “The Oakland Charter School middle school in the Fruitvale district has been creaming for successful students since Chavis’ protégé, “King” Jorge Lopez took it over about 5 years ago. Problem is that no witnesses have come forward yet. The mostly Latino immigrant parents in the neighborhood struggle to get their kids in, because the local district middle schools are so unsafe, so they’re not inclined to snitch on Oakland Charter. I’ve heard stories of Jorge demanding to see potential enrollees’ 5th grade test scores, and telling parents that this or that child is “not qualified” to get in.

    [X] and I toured the school 2 1/2 years ago (they didn’t know who we were), and saw lots of fear in kids’ faces. It was similar to the West Oakland KIPP school: quiet and joyless like a minimum security prison. In both schools, the teachers we got to observe did “front of the room” lecture as kids sat and listened (or pretended to listen). In the Fruitvale school, I noticed that some kids had still not reached full English proficiency and looked confused as teachers babbled in English.”

    I’m personally less interested in the classroom description than I am in the details of how this school engages in tracking, something which traditional schools are legally barred from doing. I vote for undercover work to root out the practices at these American Indian Model schools.

    OCA has been operating for years. Is there any source of verifiable information about what its graduates have ended up doing?

    Also, this story confirms what I see as the biggest issue for parents when choosing a school: safety and school climate.

    OUSD owes it to Oakland’s families to come up with an innovative breakthrough in this regard. I just know things can be made better, but it will require the Superintendent and the School Board to be brave and start to think out-of-the-box.

  • Chava

    People need to sneak and visit at Fremont school not here. That school is to dangerus

    Mr. Lopez came in 2004 when my son was in a 7th grade. He did not enroll the kids that year, Mr. G and Aguilar did, but that was the year OCA jumped 100 points.

    Another thing is that Lopez is not even at the schools anymore. There are other leaders.

    You guys should visit. They will host you- they are so open that even spies get in. Best thing to do is go and see. I will ask my son and daughter to give you a tour.

    you can respons here.

    Good job oca and oakland.

  • Chauncey

    I want to congratulate TCN as it made great strides. Finally, an OUSD school in the flatlands makes it happen. To be honest, it does not matter to me how it is done so as long as it produces results.

    As for Sharon, your blogger source for the infor on OCA is lame!

    “Teachers stand in front ” where the heck should the stand, in the back?

    Sharon- why dont you just visit the school? I did, and it is great. I do not know of the tracking and all that, i look at the results. and I know what Oaklanders say , do the means justify the ends- well just ask yourself, where will these kids end up without an education?

    Way to go Mr. Silver!! Keep it up, and hope they dont reassign you!

  • Nextset

    Do the readers remember the controversy in Pasedena (I think it was Pasedena) where a Teacher named Phelps wrote a memo to his co-workers discussing an upcoming plan to set teacher pay by student performance? He pointed out that the school in question was facing a demographic shift and would be receiving a large number (percentage shift) of new black students. By accepting the proposed pay scheme the bargaining unit was certain to take a pay cut because any shift in demographics towards black students statistically guarantees falling scores. For this heresy he was suspended until legal action or political action forced the school district to back down. It was an uncomfortable truth.

    By the same token, some OUSD schools are facing a demographic shift away from black students. I’m not going to fall down and congratulate anyone because their scores are going up. At least until it is shown that the change in scores is not merely explained by the change in demographics.

    I may be the skunk at the garden party – but… Nobody with any experience and research is going to be fooled by patently expected demographic statistical change at OUSD. Maybe the teachers did something magical and probably they didn’t. We have to see.

  • Caroline

    Then how can you praise American Indian Public Charter School for achieving “miracles” based not on doing “something magical” but on “demographic statistical change”?

    When it comes to charter schools, people are fooled all the time by test score improvements connected with demographic statistical change. And not only are those people fooled, they (along with cynical manipulators who are dishonest rather than fooled) also angrily denounce the non-fooled who point out the real reasons for the “improvements.”

  • Nextset

    Caroline: You have a point – but understand that when a good school creates an environment where the families believe their children are safe from both crime and immorality – this is where brights, especially poorer brights will be enrolled.

    The environment of AIPCS is deliberately set to run off undesirable people – those who don’t want to study learn or do any homework. People who don’t want to behave and obey authority can’t hack it there either. It’s a similar thing that the Catholic Schools had in the flats of Oakland in the 1960s. Trash of any color wouldn’t think of trying to go there, there’d be hell to pay.

    So it is because of the school that the scores are high, because of the school that the collection of bright students are there at all. Chavis’ created a place where all this action could take place. OUSD creates places where disfunctional people can move in and make themselves at home. And woe be to the teachers that try to change them or stop them.

    So we do give “credit” to good schools, even though their students would do well wherever they went and whoever taught them.

    I do believe you can add value to students especially the middling ones and even the poor dull ones. I think it takes increasing more energy to add value to the poor dull ones. I have seen energetic teachers in my life though.

    Brave New World.

  • Chauncey

    Caroline- OCA is over 90% Latino in the Fruitvale yet score higher than schools in Orinda? Why not acknowledge that?