By Doug Oakley
Berkeley High School has more students graduating and fewer dropping out compared with schools statewide and in Alameda County, recent data from the state Department of Education show.
But at the same time, Berkeley High School 11th-graders are doing worse in English and math than schools statewide and in Alameda County.
The good news is that elementary school students in Berkeley have improved their scores in English and math.
Eighty-four percent of Berkeley High students graduated this year, compared with 74 percent who graduate statewide and in Alameda County. Berkeley's dropout rate is 14.4 percent compared with 18 percent statewide and 19 percent for Alameda County.
"I'm pleased that our numbers are good relatively, but our standard is to get everybody graduated," Berkeley schools Superintendent William Huyett said.
Huyett credits Berkeley High's small school programs, which assign 3,400 students to several small learning environments, and a more personal approach toward students, for the graduation and dropout rates.
"You have to give the staff a lot of credit for making students feel that they belong," Huyett said. "And part of it is our small school program. There is quite a personalization going on at Berkeley High that is keeping kids there and making them feel like they belong."
In the testing arena, Berkeley 11th-graders are doing worse than their counterparts in Alameda County and the state in math and English. Elementary school kids in Berkeley are showing improvement over years past, Huyett said.
For example, in math, 21 percent of 11th-graders in Berkeley were "far below basic" compared with 5 percent in the same category statewide and 6 percent in Alameda County. Twenty-three percent were proficient in math compared with 33 percent statewide and in Alameda County.
In English, just 15 percent of Berkeley 11th-graders were proficient, compared with 24 percent statewide and 23 percent in Alameda County.
Huyett said that is because many high school students in Berkeley are more focused on college entrance examinations than they are on the California Standards Tests and don't try as hard on the state tests. The high school has made progress, he said, and 10 percent more students took the test this year than in the previous year.
"It's been problematic in making sure all our students take the test and take it seriously," Huyett said.
Huyett said it's not fair to single out the 11th-grade results and have them speak for the entire district.
"You have to look at all the grade levels and look at them over time," Huyett said. "The school district has made a lot of progress in getting kids to reach proficiency in the kindergarten through eighth-grade program."
For example, in grades 2 through 7, the percentage of those proficient in math has grown from 60 percent in 2008 to 72 percent this year, Huyett said.
And in English in grades 2 through 5, the percentage of kids proficient went from 53 percent in 2008 to 64 percent this year.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley