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A closer look at Academic Performance Index scores in Contra Costa County districts

Students work quietly in a Richmond College Prep classroom. The school received an API score of 828 this year, soaring 33 points.

Students work quietly in a Richmond College Prep classroom. The school received an API score of 828 this year, soaring 33 points.

When it comes to test scores, the Academic Performance Index, or API, is considered by many to be the most important rating a California school receives. Based on standardized tests scores taken by students in grades 2-11 in the spring, the API is a composite number between a low of 200 and a high of 1,000 that shows how schools throughout the state compare to each other.

Since the scoring system was created, schools and districts have tried to reach a score of 800, considered by the state to mean most students are working at grade level. This year, 11 Contra Costa County districts achieved this goal.

But the federal government’s No Child Left Behind law measures schools according to a harder-to-reach bar. This year, 90 percent of students were required to score proficient on math and English language arts tests to meet this standard.

Those who fail to meet the standard for two years in a row are placed in federal Program Improvement and required to implement interventions. This year, 10 Contra Costa districts were in Program Improvement.

Here’s a side by side comparison of county district API scores in 2012 and 2013, showing growth or decline:

Acalanes 904 908 -4 No
Antioch 740 746 -6 Yes
Brentwood 861 859 +2 Yes
Byron 846 836 +10 No
Canyon 874 876 -2 No
John Swett 745 751 -6 Yes
Knightsen 816 840 -24 No
Lafayette 934 938 -4 No
Liberty 794 785 +9 No
Martinez 836 844 -8 Yes
Moraga 955 964 -9 No
Mt. Diablo 791 794 -3 Yes
Oakley 799 816 -17 Yes
Orinda 958 967 -9 No
Pittsburg 733 738 -5 Yes
San Ramon 923 928 -5 Yes
Walnut Creek 906 915 -9 Yes
West Contra Costa 717 715 +2 Yes
CALIFORNIA 789 791 -2 N/A

Districts that failed to meet the state API score of 800 were Antioch, John Swett, Liberty, Mt. Diablo, Oakley, Pittsburg and West Contra Costa. Stephanie Anello, associate superintendent of educational services in Antioch, said the district’s dip in scores came as a surprise, after teachers had been assessing students every six weeks throughout the year and principals increased classroom observations.

“It’s very disappointing, we felt we were headed in the right direction,” she said. “We’re trying to look for patterns to see what happened, but we don’t see one. For now, we are just going to have to use it to strengthen our resolve and focus on the quality of teaching that happens every single day.”

No schools in the John Swett district surpassed the state’s target of 800. In the Liberty district, one of four comprehensive high schools met that goal.

Mt. Diablo’s API score dropped three points to 791. Interim Superintendent John Bernard sent a message to the community saying the district is continuing to train teachers and administrators in the new Common Core curriculum standards, which focus on critical thinking and problem-solving.

Oakley’s API score dropped 17 points and nearly all schools in the district also saw double-digit declines, with the exception of Vintage Parkway Elementary, which posted a 14-point gain to 831. Anne Allen, Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services, said the district has assigned a second teacher to work as a full-time math coach at elementary grades and another to serve as a part-time middle school literacy coach.

The Pittsburg district’s score fell five points to 733, with only three of 12 comprehensive schools reaching the state’s proficiency target. The West Contra Costa district was one of four in the county to improve its API score, rising two points to 717.

“We’re happy to show improvement,” said Nia Raschidchi, assistant superintendent of educational services.

Here’s a link to the Contra Costa Times’ searchable database of API scores for all schools and districts in the state:

Staff writers Paul Burgarino and Rowena Coetseee contributed to this report.

What do you think lower-performing districts should do to improve student achievement?

Posted on Friday, August 30th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Liberty district, Mt. Diablo school district, Oakley district, Paul Burgarino, Pittsburg school district, Rowena Coetsee | 64 Comments »

Pleasant Hill Library Teen Advisory Group invites community to World Party on July 20

Families and area residents of all ages are invited to a communitywide party from 2-4 p.m. Saturday, July 20 at the Pleasant Hill library that will celebrate world cultures with fun activities.

The Pleasant Hill Library’s Teen Advisory Group is organizing the event, called “World Party — a multiethnic extravaganza.” Then on Sunday, the Contra Costa County Library System will celebrate it 100th anniversary during a separate community party.

Natalie Hill, a 16-year-old College Park High School junior, was busy preparing for the World Party along with three other members of the teen group earlier this week. Natalie, who is president of the teen group, said she got the idea for the World Party from a multicultural rally at College Park High earlier this year. She and other students in the group decided it would give them a way to celebrate their own diversity, she said.

“Our goal is to basically educate patrons who come in through fun activities and food,” she said. “It’s going to be super awesome, so everyone should come!”

The party will include art, dancing, food and games, Natalie said. She and her friend Dean Shim were creating signs to hang in the library on Thursday, while Pleasant Hill Middle School eighth-grader Alanna Dangerfield was making decorations along with Abhinav Singh, a Valley View Middle School eighth-grader.

Alanna, 13, was making “papel picado,” which means “cut paper.” She was cutting a butterfly design in colorful tissue paper, which could be folded and hung on string or used to decorate booths at the event.
Abhinav, who is also 13, was creating “rangoli” designs from India on paper window hangers. These floral designs are typically created during the Indian holiday called Diwali, he said.

“It’s supposed to make your home have good luck,” Abhinav said. “It can be made with white flour, rice or chalk. But, we’re doing it with paper, because we don’t want it to be messy.”

The World Party will also include traditional Japanese dancing, origami, Farsi calligraphy, Mexican arts and crafts, Irish soda bread and Hindu bread, Natalie said. To make visitors feel like they are traveling around the world, the teens were also making airplane decorations.

Both Veronica and Abhinav said they have been members of the teen group since it started two years ago. Natalie also joined the group at that time, after moving to Pleasant Hill from Southern California.

“I’ve always enjoyed going to the library since I was a kid,” Natalie said. “The teen advisory group is a really great way for teens to learn leadership skills and to work together as a team. We all have the same love for the library, so it’s a really great group to be in.”

About 20 middle and high school students are in the group. Dean, who is now a college student, was also in the group during high school.

“I just like them so much because we all share that passion with the library,” Natalie said. “It’s not like school, where you feel pressured by other people. It’s a very free experience, so that’s what I really like about it.”

Natalie said the group includes a lot of middle school students, in part because the library is close to Pleasant Hill Middle School.

“The teen advisory group gives them a way to be creative and work toward something together,” Natalie said. “It’s really cool.”

Natalie said she has always appreciated libraries because they provide a place where everyone can feel safe in a free learning environment. In fact, she loves libraries so much that she said she’d like to become a librarian after she graduates from college.

Both Natalie and Dean have been selected by the library to be interviewed by the national StoryCorps program about how the library has impacted their lives. Alanna’s mother, Veronica Dangerfield, is also participating in the program along with library Commissioner Katherine Bracken.

An article about the StoryCorps program should be published in this newspaper on Tuesday. You can see video of Natalie talking about the World Party here: And here is a video of Natalie talking about the library:

To weigh in on a survey to help shape the county library’s strategic plan, visit

What do you value about your local library?

Posted on Friday, July 12th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, libraries | 3 Comments »

A closer look at how well unified districts in Contra Costa County are educating low-income and minority students

Last week, the student advocacy group Education Trust-West released its third annual report cards for the largest unified districts in the state, showing how well they educate low-income and minority students.

Here’s a look at the Contra Costa County districts included, showing whether or not they improved between 2011 and 2012. The organization assigned overall letter grades as well as numerical rankings for categories, based on standardized test scores, academic improvement over five years, the size of achievement gaps, and college readiness. Note: This was the first year the report included college readiness and high school graduation data.

ANTIOCH: Overall grade: D+ (up from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: C (up from D in 2011)
Improvement among students of color: D (same, but rank of 128 up from 135)
Improvement among low-income students: D (same, but rank of 127 up from 129)
African-American and white achievement gap: D (up from F)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (up from C in 2011)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 135 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 129 of 143)

MT. DIABLO: Overall grade: D+ (up from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: C (up from D in 2011)
Improvement among students of color: C (same, but rank of 44 up from 63)
Improvement among low-income students: B (up from C in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: F (same, rank up)
Latino and white achievement gap: F (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 128 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: C (rank 120 of 143)

PITTSBURG: Overall grade: C- (up from D+ in 2010) (No data from 2011)
Performance among students of color: C (up from D in 2010)
Performance among low-income students: C (same, rank of 107 up from 110)
Improvement among students of color: C (same, but rank dropped to 60 from 48)
Improvement among low-income students: C (but rank dropped to 61 from 48)
African-American and white achievement gap: C (up from D)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (up from C in 2010)
College eligibility among students of color: F (rank 134 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 137 of 143)

SAN RAMON VALLEY: Overall grade: B- (up from C+ in 2011)
Performance among students of color: A (same, but rank of 3 up from 4 in 2011)
Performance among low-income students: A (same, but rank of 5 up from 18)
Improvement among students of color: D (same, but rank of 136 up from 141)
Improvement among low-income students: C (but rank of 118 up from 119 in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: C (up from D)
Latino and white achievement gap: B (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: B (rank 6 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: A (rank 1 of 143)

WEST CONTRA COSTA: Overall grade: D- (down from D in 2011)
Performance among students of color: D (same, rank dropped to 148 from 145)
Performance among low-income students: D (same, rank dropped to 147 from 145)
Improvement among students of color: D (dropped from C in 2011)
Improvement among low-income students: D (down from C in 2011)
African-American and white achievement gap: F (same, rank up)
Latino and white achievement gap: F (same, rank dropped)
College eligibility among students of color: D (rank 69 of 142)
High school graduation among students of color: D (rank 130 of 143)

The complete report cards are at

How could districts improve instruction for low-income and minority students?

Posted on Sunday, April 7th, 2013
Under: Antioch school district, Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Pittsburg school district, San Ramon Valley school district, West Contra Costa school district | 44 Comments »

County school districts compared in budget presentation to Mt. Diablo school board

The Mt. Diablo school board held a special meeting last week to prepare for its Monday budget discussion, where it approved its Second Interim Report.

John Gray, a consultant from School Services of California, gave an interesting presentation comparing districts in Contra Costa County in terms of spending and revenues. The presentation is at

Gray looked at enrollment growth and decline in the county, which showed that the Liberty Union High School District in Brentwood has grown the most — about 18 percent from 2006 to 2011 — while the Antioch Unified District has lost more than 6.5 percent of its students during the same time period. Mt. Diablo’s student population has dropped about 2.5 percent, which means its state funding is also declining. If the district’s student population falls below 30,000 students, it will have to set aside 3 percent of its budget in reserve, instead of the 2 percent it now sets aside. The district’s current enrollment is around 32,000 students.

Gray also showed the difference in state per-student funding in Contra Costa districts, with Acalanes at the top of the heap with about $7,319 per student and Moraga at the bottom at $6,050 per student in 2010-11. Mt. Diablo ranked 10th with $6,346 per pupil. Gray said that high school districts receive more per student than unified districts, which receive more per student than elementary districts.

But the total amount of money each district has to spend varies even more, due to parcel taxes, education foundations and large parent donations in the wealthier areas of the county. The Orinda district topped this list, with a whopping $4,111 per student in “other local and prior-year revenue” per student n 2010-11, while Mt. Diablo had the smallest amount, with $408.43 per student.

In comparing teachers and other certificated employees who are not managers, Acalanes spent the most on salaries per student, with $4,387, while John Swett paid the least, at $3,035. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, at $3,534.

When looking at school and district administrator salaries, Canyon spent the most — at $1,040 per student — and Brentwood spent the least, or $381 per student. Mt. Diablo ranked 16th in this category, at $412 per student, in part because it is such a large district. Canyon spends more because it only has about 66 students.

Due to the fluctuating state budget, most districts statewide have accumulated large reserve funds, Gray said. This is because they have been bracing themselves for cuts that haven’t materialized thanks to the passage of Proposition 30.

Canyon has the highest reserve per student, at $6,496, while Liberty has set aside the least amount per student, at $1,060 in 2010-11, Gray said. Mt. Diablo ranked ninth in this category, with a set-aside of $1,795 per student.

All districts must submit their budgets to the County Office of Education this month, certifying whether or not they believe they will be able to pay all their bills in the next three years. When Mt. Diablo prepared its last budget, it projected that it would need to make cuts or raise more revenues in order to meet its financial obligations.

The board reviewed the budget in detail Monday and approved a “positive” certification, after CFO Bryan Richards told trustees the district will be able to pay its bills through the next three years:

The board on Monday also heard dozens of recommendations for spending cuts in special education during a FCMAT special education report presentation:

The district’s Budget Advisory Committee expects to review the budget in more detail at 5 p.m. Wednesday:

Do you think the district should make budget cuts to reduce its deficit-spending?

Posted on Tuesday, March 12th, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education, Mt. Diablo school district | 7 Comments »

Governor’s proposed Local Control Funding Formula would create winners and losers, some say

A new formula proposed by the governor to radically change the way school districts are funded is creating a buzz statewide, as officials look at projections released Wednesday that show some would get big revenue boosts, while others would receive far less per student.

The rationale for the funding overhaul is that disadvantaged students cost more to educate. So, districts that have a higher percentage of English learners and students who quality for free and reduced priced meals should get more money than those that don’t, the governor argues.

He would also do away with dozens of “categorical” funding streams that were created to funnel money into specific programs. Instead, the governor wants to give local control to school boards to decide how best to spend their dollars.

While most school officials praise the local control part of the proposal, some that would get less money under the plan are critical of the funding formula, which would provide supplemental grants equal to 35 percent of the base per student revenue for each English learner, economically disadvantaged student or foster youth.

Contra Costa County districts would see a wide variety of funding increases, ranging from a low of 12 percent growth in the tiny Canyon district to a high of nearly 71 percent in the Pittsburg district.

Although the state says Canyon has no English learners or low-income students, Superintendent Gloria Faircloth said that’s a mistake and she estimates about 12 percent of students qualify for free and reduced lunches. In Pittsburg, 80 percent of students are low-income and 32 percent don’t speak English fluently.

Officials in these and other districts said they are waiting to see what the final outcome will be.

“It should change a little bit, but it still doesn’t look good for us,” said Faircloth, whose district educates about 66 K-8 students. “We’re so small, but with our operating costs, there’s a lot of things we have to do, so we’re not crazy about the new funding method. I understand why the governor wants to do this. It seems equitable for other districts, but we were all low, so it would be nice if we could go up (more).”

Canyon’s funding would rise by $857 per student, from $6,945 in 2011-12 to $7,802 when the plan is fully implemented. Pittsburg’s per student funding, on the other hand, would grow by $4,813 per student, rising from $6,799 in 2011-12 to $11,612 with full implementation.

Enrique Palacios, Pittsburg’s Deputy Superintendent of Business Services, said more money will mean more accountability.

“The challenge is, OK, we’re getting all this money,” he said, “but now the expectation is we have to bring the performance of students up and the decisions are going to be left to the local level.”

For districts that believe they will need more money, Palacios said the governor is also proposing to lower the threshold for passing a parcel tax from two-thirds voter approval to 55 percent.

The San Ramon Valley Unified District, which currently receives about $6.6 million a year through a parcel tax, would get a funding increase of about 39 percent under the local funding formula, based on a relatively low number of needy students, including 4.5 percent English learners and 2.5 percent who qualify for free and reduced price meals.

“The concept of local control is something that I think all school districts have wanted back for a long, long time,” said district spokesman Terry Koehne. “But, the devil’s in the details. That comes with a certain level of disparity. It’s going to mean that our district will most likely not receive as much money as other districts, so it’s a double-edged sword.”

Orinda Union Elementary would see a bump of about $2,027 per student when the formula is fully implemented, going from about $5,753 in 2011-12 to $7,780 per student, or a 35 percent increase.

“We’re very disappointed in the formula,” said Orinda Superintendent Joe Jaconette, “There shouldn’t really be winners and losers.”

Moraga Superintendent Bruce Burns agreed, saying the state should strive to raise all districts to the national average.

“There’s going to be some push-back from communities like Lamorinda,” he said. “They pay higher property taxes and income taxes and would expect a return on their tax dollar investment.”

A breakdown of all the projections is at

Do you support the governor’s funding proposal?

Posted on Friday, February 22nd, 2013
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 118 Comments »

Do you know how to shelter in place?

Children across Contra Costa County participated in the 11th Annual Countywide Shelter in Place Drill on Wednesday to practice safety procedures in the event of a hazardous materials release.

At Murwood Elementary in Walnut Creek, students and staff assembled in the main school building and made sure doors and windows were shut tight, said Tony Semenza, Executive Director of the Contra Costa County Community Awareness Emergency Response Group, or CAER, which coordinated the drill.

“Remember,” he said, “this was a school that was only a few hundred yards away from the (gas) pipeline explosion a few years ago and that is about a quarter of a mile from Interstate 680 where you could have a tanker truck overturn.”

Children in day care centers and public and private schools were invited to practice responding to Community Warning System sirens, as well as radio, TV, social media and subscribed cell phone alerts.

Hazardous material releases could result from accidents at chemical or wastewater treatment plants, manufacturing or storage facilities and refineries, or from collisions involving trucks or trains that transport chemicals, according CAER.

Participants are asked to take shelter in enclosed areas and to shut off ventilation systems that bring air from outside indoors.

Semanza said his staff visited Murwood a week before the drill and inspected the school’s windows and doors to see if air might leak through.

The doors were airtight and no windows were cracked, he said. The staff was advised to evacuate four trailers on the campus and bring everyone to the main building, which includes rest rooms, drinking fountains and a cafeteria, he added.

“If they sheltered in place for a long time,” he said, “they could survive very well.”

In addition to the custodian, Semanza said several teachers were trained to shut off the ventilation in the event the custodian might become incapacitated or unavailable in an emergency, he said.

CAER also typically recommends that younger children congregate with teachers in large areas such as multipurpose rooms, where older students and adults can help support them, he added.

More information about sheltering in place is available by calling 925-313-9296 or by visiting Click on “Prepare for Emergencies.”

Posted on Thursday, November 8th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | No Comments »

STAR scores show improvement in Contra Costa County

California’s recently released Standardized Reporting and Testing, or STAR, results for students in grades 2-11 showed most districts in Contra Costa County made gains in English language arts and math from 2011 to 2012. The state’s goal is for each student to score proficient or better.

Here’s how the districts stacked up against each other, with comparisons of English scores from 2011-12 followed by comparisons of math scores:

Percentage of Contra Costa district students scoring proficient or better:

2011 English, 2012 English,(Change), 2011 Math, 2012 Math,(Change)
Acalanes HS: 84.8, 87.2,(+2.4), 56.1, 57.5, (+1.4)
Antioch Unified: 47.1, 49.2,(+2.1), 38.3, 40.4, (+2.1)
Brentwood: 65.8, 69.1, (+3.3), 68.3, 68.4,(+0.1)
Byron: 62.1, 64.4, (+2.3), 64.4, 65.5, (+1.1)
Canyon: 79.6, 78.8, (-0.8), 70.4, 71.7, (+1.3)
John Swett Unified: 46.4, 50.3, (+3.9), 42.1, 43., (+0.9)
Knightsen: 64.4, 61.7, (-2.7), 68.4, 67.9, (-0.5)
Lafayette: 85.3, 87.6, (+2.3), 85.4, 88.0,(+2.6)
Liberty HS: 52.9, 60.4, (+7.5), 26.0, 29.5,(+3.5)
Martinez Unifed: 66.8, 69.0, (+2.2), 62.3, 65.6, (+3.2)
Moraga: 91.8, 93.3, +1.5, 90.6, 90.6, same
Mt. Diablo Unified: 56.8, 59.4, (+2.6), 52.1, 53.1, (+2.0)
Oakley: 55.9, 61.0, (+5.1), 52.9, 57.3, (+4.4)
Orinda: 91.6, 93.1, (+1.5), 91.2, 92.1, (+0.9)
Pittsburg Unified: 41.0, 44.3, (+3.3), 41.9, 43.5, (+1.6)
San Ramon Unified: 84.7, 86.1, (+1.4), 78.5, 79.4, (+0.9)
Walnut Creek: 81.0, 83.4, (+2.4), 79.9, 82.7,(+2.8)
West Contra Costa Unified: 42.0, 44.2, (+2.2), 37.8, 38.1, (+0.3)
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY: 60.6, 63.3, (+2.7), 55.1, 56.5, +1.4)
CALIFORNIA: 54.4, 57.2, (+2.8), 50.4, 51.5, (+1.1)

High schools in unified districts tended to score worse on math than elementary and middle schools in those districts, according to this 2012 comparison provided to the Times by the Liberty high school district, which said its scores were comparable to other high schools:

Acalanes HS ELA: 88.2; math 59.3
Campolindo HS ELA 89.1; math 57.7
Las Lomas HS ELA 81.3; math 48.7
Miramonte HS 93.5; math 67.2

Antioch HS ELA 40.4; math 10.8
Deer Valley HS ELA 53.2; math 18.9
Dozier-Libby HS ELA 70.5; math 16.4

Freedom HS ELA 56.6; math 29.4
Heritage HS ELA 73.4; math 34,0
Liberty HS ELA 60.0; math 25.8

Alhambra HS ELA 69.1; math 55.8

Clayton Valley HS ELA 58.0; math 26.4
College Park HS ELA 67.9; math 37.1
Concord HS ELA 51.5; math 22.9
Mt. Diablo HS ELA 33.2; math 10.8
Northgate HS ELA 78.3; math 46.6
Ygnacio Valley HS ELA 32.9; math 15.0

Pittsburg HS ELA 35.1; math 18.2

California HS ELA 80.4; math 65.0
Dougherty Valley HS ELA 88.7; math 74.5
Monte Vista HS ELA 85.7; math 60.1
San Ramon HS ELA 79.0; math 56.4

De Anza HS ELA 37.2; math 11.8
El Cerrito HS ELA 42.4; math 15.8
Hercules HS ELA 50.0; math 14.8
Kennedy HS ELA 16.3; math 3.1
Middle College HS 81.3; math 32.6
Pinole Valley HS ELA 36.5; math 9.5
Richmond HS ELA 20.5; math 2.5

How do you think high schools could improve math instruction?

Posted on Saturday, September 8th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 37 Comments »

Candidate filing period for Nov. 6 election opens July 16

The filing period for local candidates planning to run for open seats in the Nov. 6 election opens July 16 and closes Aug. 10, unless an incumbent fails to file for re-election. In that case, the deadline is automatically extended to Aug. 15, according to political reporter Lisa Vorderbrueggen, who has compiled a long list of open seats in local agencies.

Here’s an excerpt of her list, which includes school board openings in Contra Costa and Alameda counties:

Contra Costa:

Acalanes Union High School District (two seats)
Antioch Unified School District (three seats)
Brentwood Union School District (two seats)
Byron Union School District (two seats)
Canyon Elementary School District (two seats)
Contra Costa County Board of Education (two seats)
Contra Costa Community College District (two seats, wards 2 and 5)
Chabot-Las Positas Community College District (one seat, Ward 7)
John Swett Unified School District (two seats)
Knightsen School District (three seats)
Lafayette School District (two seats)
Liberty Union High School District (two seats)
Livermore Valley Joint Unified School District (two seats)
Martinez Unified School District (three seats)
Moraga School District (two seats)
Mt. Diablo Unified School District (two seats)
Oakley Union Elementary School District (two seats)
Orinda Union School District (two seats)
Pittsburg Unified School District (three seats)
San Ramon Valley Unified School district (two seats)
Walnut Creek School District (two seats)
West Contra Costa Unified School District (two seats)

Alameda County:

Alameda Unified School District (three seats)
Castro Valley Unified School District (three seats)
Dublin Unified School District (three seats)
Fremont Unified School District (three seats)
Hayward Unified School District (three seats)
Livermore Unified School District (two seats)
Mount House Elementary (one seat)
New Haven Unified School District (three seats)
Newark Unified School District (three seats)
Pleasanton Unified School District (three seats)
San Leandro Unified School district (three seats)
San Lorenzo Unified School District (four seats)
Sunol Glen Unified School district (1 seat)

In the Mt. Diablo district, incumbents Gary Eberhart and Sherry Whitmarsh have not yet publicly announced whether they intend to seek re-election. The teachers’ union has endorsed challengers Brian Lawrence and Attila Gabor. District residents Ernie DeTrinidad and Debra Mason have also told me they intend to run.

What are you looking for in a candidate?

AUG. 22 UPDATE: I have received a phone call from Mt. Diablo teachers’ union President Guy Moore informing me that MDEA has endorsed retired College Park HS Principal Barbara Oaks, now that Attila Gabor has pulled out of the race due to health concerns.

Posted on Tuesday, July 10th, 2012
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education, Election, Mt. Diablo school district | 63 Comments »

A closer look at graduation and dropout rates in Contra Costa County school districts

Earlier this week, the California Department of Education released improved data for high school graduation and dropout rates, which followed specific groups of students by grade level to track if they graduated in four years.

This was the second year in a row the state used this more sophisticated way of collecting data, making this the first year it could be compared from 2010 to 2011 to get a clearer picture of whether or not districts are improving.

Here’s how districts in Contra Costa County stacked up against each other, with 2010 graduation rates followed by 2011 rates and the change, then 2010 dropout rates followed by 2011 rates, along with the change. The graduation and dropout rates do not add up to 100 percent because some students had not graduated or dropped out by the end of four years.

District 2010, 2011 (change) 2010, 2011 (change)
Acalanes 95.4, 96.3 (+0.9) 3.3, 1.8 (-1.5)
Antioch 74.0, 73.1 (-0.9) 16.8, 17.2 (+0.4)
John Swett 75.3, 88.2 (+12.9) 16.7, 8.8 (-7.9)
Liberty 83.9, 85.1 (+1.2) 5.5, 5.5 (no change)
Martinez 84.9, 88.6 (+3.7) 8.1, 5.5 (-2.6)
Mt. Diablo 74.8, 81.8 (+7.0) 18.8, 11.4 (-7.4)
Pittsburg 64.3, 66.3 (+2.0) 30.9, 25.5 (-5.4)
San Ramon 96.4, 96.8 (+0.4) 2.2, 1.6 (-0.6)
West Contra Costa 72.6, 74.0 (+1.4) 22.0, 20.5 (-1.5)
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY 79.9, 82.2 (+2.3) 13.8, 11.0 (-2.8)
STATE 74.8, 76.3 (+1.5) 16.6, 14.4 (-2.2)
To see complete results, including school data, visit t and select “graduates” on level 2.

Acalanes and San Ramon Valley had the best results, with more than 96 percent of students graduating and less than 2 percent dropping out. The John Swett, Liberty, Martinez and Mt. Diablo districts posted respectable results, with more than 80 percent of students graduating and less than 10 percent dropping out in all but Mt. Diablo.

These results included impressive one-year improvement in the John Swett and Mt. Diablo districts, with John Swett’s graduation rate soaring nearly 13 percentage points and its dropout rate falling about 8 percentage points. Mt. Diablo’s graduation rate jumped about 7 percentage points, while its dropout rate fell by about 7.4 percentage points.

But Rose Lock, assistant superintendent of Student Achievement and School Support in Mt. Diablo, said the district wasn’t completely sure the data was accurate. She said districts have the opportunity to correct their data in July, if there are discrepancies.

The Mt. Diablo school board reduced graduation requirements in 2011, dropping required math courses from three years to two years and the total number of credits from 230 to 200. But Lock said she did not think there was a correlation between the lowered requirements and the higher graduation rate.

Here is a comparison of graduation requirements in Contra Costa County districts:

Contra Costa County districts with the lowest graduation rates and highest dropout rates were Antioch, Pittsburg and West Contra Costa, with all three faring worse that the state average of 76.3 percent graduating and 14.4 percent dropping out.

Here’s more information about the statewide results, from a California Department of Education press release:

“Graduation rates among California’s public school students are climbing and dropout rates are falling, with the biggest gains being made among English learners and the state’s largest minority groups, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced (Wednesday).

More than three quarters, or 76.3 percent, of students who started high school in 2007 graduated with their class in 2011. That is up 1.5 percentage points from the 2010 graduation rate. Larger gains were seen among Hispanic and African American students at 2.2 and 2.3 percentage points respectively, with the biggest increase being among English learners at 3.8 percentage points. The graduation rate for socioeconomically disadvantaged students climbed nearly 2 percentage points, from 68.1 to 70 percent.

‘Every graduate represents a success story in one of the most effective job and anti-poverty programs ever conceived, our public schools,’ Torlakson said. ‘These numbers are a testament to the hard work of teachers and administrators, of parents and, most of all, of the students themselves. While they are a great illustration of all that is going right in California schools, they should also remind us that schools need our support to continue to improve so that every student graduates prepared for college, a career, and to contribute to our state’s future.’

Beyond the 76.3 percent graduation rate and the 14.4 percent dropout rate, the remaining 9.3 percent are students who are neither graduates nor dropouts. Some are still enrolled in school (8.6 percent). Others are non-diploma special education students (0.4 percent), and some elected to pass a high school equivalency exam.

Graduation and dropout rates for counties, districts, and schools across California were calculated based on four-year cohort—referring to this particular group of students—information using the state’s California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System (CALPADS). This is the second time this four-year cohort information was collected, making this the first time that it can be compared year to year. With two years of data, the cohort rates will now be used to determine whether schools have met their targets for increasing the graduation rate for the Adequate Yearly Progress reporting under the federal school accountability system. The 2009-10 rates were also adjusted as a part of this data release (marked “A” in the tables below) to include only those students who were first-time ninth graders in the 2006-07 school year.

The new cohort dropout rate is calculated for high school students, grades nine through twelve. However, there are also significant numbers of students who drop out of school during the middle school years.

‘Our research shows that chronic absence from school, even as early as kindergarten, is a strong indicator of whether a child will drop out of school later,’ Torlakson said. ‘The dropout rate shows there’s still much work to be done, particularly to address the needs of disadvantaged and minority students. We must build on our work with parents and communities in the earliest years to pave the way for kids to succeed in school.

CALPADS has made great strides since an independent oversight consultant was critical of the initial release of the system in 2009. In its latest report, the same independent oversight consultant concluded, ‘The CALPADS project is presently in the healthiest state of its history.’

To view and download state, county, district, and school graduation and dropout rates, please visit the CDE DataQuest Web site at DataQuest. Reporters are encouraged to use caution when comparing education rates among individual schools and districts; some, such as county office schools, alternative schools or dropout recovery high schools, serve only those students who are already at the greatest risk of dropping out, compared with the broader population at traditional high schools.”

Education Trust-West, an advocacy group, released a statement that was more harsh in its assessment of the data released, but found a few bright spots throughout the state:

“For the second year in a row, the California Department of Education (CDE) has released accurate and transparent graduation and dropout rate data thanks to the state’s use of CALPADS, the California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System. The data once again reveal that California’s schools are graduating Latino, African-American, and low-income students at alarmingly low rates.

The data show that three out of four (76%) of our state’s students are graduating from high school in four years.

Sadly, the news is far worse for the state’s African-American, Latino, and low-income students, who graduate from high school at abysmally low rates—63% and 70%, respectively.

Education outcomes for students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students, and English learners, whose needs and potential are often overlooked, are particularly disturbing when compared with the graduation rates of their more advantaged peers. For example, California’s white students graduate at a rate of 86% and Asian students at a rate of 90%.

‘Even though these rates are improving, at the rate California is going, it will take us 13 years to close the graduation gap between Latino and African-American students and their white peers,’ said Arun Ramanathan, Executive Director of The Education Trust—West, a statewide education civil rights organization. ‘Every high school dropout is an individual tragedy. Tens of thousands of dropouts represent a large scale-tragedy for the California economy and our state’s future prosperity. It’s time we stopped talking about this problem and invested in the strategies that top districts and schools are using to fix it.’

In spite of these overall statewide trends, the data reveal districts with better results for Latino and African-American students.

In 2010-11, Castro Valley Unified (Alameda County) graduated 94% of their Latino students, while in Sanger Unified (Fresno County) and West Covina Unified (Los Angeles County), 95% of their Latino students graduated in four years.

In ABC Unified (Los Angeles County), 90% of their African-American students graduated in four years. Corona-Norco Unified (Riverside County) posted similarly high graduation rates for their African-American students (88%), and Clovis Unified (Fresno County) graduated 93% of their African-American students.

The data also reveal high schools throughout California with similar strong results for African-American and Latino students, a few of which were recently highlighted in The Education Trust—West report, Repairing the Pipeline: A Look at the Gaps in California’s High School to College Transition. There are a number of high schools serving high proportions of Latino students (more than 65%) with high graduation rates in 2010-11.

At Calipatria High School in Calipatria Unified School District 91% of Latino students graduated in four years.

Imperial High in Imperial Unified School District graduated 98% of their Latino graduates.

At Southwest High in Central Union High School District, 89% of Latino students graduated in four years.

Our analysis also found high schools serving high proportions of African-American students (more than 15%) with high graduation rates in 2010-11.

Rancho Cucamonga High School and Etiwanda High School, both in Chaffey Joint Union High School District had high African-American graduation rates of 88% and 91% respectively.

Kearny Digital Media and Design School, a Linked Learning model in San Diego Unified, graduated 89% of their low-income students, and 83% of their African-American students.

Arthur Benjamin Health Professions High School, a Linked Learning model in Sacramento City Unified, with an African-American student population of nearly 30%, graduated 92% of their African-American students.

‘These districts and schools reveal that our statewide results are not inevitable. We know that approaches such as Linked Learning that tie college rigor to career relevancy; investments in credit recovery; and strong counseling supports are critical to fixing this crisis. Yet, these are the very supports that many districts have cut over the past several years. Our high school accountability system must include graduation rates, dropout rates, and college and career readiness metrics for low-income students and students of color core. This would incentivize schools and districts to ensure that all of their students graduate from high school prepared to succeed in college and career.’

About The Education Trust—West
The Education Trust—West works for the high academic achievement of all students at all levels, pre-k through college. We expose opportunity and achievement gaps that separate students of color and low-income students from other youth, and we identify and advocate for the strategies that will forever close those gaps.”

Are you satisfied with your district’s results?

JULY 12 UPDATE: We have just added a searchable database to our website, where you can look up 2011 graduation and dropout rates by county, district and schools:

Posted on Friday, June 29th, 2012
Under: Contra Costa County, Education | 16 Comments »

30 East Bay elementary schools named “2012 California Distinguished Schools”

Congratulations to the 30 East Bay elementary campuses that were named 2012 California Distinguished Schools!

Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, announced Thursday that 387 schools throughout California earned that honor for innovative education programs that encourage students to learn and help close the achievement gap.

“The schools we are recognizing today demonstrate the incredible commitment of California’s teachers, administrators, and school employees to provide a world-class education to every student, in spite of the financial hardships facing our state and our schools,” Torlakson said in a news release. “Their dedication is inspiring, and I applaud and admire their passion and persistence.”

Here are the East Bay schools that made the list, by county and district:


Alameda City Unified: Amelia Earhart Elementary, Donald D. Lum Elementary

Berkeley Unified: Malcolm X Elementary

Castro Valley Unified: Chabot Elementary, Independent Elementary, Jensen Ranch Elementary, Palomares Elementary, Vannoy Elementary

Dublin Unified: James Dougherty Elementary, John Green Elementary

Fremont Unified: Forest Park Elementary, Glenmoor Elementary, Hirsch Elementary, J. Haley Durham Elementary, Oliveira Elementary, Parkmont Elementary, Warm Springs Elementary

Livermore Valley Joint Unified: Altamont Creek Elementary, Arroyo Seco Elementary

Oakland Unified: Acorn Woodland Elementary, Henry J. Kaiser Jr. Elementary

Pleasanton Unified: Fairlands Elementary


Byron Union Elementary: Discovery Bay Elementary, Timber Point Elementary

Martinez Unified: John Swett Elementary, Morello Park Elementary

Mt. Diablo Unified: Highlands Elementary

Pittsburg Unified: Los Medanos Elementary

West Contra Costa Unified: Hanna Ranch Elementary, Olinda Elementary

The complete list is on the California Department of Education’s website at

Here is more information about the annual recognition program, from the news release:

“The 2012 California Distinguished Schools Program focuses on California’s students and their entitlement to an equitable and rigorous education. The program identifies and honors those schools that have demonstrated educational excellence for all students and progress in narrowing the achievement gap.

To be invited to apply for Distinguished School honors, schools must meet a variety of eligibility criteria including designated federal and state accountability measures based on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and the Academic Performance Index requirements.

Once schools are deemed eligible, the CDE (California Department of Education) invites them to apply to be recognized as a California Distinguished School. The application process consists of a written application, which includes a comprehensive description of two of the school’s signature practices, and a county-led site validation review process, which validates the implementation of those signature practices.

Elementary and secondary schools (middle and high schools) are recognized in alternate years. This year focuses on elementary schools.

Schools earning the Distinguished School title agree to share their signature practices with other schools and serve as mentors to other educators who want to replicate their work. An updated searchable database of these Signature Practices will be available later this spring by the California Department of Education.

Schools selected for recognition will be honored as Distinguished Schools at award ceremonies where Torlakson will present each school with a 2012 Distinguished School plaque and flag. The event and awards are funded by donations from many of California’s most prominent corporations and statewide educational organizations.

To see signature practices shared by the 2009 California Distinguished Elementary Schools, visit

What are your school’s signature practices?

Posted on Friday, March 30th, 2012
Under: Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education | No Comments »