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BUSD Addresses Achievement Gap

The Berkeley School Board dedicated a significant portion of their routine Wednesday-night meetings on Wednesday, September 7 to a subject that plagues schools nationwide, but that is particularly stark in the Berkeley Unified School District: racial predictability.

It has been clear ever since Bay Area schools were desegregated in the 1960s that even when students of all races may occupy the same classroom spaces, disparity persists between the success rates of white students and students of color.  

According to research conducted by BUSD in 2014, 42 percent of African American third-grade students and 53 percent of Hispanic and Latino third graders read at grade level, compared with 89 percent of white third graders are reading at or above expectations.

While the data shows an increase in literacy compared with previous years, the achievement gap separating students of color from their white peers remains an object of critique in Berkeley schools.  

Every BUSD school has unique student issues to be addressed, but the patterns of racial predictability persist across the board such that district-wide action is appropriate. The school board’s addressal of racial predictability is part of “2020 Vision” and the Local Control Accountability Plan, ongoing efforts to academically empower students of color. Primary goals include increasing attendance and graduation rates.

According to the school district website, the 2020 Vision is a “community-wide effort to end the disparities in academic achievement that exist along racial lines among children and youth in Berkeley.”

The plan addresses achievement gaps starting in kindergarten and lasting through high school. Attendance and literacy rates are among the most emphasized areas of achievement that the program focuses on. Strategies for improvement outlined in the 2020 Vision plan include regular communication between administration and parents regarding attendance and the use of truancy letters and programs targeting child literacy that have been implemented in BUSD elementary schools.In accordance with the goals of “2020 Vision,” the school board is making changes from multiple angles. Data presented at the meeting showed that thirty percent of teachers hired in the 2015-16 school year identify as “Black, African-American, and/or Latino.”

Despite progress, one caveat to this objective is the importance of not only hiring but retaining faculty of color. Karen Hemphill, a member of the board, advocated at the meeting for “new teachers of color [having] a support network,” because “just as some of our students are beginning to have racial isolation you can have racial isolation as staff.”

For BHS, district-wide goals of ending racial predictability coincide with school’s goals of improvement. In an email to the BHS community this past April, Principal Sam Pasarow described the necessity for the BHS Redesign Process.

He wrote, “We recognize that Berkeley High School’s current structure does not align with research on effective high schools, and we have been unable to interrupt predictable and inequitable outcomes for students based on race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.”


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