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Will the SF Board of Education Tackle the Reading Proficiency Gap?

Huge Reading Gaps Within District

An upcoming San Francisco Board of Education Resolution from Board President Jenny Lam seeks to temporarily suspend all Committee meetings to focus more on student outcomes. Will they focus on the yawning district-wide gaps in reading proficiency? The two Student delegates, Cal Kinoshita and Isabella Hansen, have already taken note of the crisis.

Kinoshita, senior at Lowell High School, recently pointed out the huge disparities in reading levels across different schools: “Some of the data I found: only 22% of SFUSD third graders can read at reading grade level proficiency. The rates of grade level reading proficiency between Clarendon and Bret Harte elementary school, there is almost 60% difference. ”

He continued, “For middle school, there is almost a 50% difference between Willie Brown middle school and Presidio and AP Giannini middle schools. So I don’t really think we actually have to wonder why there are disparities in high school when we already see those disparities showing up. ”

The most recent data available on school evaluation website www.niche.com confirm Kinoshita’s work. Reading proficiency in 3rd grade at Clarendon Elementary was listed at 82%, and 8% at Bret Harte. Reading proficiency at 8th grade in Presidio Middle School was 73%, at AP Giannini Middle School it was 78%, at Willie Brown Middle School it was 25%.

Hansen, a senior at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, commented on how diversity and equity relate to such data: “But every school should have a diverse student body so that every student- black, chinese, latino, and all other students of color – have an accessible education and challenging academic classes if needed. ”

She added, “But shouldn’t the fact that SFUSD middle schools and elementary schools can’t provide the foundation for that be an issue? This is more than Lowell. We should look at the gaps and resources at every elementary and middle school and how that is connected to high school performance. ”

A recent blog post co-authored by Lowell teacher, Elizabeth Statmore, highlighted the same concern. Statmore writes with dyslexia advocate Megan Potente, “In a wealthy city that prizes equity, the San Francisco Unified School District has been promoting an unacceptably high percentage of 8th graders who cannot read at grade level; and the fact that the sudden change in Lowell admissions is what is shining a bright light on these disastrous reading results. ”

The concern of poor reading performance, known for years, is now exacerbated by the pandemic. Yet the District is in no rush to act. The budget for professional development has been cut. SFUSD Head of Curriculum and Instruction Dr. Nicole Priestly plans to pilot some different curricula at select schools this coming fall.

Board Commissioners Matt Alexander and Mark Sanchez were not worried when the District staff drastically removed parts of a proposed literacy resolution submitted in consultation with parents.

There are two Chinese characters for crisis, wēijī, 危機. Some may call San Francisco public schools a crisis in certain areas, some may call such a description too much. Regardless, this and every transition is a time of potential danger, wēi, 危, and a time of an opportunity, an inflection point jī, 機.

Parent impatience is building. One parent likened the District’s efforts to “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”

Havah Kelley, parent of a dyslexic district student, gave a heartbreaking public comment. She said, “I’ve been asking questions; I’ve been trying to collaborate; I’ve been trying to understand; and I’ve been trying to help my son for about 5 years now… I am begging this District, Curriculum and Instruction, Board of Education, to make a commitment that has profound and everlasting change. ”

District grandparent Rex Ridgeway, citing one elementary school that had an enrollment drop of 200 students over 10 years, and another school which had a classroom of 12 students, pleaded, “Fix the schools that are low performing.”

The state of California has provided grants to five of the lowest performing City schools in terms of 3rd grade reading: Charles Drew ES, Leonard R. Flynn ES, Bret Harte ES, Paul Revere PK-8, and Sanchez ES. Details of this multi-year grant will be discussed at the Board Meeting this Tuesday, item I-4.

Across the state, action on addressing lagging reading proficiency is building. Long Beach Unified, a district of similar size to San Francisco’s, has an external literacy tutoring service for identified students.

State Superintendent, Tony Thurmond, up for re-election this November, has plans to improve literacy across the state. His lack of specific plans have drawn criticism.

Kareem Weaver, member of the Oakland NAACP Education Committee and co-founder of the literacy instruction advocacy group FULCRUM, Full and Complete Reading is a Universal Mandate, said, “The state needs to get off the fence, and stop placating power. We need leadership at the state level, both in the Legislature and in the Department of Education, so there’s clarity and resources available to teachers to get the greatest number of kids reading. ”

Todd Collins, Palo Alto Unified school board member and organizer of the California Reading Coalition, recently wrote, “We need a comprehensive state-level plan to improve reading results.” He has several specific recommendations.

Los Angeles Unified has a new strategic plan in the first 100 days of the tenure of the new Superintendent from Miami, Alberto M. Carvalho. Evidence-based, outcome oriented policy is clearly stated: “In order to build a strong foundation for literacy, move third-grade students, on average, 30 points closer to proficiency on Smarter Balanced Assessment English Language Arts / Literacy from 2022 to 2026. Students in targeted student groups will move, on average, 40 points closer to proficiency over that time. ”

Filed under: Labor & Education

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