Using a new, multimeasure school rating system, the Oakland-based nonprofit GreatSchools has produced a fresh look at a stubbornly persistent problem: racial and ethnic gaps in student achievement in California schools.
Among the findings in “Searching for Opportunity,” which was released on Wednesday:
- Only 2 percent of African-American students and 6 percent of Latino students attend what GreatSchools defines as high-performing and high-opportunity schools, compared with 59 percent of white and 73 percent of Asian students;
- Only 22 percent of African-American and 19 percent of Latino students attend a school where the majority of graduates in their racial group has successfully passed courses making them eligible to attend a California State University and University of California campus, compared with 58 percent of white and 91 percent of Asian students;
- Nearly three-quarters of African-American students and 58 percent of Latino students attend a school where students score on average below the 40th percentile on standardized tests in math, English language arts and science, compared with 5 percent of white students and 3 percent of Asian students.
“Disparities in academic outcomes mirror the disparities that exist in access to rigorous coursework and other academic opportunities,” the report said.
The report, said Samantha Brown Olivieri, GreatSchools vice president for growth and strategy, showed that many African-American and Latino students “not only lack access to good schools, but many students get a very different experience within the same schools” than their white and Asian student peers. Student suspension rates are higher for African-American students in particular, as is chronic absenteeism.
Earlier this year, GreatSchools introduced a multidimensional school rating system for California schools that it says it will update and expand nationwide on its website. Its rating system is similar in some respects to the California School Dashboard, the new school ranking system that the State Board of Education debuted in March. Along with test scores reported by ethnicity, race and income status, GreatSchools includes college readiness measures such as SAT scores, access to advanced courses, teachers’ level of experience, and average class sizes. The new report includes data on student suspensions and chronic absenteeism, which the state’s school dashboard will add this fall.
GreatSchools says that its ranking system, based on a rating of 1 to 10, makes it easier to compare school results and is easier to understand than the state’s dashboard.
What the GreatSchools report doesn’t include are comparisons for low-income students, who make up almost 60 percent of California students, and English learners, the who make up nearly a quarter of the state’s students. Enrollment numbers of those students are also the basis for distributing money and setting academic priorities under the Local Control Funding Formula. Brown Olivieri said that the site will include information on the progress of English learners after it can obtain more state data.
Like the state dashboard, the new GreatSchools report is hampered by two- to three-year-old state data for some measures other than test scores, and, in its choice of data on student suspensions and absences, old federal data. However, because it’s old, the GreatSchools report and website can provide a base for measuring progress under the funding formula, which first received substantial funding in 2014-15.
The report includes a list of 156 “Spotlight Schools” that GreatSchools said are providing the strongest outcomes: 41 for their results for African-American students and 126 for their results for Latino students; 11 schools rate high for both student groups.** The report did look at income in the Spotlight Schools and found that in half of the schools, low-income students made up at least 55 percent of students, slightly below the state average. Brown Olivieri said that the schools should be studied to understand why they are successful.
While charter schools make up 12 percent of schools, they are 31 percent of the list’s high-performing schools. Half of the successful schools serving low-income students are also charters.
To be a Spotlight School serving Latino or African-American students, a school had to:
- Earn an 8 or higher out of 10 on at least one GreatSchools rating indicator (test scores, college readiness or advanced course offerings);
- Earn no less than a 7 on the same rating indicators;
- Serve at least the state average enrollment of Latino or African-American students;
- Have a suspension rate for Latinos or African Americans less than 5 percent higher than the school’s overall suspension rate.