Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Berkeley School's Chief Has Eye on Achievement Gap

By Doug Oakley
Staff Writer
Bay Area News Group

BERKELEY -- Taped to the wall in a long line across Donald Evans' office are the latest academic test scores of schools here, so the new superintendent knows just how each one is doing. 

Evans, who started the job three months ago, knows from those scores that if the city and school district are to meet their goal of closing the academic achievement gap between white students and students of color by 2020, they're going to have to work a lot harder. 

"It's doable, but it's going to take more than what we're doing right now," Evans said in an interview this week. "You're looking at a lot of kids in this community who have major resources, then on the other end of the spectrum there are kids with no resources at all -- and you're talking about leveling the playing field." 

Evans is convening a series of town hall meetings next month to hear from residents what they want out of the school district, including progress on the achievement gap. 

The 7 p.m. meetings will be on Oct. 8 at Frances Albrier Community Center, 2800 Park St.; Oct. 10 at Rosa Parks Elementary School, 920 Allston Way; and Oct. 17 at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, 1781 Rose St. 

In hiring Evans, the school board made closing the achievement gap a priority. The school district came up with the 2020 Vision Plan in 2008. 

By at least one measure progress is slow and the gap remains wide. 

In the five years the plan has been in place, English test scores of black ninth-graders have improved from 15 percent considered proficient to 24 percent proficient and from 75 percent below proficient to 67 percent below proficient. The percentage of those considered advanced, however, went from 10 percent to 9 percent. In the same time the English scores of white ninth-graders have stayed about the same with 67 percent in 2013 who were considered advanced, 24 percent proficient and 9 percent below proficient. 

"For some kids it's not just the academics," Evans said. "It's how do we meet the emotional and social needs as well. We do have some challenges. So the question I'll be asking the community at these meetings is, how can we better serve the needs of each student, what are we doing well and how do we focus our efforts." 

Evans said he is asking similar questions of teachers and principals. He said each school is "doing its own thing." Some are doing it better than others, however, and he said he wants to replicate the successes at underperforming schools. 

Evans came from a 19-month stint as schools superintendent in Hayward, which has some of the lowest test scores in Alameda County and some of the highest average class sizes. Even with those disadvantages, he said, the achievement gap is not as wide in Hayward as it is in Berkeley. "Here you have a huge gap and it's really apparent," he said. "And Berkeley has more resources and support for our kids."

Contact Doug Oakley at 510-843-1408. Follow him on Twitter at

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