Report names eight San Diego County school districts where students of color achieve higher than predicted

Experts identified Chula Vista Elementary, San Diego Unified and six other San Diego County school districts as positive outliers when it comes to combating the racial achievement gap.

A study of California school districts released Wednesday night by the Learning Policy Institute — a well-known education think tank whose CEO heads the State Board of Education — identified 54 districts where students of color achieved higher than predicted on state test scores, after controlling for socioeconomic status.

The San Diego County districts on that list are:

That means students at those districts performed better than students of similar racial and ethnic backgrounds from families of similar socioeconomic status in other districts, according to the study.

“We refer to these California school districts as ‘positive outliers’ because their students are beating the odds relative to the socioeconomic conditions in their communities,” researchers wrote in the report.

The study also identified 167 California districts where Hispanic and white students on average consistently achieved higher than predicted, and 48 districts where African-American and white students did so.

Chula Vista Elementary was the highest-performing district in the study for African-American and white students. San Diego Unified was also noted by researchers as one of the highest-performing large school districts.

The study’s authors said follow-up reports looking specifically at how Chula Vista Elementary, San Diego Unified and five other California districts accomplished high student achievement are forthcoming.

“When you put equity and excellence together, not have them compete against one another… that’s when you get results like this,” Superintendent Cindy Marten said.

The study doesn’t include school districts that have fewer than 200 African-American or Hispanic students and 200 white students who took state tests. Only students in grades 3-8 and 11 take state tests.

Researchers found that two factors had the most impact on whether students performed well or not.

The first was how well-off a student’s family was. A student’s family’s income and educational levels are still some of the most reliable predictors of the student’s performance, as has been documented in several other studies.

The second factor was teacher qualifications. Districts with high African-American and Hispanic student achievement tended to have higher average teacher experience.

Student achievement was also likely to be higher if the school district had fewer teachers with substandard credentials, or teachers who are not fully qualified for their job.

California authorized more than 12,000 substandard permits and credentials last school year, which made up half of the entering teaching workforce, the Learning Policy Institute noted.

Compounding that problem is the fact that teachers with substandard credentials are more likely to be placed in schools with high percentages of students of color, which could help explain why there are racial achievement gaps, said Anne Podolsky, one of the authors of the study.

Both San Diego Unified and Chula Vista Elementary pointed to teacher training, or professional development, as one of the keys to keeping teacher quality high and keeping teachers from leaving.

For example, Chula Vista Elementary has a designated teacher in each of its schools who specifically focus on spreading best teaching practices among their peers.

Four times a year, those instructional teacher leaders get together with school principals and the superintendent’s cabinet to learn and talk about research-based strategies on teaching language, said Gloria Ciriza, executive director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for Chula Vista Elementary.

Chula Vista teachers have said they wanted to work at the district because they knew the district focused so much on professional development.

“They are more likely to stay, and the system cares about nurturing their development,” district spokesman Anthony Millican said.

To attract more experienced teachers, San Diego Unified offers to credit a teacher’s previous years of experience in their salary offer, which not every district does, Marten said.

The district also focuses on providing high salaries and benefits, including family health benefits for no additional charge, to attract mid-career educators who have more years of experience, Marten said.

About 62 percent of San Diego Unified’s teachers who provide classroom instruction have worked for the district for at least 15 years, and about 20 percent have worked for the district for six to 14 years, according to district data.

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