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Carol Kocivar / ON EDUCATION

Education cross-word

Making the grade? SF High School Task Force

• • • • • • • • September 21, 2023 • • • • • • • •

Years ago, my mother, the schoolteacher, gave me some great advice on test taking:  Read the Question. TWICE.

Unlike the urban myth of grading techniques that accuse teachers of tossing tests down the stairs to see which one goes the farthest, actual teacher or professor grading is much more scientific.

Teachers and professors frequently use rubrics to ensure grading consistency and fairness. They can’t be fooled by an essay that is intriguing but fails to answer the basic question.

I thought of this advice as I read the draft recommendations of the San Francisco High School Task Force. (The draft recommendations were written by the consultant to the committee, for review, edits, suggestions.)

What grade would I give it?   While the final meeting of the task force is not until Sept. 28, at this point the work falls short of its assignment in several areas. I hope this “grading” of the draft recommendations will help task force members look strategically at what more needs to be done to achieve a passing grade.

Overall grade:

100 possible points

Rubric grade 60.5

Committee Attendance 10 possible points

Rubric Score 6

Community Input 20 possible points

Rubric Score 12

High School Portfolio 20 possible points

Rubric Score 16

Improve Outcomes 30 possible points

Rubric Score 22.5

Admission Policies 20 possible points

Rubric score 4.

quotes

... how familiar the Task Force members are with the research that was presented and how well they are equipped to make data driven recommendations.”

Background

The San Francisco Board of Education passed Resolution No. 225-24Sp1-Amended in June 2022, creating the High School Task Force. The task is a big one: look at how SFUSD can improve high school education and student outcomes.

Below are rubric grades that measure how well the TF has completed its assignment so far. The items highlighted in red indicate grades.

Committee Attendance

How well or badly did the Task Force do in fulfilling its requirements for quorum/committee member attendance?

Possible points 10

Actual Score points 6 points based on rubric.

10

TF generally had ~100% attendance of its appointed members

7

TF generally had ~75% attendance

5

TF generally had ~50% attendance

3

TF generally had ~25% attendance

0

TF generally had less than 25% attendance of its appointed members

Initial attendance at Task Force organizational meetings was high but then declined significantly. The TF had very spotty attendance during the spring review of actual research, policy, and practice. Only 54% of committee members were even present for this. People also missed the informational meeting on selective admissions and their lack of background knowledge was evident.

This raises questions about how familiar the Task Force members are with the research that was presented and how well they are equipped to make data driven recommendations. Finally, there are serious questions about whose input the draft report truly represents, given that almost half of the committee was absent at times.

Community Input

Gather input from the community on what it needs and wants from the district’s high schools.

Possible points        20 

Actual Score points 12 based on rubric.

How well or badly did the TF do at getting input from the whole community on its wants and needs?

20

TF created & implemented a comprehensive & equitable process for gathering input from the community on what it needs/wants from district high schools, as required by the TF’s charter

14

TF created & implemented an uneven process for gathering input from the community on what it needs/wants from district high schools, as required by the TF’s charter

10

TF seemed unaware or uninterested in creating a comprehensive or equitable process for gathering community input on SFUSD high schools

4

TF was somewhat resistant to creating a comprehensive or equitable process for gathering community input on SFUSD high schools

0

TF was actively resistant to creating a comprehensive or equitable process for gathering community input on SFUSD high schools

Rubric score 12

You will notice that as a good student, I bolded the important parts of the questions that must be answered.

The Task Force did extensive outreach to high school communities throughout San Francisco–with 8,520 students, 939 staff, and 2145 family members/caregivers providing responses. There also were community listening sessions at three middle schools and three virtual sessions.

But despite the extensive outreach, the Task Force gathered limited data from the whole community on needs and wants. The Task Force missed a major opportunity to gather feedback from families of younger students who opted out of the public school system entirely.  With declining enrollments and a high percentage of families opting out of public schools, it would have been valuable to capture these viewpoints, especially on admissions and school quality issues.

There were also allegations of challenges in hearing the voices of non-English speakers. For example, the Chinese Parent Advisory Council went ahead and created its own alternative set of recommendations because they felt that Chinese voices specifically were not heard by the Task Force, despite representing a large percentage of SFUSD’s enrollment.

High School Portfolio Assignment

Here I divided the task into two parts: (1) How well did the Task Force understand and summarize the current portfolio of the district’s high schools? And then (2) how well did the Task Force compare and assess offerings and student outcomes across different high schools?

Possible points 20

Actual score points 16 based on rubric.

Summarize offerings - part 1.

10

TF created & implemented a comprehensive & equitable process for summarizing the current portfolio of the district’s high schools.

7

TF created & implemented an unbalanced process for summarizing the current portfolio of district high schools in response to its assignment

5

TF seemed unaware of or uninterested in addressing its assignment to summarize the current portfolio of SFUSD high schools

3

TF was somewhat resistant to addressing its assignment to summarize the current portfolio of SFUSD high schools

0

TF failed to summarize the current portfolio of SFUSD high schools

Rubric score: 10

Compare and assess offerings - part 2

10

TF thoroughly compared & assessed offerings & programs at different district high schools & connected them to differing student outcomes, as specified in the TF’s  assignment

7

TF compared & assessed offerings & programs at different district high schools & connected them to differing student outcomes, as specified in the TF’s assignment

5

TF seemed indifferent to its assignment to compare & assess offerings & programs at different district high schools; neglected to assess impact of these on differing student outcomes

3

TF was somewhat resistant to comparing & assessing offerings & programs at different district high schools; neglected to assess impact of these on differing student outcomes

0

TF failed to compare and assess impact of these offerings on differing student outcomes

Rubric score:  6

The High School Task Force received data from SFUSD comparing offerings at various high schools, including a comprehensive list of CTE programs. It also received data on outcomes (grades) for each high school.

The Task Force’s draft recommendations report relies on a comprehensive report, Looking at Student Journeys, and supporting documentation from Abl, a data partner, that provides an extensive analysis of which schools provide high intensity courses. An emphasis of this data is availability of advanced and college ready courses for students.

The data shows that large numbers of minority students are not even close to proficiency levels. Student outcomes appear to correlate closely with early opportunity gaps and failure to learn foundational skills in literacy and math.

Getting useful data is a difficult task. What if the assignment was to specifically review course offerings and supports that address the foundational literacy and math needs of struggling students? That assignment would provide different recommendations. This is something the TF should have noticed and adjusted its focus to address. If you don’t ask the right question, you don’t get the answer you need.

It would be helpful if the final task force report provides direct links to the data so that readers can benefit from this research.

Ways to Improve Outcomes

Provide recommendations to the Superintendent on ways to improve policies, practices, and programs to improve student outcomes across all high schools.

Possible Points 30 points

Actual score points 22.5 based on rubric

30

TF fully developed a clear & coherent set of recommendations to improve high school policies, practices, & programs.

24

TF analyzed & developed some recommendations to improve high school policies, practices, & programs.

18

TF uninterested in addressing its assignment to analyze & develop recommendations to improve high school policies, practices, & programs taking

12

TF was somewhat resistant to addressing its assignment to analyze & develop recommendations to improvehigh school policies, practices, & programs for better student outcomes

6

TF was actively resistant to addressing its assignment to analyze & develop recommendations to improvehigh school policies, practices, & programs for better student outcomes

The draft report’s overarching recommendations fall far short of addressing the major challenges that have been well-documented in both the national and regional news media.  SFUSD high school students’ widely cited lack of proficiency in English and math fundamentals makes it almost impossible for too many students to succeed in their academics. The report also fails to address the essential issues of chronic absenteeism that hamper student success.

Instead, the Task Force’s draft report focuses on common strategies, such as:

  1. Ensuring that all students have access to a distinctive and comprehensive pathway program in high school.
  2. Expanding student access to courses, especially advanced coursework aligned to college and career readiness, through innovations in how courses are offered.
  3. Intensifying the district’s commitment to ensuring that graduates have demonstrated mastery of the district’s Graduate Profile competencies.
  4. Establishing an expectation for all high school students to graduate with a clear plan for their future.
  5. Embracing "community schools" as the default approach for organizing student supports in higher need schools and link implementation closely to other shifts in the portfolio.
  6. Making information about schools clearer, more consistent, and more robust, with the goal of telling powerful stories about the strengths of each of our schools.

These are strong research-based suggestions that almost any school district would benefit from adopting.  However, they do not address how high schools should respond to the very large numbers of unprepared students they have to educate.
Examples of powerful ideas could have been recommended include:

  1. Training high school staff to support basic math and literacy skills,
  2. Screening of all incoming students to determine their specific literacy and math needs.
  3. Adjusting class schedules to provide these students with the additional instruction they need.
  4. Before- and after-school supports at high schools as well as summer programs for entering 9th graders.
  5. Personal outreach to parents to provide them with information and skills to support these students.

It is disappointing to see that the immediate needs of these students were not specifically addressed.

Selective Admissions Assignment

The Task Force was asked to examine admissions policies both for high schools with selective admissions and those with a comprehensive admissions policy.The Task Force’s draft recommendations were supposed to consider the district’s failure to close persistent achievement gaps and advise how the district can elevate the quality of education and improve outcomes for all students.

Possible points        20

Actual score points 4 based on rubric.

20

TF clearly & thoroughly examined & analyzed admission policies for both selective admission high schools and comprehensive high schools. and the district’s failure to close persistent achievement gap and advise how the district can elevate the quality of education and improve outcomes for all students.

14

TF looked at admission policies for both selective admission high schools and comprehensive high schools. and the district’s failure to close persistent achievement gaps and advise how the district can elevate the quality of education and improve outcomes for all students.

  10

TF seemed unaware of or uninterested in examining admissions policies for both kinds of high schools. and the district’s failure to close persistent achievement gaps and advise how the district can elevate the quality of education and improve outcomes for all students.

4

TF was somewhat resistant to addressing its assignment to examine & analyze admissions policies for both kinds of high schools and the district’s failure to close persistent achievement gaps and advise how the district can elevate the quality of education and improve outcomes for all students.

0

TF was actively resistant to addressing its assignment to examine & analyze admissions policies for both kinds of high schools and the district’s failure to close persistent achievement gaps and advise how the district can elevate the quality of education and improve outcomes for all students.

Experts on selective admission policies provided TF members with descriptions of the many schools throughout the U.S. that have selective admission policies, including those in California.  This discussion also revealed that the criteria used by Lowell are the most equitable and inclusive. Unfortunately, not all TF members attended this.

The draft task force report does not provide complete data on the impact of the Lowell admission policy on diversity. Conspicuously missing is the analysis that this policy dramatically increased diversity and that Lowell is more diverse than most other high schools. 

The draft task force report neglects to discuss the increased number of Ds and Fs under a lottery system and – because of opportunity and achievement gaps–how few African Americans meet proficiency standards.

It does not include data on admission rates of high school ready students by ethnicity.

In the 2021-2022 school year, raw numbers of high school ready 8th grade students included approximately:

  1. 189 White 8th graders  
  2. 689 Asian 8th graders
  3. 27 Black 8th graders
  4. 203 Latinx 8th graders

In that school year, the numbers of Lowell 9th graders in each of the SFUSD’s racial classifications were as follows:
• Lowell 9th graders included 99 White students (52% of 189 White high school ready 8th grader)
• Lowell 9th graders included 374 Asian students (39.7% of 689 Asian high school ready 8th grader)
Lowell 9th graders included 23 Black students (85% of 27 Black high school ready 8th graders)
Lowell 9th graders included 131 Latinx students (64% of 203 Latinx high school ready 8th graders

The draft task force analysis does not include a discussion on the district’s failure to close persistent achievement gaps.

It also failed to carefully review data on comprehensive high school admission policies and whether changing school assignment patterns could impact student achievement and chronic absenteeism.

Carol Kocivar is a children’s advocate and lives in the Westside. Feedback: kocivar@westsideobserver.com

September 21, 2023


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