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Oakland Schools Struggle to Overcome Academic Hump

Posted: Nov 16, 2012

Oakland Unified School District's academic progress seems to be stuck in the mud.

Despite recent gains, the district is spinning its wheels in trying to reach its benchmark goals around student proficiency in core academic areas.

In a recent report looking at student proficiency over a three-year period, modest academic gains are overshadowed by stagnant or declining results in key areas. In addition, all of the district’s positive numbers are well below state averages.

OUSD board directors say that while they are comfortable with the policy and goals of Superintendent Tony Smith, they want to see more rapid advancements in student achievement.

"It's not moving fast enough, but it's moving," OUSD School Director Christopher Dobbins said. "The important thing is that we're going forward."

The report looks at the Oakland district over a three-year period, from 2009 until 2012, and examines a number of categories including proficiency in math and English.

A bright area in the report notes that gains are being made by district students in the area of English Language Arts, with proficiency jumping from 37 percent in 2009 to 45 percent in 2012. Math proficiency also rose in that time period, from 39 percent in 2009 to 45 percent in 2012.

In science, 50 percent of fifth grade students are proficient for 2012. That's a 6 percent jump from 2010.

But, students of color have mixed numbers in the report.

For this year, the number of African-American students proficient in math is at 36 percent. That's a drop from the year prior which was 38 percent. In 2009 math proficiency was 34 percent.

Hispanic students also saw up and down numbers. About 46 percent of students this year are proficient, a drop from 48 percent in 2011. For 2009, 40 percent of Hispanic students were math proficient.

English learners had yo-yo numbers over the study period. Proficiency in math declined in 2012 to 51 percent from 53 percent in 2011. But, that's higher than the 46 percent in 2009.

Chronic absence also continues to be a challenge for the district. While the number of students chronically absent has dropped from one in 10, overall it's still high. Today, one in nine Oakland public school students is considered chronically absent. This severely impacts student academic achievement, as well as the district's finances, which receives state money on a per pupil basis.

The report notes that 20 schools have recently met the district's goal of reducing chronic absences to five percent. But, the vast majority of OUSD's schools, 75, are still struggling.

In a separate report on student enrollment, the overall pattern for Oakland Unified School District continues to be children leaving the district in large numbers. While key areas like graduation and dropouts rates show improved results, overall the district continues to lose students at a rapid clip.

Oakland Unified has a 36,262 enrolled in its schools; that's a sharp drop from 37,742 that were enrolled last year.

Even when accounting for students that have left the district to attend charter schools, there is still a significant drop in its numbers. In the 2000-01 school year there were 52,842 students enrolled. In addition, while the district presents the enrollment numbers for charter schools, it's unclear how many of those charter students were formerly enrolled in OUSD schools.

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