San Francisco schools earned bragging rights on state standardized tests again this year – performing better than the state as a whole across every grade in both math and English – but any celebration was clouded by the subpar proficiency of the district’s African American students, who continued to fall further behind their peers.
Nearly all other categories of San Francisco students, regardless of ethnicity, income or English language ability, outscored the city’s black students in California Standards Test results posted Thursday.
On the plus side, the scores of black students did go up about 1 percentage point in math proficiency and nearly 1 percentage point in English.
But that wasn’t as much as everyone else, meaning the achievement gap in San Francisco got worse.
“The achievement gap is the greatest civil rights issue facing our country today,” school Superintendent Carlos Garcia said in a statement.
The number of white students who were proficient or better in both math and English was about 50 percentage points higher than the city’s black students. In second-grade English, for example, 23 percent of blacks were proficient, compared to 74 percent of whites.
Special education students had slightly higher proficiency rates than black students in second-, third- and fourth-grade math as well as fourth-grade English.
The district tested 41,000 students, including 4,800 African Americans, in grades two through 11 in the spring.
San Francisco schools face a steep uphill battle in boosting the test results of black students, educators noted.
The test results are not surprising, said Omar Khalif, ombudsman for the city’s Juvenile Probation Department and an advocate for education and children’s issues. Khalif, who is running for a seat on the school board in November’s election, said black students often face obstacles tied to neighborhood poverty, crime and broken families.
But some schools are succeeding in the black communities – schools that hold high standards, said Khalif, a Bayview resident.
San Francisco’s shrinking middle class, especially in the black community, also has an impact on schools, said school board member Hydra Mendoza, who is also the education adviser to Mayor Gavin Newsom.
“When you have a healthy middle class, it really does change the dynamic of schools and housing,” Mendoza said.
The median household income for the city’s black population was $31,080, about $10,000 less than blacks statewide, according to 2006 U.S. Census estimates.
The median income for the city overall, however, was an estimated $65,500, about $9,000 more than the rest of the state.
In addition, 25 percent of blacks in San Francisco in 2000 lived in poverty and comprised nearly half of those living in public housing, according to the city’s African American Out-migration Task Force and Advisory Committee.
Such statistics are not an excuse but at least offer some explanation, Mendoza said.
“I recognize there is still a huge achievement gap, but I don’t want to lose the idea that our kids are gaining,” Mendoza said. “Some are gaining at a faster rate. That is what is widening our gap.”
But district officials said they believe black students can and will catch their peers.
“It gives me hope when we find out there are some places, in spite of difficult situations, that are doing well,” Garcia said.
District officials cited E.R. Taylor Elementary School, Roosevelt Middle School and Balboa High School as examples.
The San Francisco school board adopted a plan this year to identify schools where the achievement gap is widening. Those closing the gap will also be recognized and modeled.
Also, city voters in June approved a school parcel tax to raise an estimated $29 million annually, boosting teacher salaries, training staff on the needs of disadvantaged students, and providing incentives to teach in hard-to-staff schools – where students are more often than not black, Hispanic and poor.
“All of this work is going to be around the achievement gap,” said Phil Halperin, president of the Silver Giving Foundation and co-chairman of the parcel tax campaign. “They are focused like a laser beam on making sure all kids get a quality education, all kids get what they need out of schools.”