Credit: PAT MAIO / EDSOURCE TODAY
Fourth-grade students at Wilson Elementary School in Sanger, Calif.

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.

Hispanic students comprise 54 percent of student enrollment in California; African Americans make up 6 percent

Source: GreatSchools

Latino students comprise 54 percent of student enrollment in California; African Americans make up 6 percent.

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.
** The 11 Spotlight Schools serving Latinos and African American students are Alliance College-Ready Academy High No. 5, South Los Angeles; Centennial High School, Corona; Environmental Charter High School, Lawndale; Hawthorne Math And Science Academy, Hawthorne; Juan De Anza Elementary School, Hawthorne; Middle College High School, Los Angeles; Park Western Place Elementary School, San Pedro; Preuss School UCSD, La Jolla; Richard Henry Dana Middle School, Hawthorne; Richardson PREP HI Middle School, San Bernadino; University Preparatory School, San Bernadino.

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  1. Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 month ago1 month ago

      Very interesting visualization of dashboard data by Riverside County Office of Ed, Jake. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Vito 1 month ago1 month ago

    The statistics show there’s an achievement gap between whites and Asians too. Can someone explain that one?

  3. Floyd Thursby 1 month ago1 month ago

    The Achievement Gap is the greatest civil rights issue of our time and the cause of income and wealth inequality. We need to provide free tutoring to all low income kids and should make it mandatory for all kids behind on test levels starting in 1st grade if their parents are receiving government aid such as public housing, so that we make poverty one generational. Most non-immigrants who are poor stay poor, and their … Read More

    The Achievement Gap is the greatest civil rights issue of our time and the cause of income and wealth inequality. We need to provide free tutoring to all low income kids and should make it mandatory for all kids behind on test levels starting in 1st grade if their parents are receiving government aid such as public housing, so that we make poverty one generational. Most non-immigrants who are poor stay poor, and their kids stay poor.
    We need a transformative approach and that will mean kids will have to study and read thousands of more hours over the course of their childhood. It will take a lot of work, let’s not kid ourselves. There’s nothing the system can do to get equal results between a group of kids who study and read 250 hours a year and a group who study and read 1,000 hours a year outside the classroom, but if we’re honest and the poor truly want to change and we give some tutoring we can eliminate the gap. We just have to stop thinking we can do the whole thing in the classroom. It has to happen at home and parents need to take ownership of their failures and raise their kids to be better. A good parent raises a kid to improve and a bad one makes no progress or raises a kid to be worse than they were in life. Honesty is needed.