Four Oakland, two Berkeley schools “exemplary”

Peralta Elementary School, Tribune file photo

Four Oakland elementary schools — Chabot, Montclair, Peralta and Thornhill — are among 484 schools commended by the state this year for their academic achievements and for narrowing the achievement gap. The winners have also agreed to share two “signature practices” with other schools. Chabot and Peralta are located in the Rockridge area, and Montclair and Thornhill are in the hills.

Jefferson and Oxford elementary schools in Berkeley also made the California Distinguished Schools list.

You can find the full list of California Distinguished Schools here. Below is a short summary of the selection process: Continue Reading


A half-baked test prep question?

casseroles, from Cameron Nordholm's site at flickr.com/creativecommons

Last night, a mom sent me a reading test-prep stumper involving casseroles. I was SURE I’d be able to nail it. I grew up in the Midwest in the 1980s and early 90s, so I’m no stranger to cream of mushroom soup or Tater Tots. If anyone would know the answer, I thought, it’s me.

She writes:

My daughter brought home a “Practice and Mastery” book to prep for the 4th grade CA language arts standards. She was stumped at the following question in the Word Analysis section:

Read this sentence: She baked a very tasty casserole.

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The schools that didn’t make the list

This week, people in districts throughout California were left wondering why some schools escaped the state’s “persistently lowest-achieving” list, while others — some of them, with higher scores and greater gains — were deemed failing.

It all boils down to size. If a school reported fewer than 100 test scores in any of the last three years, it was taken off the list, regardless of its scores. I’m not sure why, though it would seem the state wants to target larger, more traditional schools rather than alternative schools, which tend to be smaller (and, often, to have lower test scores).

Without this small-school rule, Oakland would have more schools on the list, according to another long list of low-performing schools Continue Reading


School reform deja vu

Today, when the state education department released its lists of “persistently lowest-performing schools,” I zeroed in on the five it identified from Oakland. They’re all middle schools: Alliance Academy, Elmhurst Community Prep, Explore Middle School, ROOTS International and United for Success Academy.

Alliance Academy and Elmhurst Community Prep both made the state list

My first thought was that most of those schools are less than four years old; how could they be persistently anything? (I did just turn a year older last month; maybe time is just advancing more quickly as I age.)

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State writing tests and the jet-setter’s edge

Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland public schoolteacher, says California’s writing tests — which are likely being taken right this moment — do a poor job of measuring the abilities of disadvantaged students.

Steven WeinbergThis week, fourth and seventh grade students throughout California will be taking the state writing examinations. We can hope that the writing assignments the students are given will allow each student a fair opportunity to show his or her writing skills, but past assignments show that this has not always been the case. Some writing tasks have given large advantages to students from prosperous backgrounds and have made it very difficult for students from disadvantaged families to earn good scores.

The clearest example is the 2007 assignment. The prompt, which has been released by the state department of education, along with examples of student answers, read: “If you were given the opportunity to travel anywhere in the world for one week, where would you go? Think about a place you would love to visit and write a narrative describing the events that happen on your trip.”

This topic obviously favored students who had traveled somewhere exciting, and the examples the state released of high scoring papers confirms that. Continue Reading


More perspectives on grading and Easy A’s

I visited an Oakland high school today and interviewed two veteran teachers — teachers with reputations as hard graders — about their grading practices for a follow-up story on this issue. I talked with some students, too.

One of the teachers said it is “painful” to give half of the students in a particular class Ds and Fs, as he has done. But, he said, holding the kids to a certain standard (coming to class and completing their assignments, at a minimum) is the best leverage he knows of when it comes to motivating students to work hard and learn the material. Not that it always works…

Both teachers, however, said it’s much more difficult for newer hires — without tenure or an established reputation at a school — to adhere to high standards if that means giving out many Ds and Fs. Those teachers are more vulnerable to pressure from the school administration and parents alike, they said.

After all, an F isn’t a passing grade and Ds aren’t accepted by the state university systems. Continue Reading


Six Oakland schools win Title I award


The California Department of Education announced the names of 238 schools that serve large numbers of low-income children and have made substantial progress on state test scores. (Interesting that this comes right after Steven Weinberg’s post.) They’ll receive their awards April 21 in Disneyland.

And the winners of the Title I Academic Achievement Awards for 2009-10 are… Continue Reading


Book review: Making the Grades

Steven Weinberg, a retired Oakland middle school teacher, recommends a book that exposes grading practices on the writing portion of standardized tests — written by an insider.

Steven Weinberg

One of the delights of retirement is that I finally have enough time to read. This week I discovered a new book that ought to be read by everyone involved with standardized tests — and in today’s environment, that means practically everybody.

“Making the Grades: My Misadventures in the Standardized Testing Industry” by Todd Farley (2009) gives a detailed description of what actually happens to the writing sample portions of standardized tests when they are sent to testing companies for scoring. Although the book is written in an amusing style (the first 150 pages kept me in stitches, and when I read passages aloud to my wife and we both laughed until we could barely talk), the message is serious: Testing companies care only about making a profit and will cut any corner and ignore their own guidelines to do so.

Farley began his career in the testing industry in 1994, earning $10 an hour as a grader. Continue Reading


More of OUSD’s small schools might close in 2010

District staff are recommending that Explore Middle School, a small school that opened in East Oakland in 2004, close at the end of the year.

Also on the 2010 closure list are two schools that were scheduled to close a year or two down the road, following a lengthy phase out: BEST High School (McClymonds campus in West Oakland) and Paul Robeson School of Visual and Performing Arts (Fremont campus in East Oakland).

Staff didn’t come out with a definitive recommendation for Martin Luther King Jr. and Lafayette elementary schools in West Oakland Continue Reading


A celebratory dunk

Photo of Benjamin Schmookler courtesy of Howard Ruffner

Benjamin Schmookler, principal of Media Academy — a small school on East Oakland’s Fremont Federation campus — agreed to be dunked today during a celebration of the school’s improved test scores. Media Academy’s state test scores went up by 79 points to 600 (on a scale of 200 to 1,000), the biggest gain seen in all of the district’s high schools this year.