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Faulty Data in Nonprofit's "F" Grade for School District

Incorrect data was used by a nonprofit group that ranked the West Contra Costa Unified School District as the worst large district in the state in serving disadvantaged students.

A nonprofit group's "report card" on California's large school districts gave its only overall "F" grade to the West Contra Costa Unified School District, but El Cerrito Patch found that some of the data used by the group was incorrect.

The Oakland-based advocacy organization, Education Trust—West, published a report April 27 that graded 146 of California's largest school districts according to how well they serve African-American, Latino and low-income students. The nonprofit group is affiliated with the national Education Trust, based in Washington, D.C.

West Contra Costa was the only one to receive a cumulative grade of "F," but some of the data on which the grade was based was unreliable, Patch learned. Patch informed Education Trust—West about the incorrect data on May 11, but the group has not corrected or retracted the report.

The report — "A Report Card on District Achievement: How Low-income, African-American, and Latino Students Fare in California School Districts" — received coverage from the San Francisco Chronicle, Contra Costa Times and several other news organizations.

"At the bottom, and with the only overall F grade, is the West Contra Costa Unified School District," reported the Contra Costa Times.

The report gave each school district grades in four main categories and a cumulative grade. One of the categories is "College Ready," where the grade is calculated according to what percent of graduating students completed the so-called "A-G courses," required for admission to the University of California and California State University campuses.

For the "College Ready" category, the report relied on data reported on the state Department of Education's "DataQuest" website for completion of the A-G courses in the 2008-09 school year.

However, the figures reported on Dataquest for West Contra Costa are incorrect, according to a Patch review and to Wendell Greer, associate superintendent for the the West Contra Costa school district.

The DataQuest data is supplied by each district, and Greer said there were technical problems with the transmission of the district's information for the 2008-09 school year that caused the wrong data to be reported on DataQuest.

Karl Scheff, manager of the Educational Demographics Office of the state Department of Education, said that the data tranmission from the districts for 2008-09 suffered from "a number of implementation issues" and that some districts had trouble meeting the deadline for submission of full data. The reason for the problems was that the state that year had changed to a new reporting system called "CalPads," or California Longitudinal Pupil Achievement Data System, Scheff said.

The DataQuest data, which was used in by the Education Trust—West report, says, for example, that only 5.3 percent of African-American high school graduates in the district completed the A-G courses in the 2008-09 school year, far behind the state average of 26.8 percent.

The Dataquest figures for the district are a compilation of the district's school-by-school results, which are also reported on DataQuest. Anyone looking at the school-by-school data can immediately see a problem.

In the DataQuest figures, not a single graduate of two of the main high schools in the district, and De Anza High, completed the A-G courses, which is not only highly improbable but also flatly contradicted by the district's own data. According to district data provided by Greer, 50 percent of El Cerrito High graduates and 36 percent of De Anza High graduates completed the A-G requirements that year. (The district data provided by Greer is attached to this article.)

Similarly, the surprisingly low completion rates shown on DataQuest for other high schools in the district is contradicted by the district's data. DataQuest shows that only 2.1 percent of students from the district's largest graduating class at Pinole Valley High, for example, completed the A-G classes, compared to the district's data showing a more normal 37 percent. The DataQuest figures for Hercules High School appear to be an exception, showing an overall A-G completion rate of 45.2 percent, but this number too is contradicted by the district's figure of 34 percent.

The cumulative data for the district on DataQuest was based on these incorrect scores for each school, and it was the cumulative data for the district that Education Trust—West used in giving an "F" grade to the West Contra Costa district in the "College Ready" category for African-American and Latino students.

The district data given to Patch by Greer shows the A-G completion rates for all students and is not broken down by race or ethnicity. Nevertheless, the figures for all students, including those showing that zero students completed the A-G classes at some schools, include the figures for the African-American and Latino students.

Further evidence of the unreliability of the DataQuest data for 2008-09 can be found by comparing the A-G completion rates of the same schools in earlier years. The district's A-G completion figures for the previous year, 2007-08, also are extremely out of line from the norm, with nearly every school showing 0 students completing the A-G courses.

But for each of the 10 years previous, from the 1997-98 school year through 2006-07, the individual schools' A-G performances were much closer to the norm. El Cerrito's completion rate during those 10 years, for example, ranged from a low of 31.1 percent in 2003-04 to a high of 74.7 percent in 1997-98.

The executive director of Education Trust—West, Arun Ramanathan, said by email that copies of the report were sent to top officials in all the districts for their review before it was published. West Contra Costa did not contact the organization, he said.

"We ... have not received any questions or concerns from them since the report’s release," he said. "If they wish to contact us directly because of concerns about the A-G data, we are more than happy to speak with them."

Ramanathan did not return messages left by phone calls and email asking if the organization acknowledges the incorrect DataQuest data and if the report will be revised or retracted.

The organization's director of research and policy, Carrie Hahnel, who co-authored the report, said she could not confirm that the A-G data used in the report is incorrect, with data missing from many of the high schools. “I can’t see that it’s wrong,” said Hahnel. “I see that 0 percent is reported.”

As for whether or not Education Trust—West will fix the incorrect data for West Contra Costa, Hahnel said, “I don’t think we can do that for an individual district. The district needs to ensure that the data it is reporting to the state is the most accurate available.”

If the West Contra Costa Unified School District had accurately reported the data to the state, it is likely that the district would not have earned an "F" in the college-readiness category, according to Hahnel. “But it wouldn’t have earned an 'A' either,” she added.

Only five of the 146 districts received an "A" in the "College Ready" category, and no district received an overall grade of "A."

The districts were graded in three other categories based on API (Academic Performance Index) scores: overall performance, improvement in scores, and the gap between white students on one side and African-American and Latino students on the other.

West Contra Costa district spokesman Marin Trujillo said he did not see a problem with the reliability of the API data used in the Education Trust-West report.

Patch did not examine the API data. Two weeks ago, the Albany Unified School District announced that some of its 2010 API data reported to the state was flawed.

Patch also did not examine the A-G data on DataQuest for any other school district besides West Contra Costa.

We do not know what cumulative grade West Contra Costa would have received if the Education Trust-West report had used correct data for the "College Ready" category.

West Contra Costa district officials and other education experts acknowledge that the district suffers from many problems, including constraints on its ability to provide extra support to disadvantaged students. These problems were well known before the Education Trust—West report card, district officials say.

"This issue was of the highest urgency for us before the release of this report," Trujillo said.

El Cerrito High School Principal Jason Reimann told Patch, ”I cannot be certain whether the performance indicated in the report accurately reflects what is happening in the district. I do know we still have a great deal of work to be done to meet the challenges represented in the report.”

Reimann noted the West Contra Costa district's “massive motivation to improve our schools. The district has instituted a District Site Leadership Team and adopted seven commitments to families.”

Jason Freeman, an education advocate and El Cerrito parent, said one value of the Education Trust—West report is that it highlights districts with large proportions of disadvantaged students that have found effective ways to help those students.

"There are several districts dealing with similar challenges – high poverty, ethnic diversity, etc. – but having more success," said Freeman, who barely lost election to the West Contra Costa school board in November, when he came in a close fourth for three seats in the six-person race.

"What struck me the most was the consistent mention of professional development, especially Professional Learning Communities, as a high priority for the successful districts," he said, questioning whether West Contra Costa's apparent higher budget priority on class-size reduction and instructional minutes comes at the expense of professional development.

Todd Groves and Emily Henry contributed to this report.

Irene Rojas-Carroll June 03, 2011 at 03:31 PM
So many people are making money off of students. I agree - we need more money actually going towards classrooms. Yes, our district is dysfunctional. But it's only because of the fact that more and more employees keep on getting cut! There just aren't enough people to keep it running smoothly. It's a miracle that it's running at all the way it is. There probably isn't enough money to have a "quality assessment and improvement program." Or if there is one, it's probably more talk than action. The only way the situation is going to change is if voters and legislators understand that we need more taxes.
Irene Rojas-Carroll June 03, 2011 at 03:32 PM
Definitely. The underrepresentation of certain areas (and of students themselves) needs to be fixed. A lot of the problem is a simple lack of money though.
Irene Rojas-Carroll June 03, 2011 at 03:33 PM
Yup.. I agree. It's a gigantic mess.
Phil Simmons June 03, 2011 at 03:41 PM
If we have "less than qualified" teachers as suggested then I would assume that this speaks to the university system. That is where they become qualified. If teachers are not qualified one could blame the teachers. I would rather go the next step and blame the higher education system and go higher still and blame the overall education system. It seems to me that ever since the "Leave all the Children Behind" program started there has been an emphasis on attacking the teachers and specific schools rather than looking at the more systemic problem. California's education system needs a complete rewrite. It is bloated with administrations. For example CC County has 19 school districts. It should have one. West County should be in the same system as every other township in the county. Same for Alameda County with 13 school districts. Individual schools and teachers will not improve until the entire system improves. The "Leave All The Children Behind" program does just that. It Leaves all the children behind.
Irene Rojas-Carroll June 03, 2011 at 03:45 PM
I agree with your point about redoing the entire education system. But I don't think making a gigantic district for every county would help. WCCUSD by itself is very, very large and its size contributes to its inefficiency. Maybe, counties = districts and current districts = subdistricts.
Michael O'Connor June 03, 2011 at 05:10 PM
The district should be broken up and turned over to the cities. Albany seems to be doing just fine with all of its El Cerrito resident students.
Valerie Snider June 03, 2011 at 06:00 PM
It's ironic that in an article about questionable data the name Wendell Greer shows up. He was demoted from his position as principal at Manual Arts HS in the LAUSD after being investigated by the district for altering records. Here's a link to an article called, "An 'A' in Fraud" from the LA Weekly. http://www.laweekly.com/2002-07-25/news/an-a-in-fraud/
Ira Sharenow June 03, 2011 at 07:27 PM
There are many, many problems with CDE data. There really needs to be a media investigation of their very flawed data. Also I agree that the school district should be broken up. At the very least El Cerrito should break off from the district. Are nay El Cerrito leaders taken that idea seriously?
Dorothy Coakley June 03, 2011 at 08:08 PM
As I see it, the "problem" with the F report is two fold: 1) Central administration and their computing staff failed to get the data in on time 2) Central administration did not review the report as requested, hence the "F" grade So, I recommend that "central administration" be severely trimmed. Subsequent salary savings should go to improve the schools: teachers, local staff and students. These frontline folks (including the kids they serve) really *are* doing their jobs!
Marty June 03, 2011 at 10:14 PM
In spite of being a frequent critic of the district, I thought that survey was bogus from the get-go, even by the lax standards of what passes for educational research. For one thing, the grade cut-offs for the various metrics were arbitrary and not based on any established norms or statistical break-points (percentiles, etc.). Still, live by the word and die by the sword. The district doesn't beilieve in statistics or rigour, whether it is counting votes on Porola sites or assessing its performance so it serves them right for being skewred by this "study." More disturbing, is the apologia that now is on their website's front page (some mission statement!) that mirrors Mr. Greer's mealy-mouthed comment on the F grade to the WCT reporter. Apparently, closing the achievment gap is WCCUSD's pre-eminent mission, and its Asian- and European-American kids are supposed to stay in a holding pattern until that happens, no matter that their parents are voting with their feet and pocketbooks for a different stragedy. Sure, WCCUSD has big-city problems; the difference here, unlike Detroit, L.A., D.C., etc., is that many middle class families, including mine, still send their kids to those schools and support them by passing tax measures, volunteering, etc. However, I sense we're near a tipping point where, absent profound change within the district, even the most idealistic families may throw in the towel and leave.
Marty June 03, 2011 at 11:59 PM
One more (petty) thing: Even though Todd Groves is beyond reproach and is 99.99% right about district matters, in the interest of full disclosure it might have been mentioned that he had a key role in Jason Freeman's campaign.
Todd Groves June 04, 2011 at 01:01 AM
NCLB promotes closing the achievement gap on a district level, which may be driving families from heterogeneous districts generally, not just here. Some researchers suggest different means of measuring that don't incentivize an "achievement cap," like this report http://is.gd/iPZipn . This community has great interest in seeing all students leave WCCUSD resilient enough to thrive in an uncertain future. We also must meet the scholastic aspirations of this highly educated community. Broad recognition exists that sweeping changes are necessary, but we must drive the process locally. Students traditionally succeed when schools, families and community work in concert. Let us forge a process where our community complements the school's work, and supports students whose families can't. Our cities, county, district and community groups can work together better, improving life outcomes for all students. A social worker connected with our schools could significantly reduce problem behavior. Better organized afterschool and summer activities alone could close the gap. I've never been one to spare criticism of these schools, but I know we are making headway. 60 of your friends and neighbors gave ECHS students individual support through the WriterCoach Connection this year, which our students found extremely helpful. We can achieve comparable results in math, science and other subjects. We can change lives for the better, and not just our own children's.
Todd Groves June 04, 2011 at 01:07 AM
Absolutely. I served as Jason's Treasurer, although it didn't seem (to me) relevant in the context of this article.
Giorgio C. June 04, 2011 at 01:24 AM
Phil, Intern teachers have not completed the Teacher Credential program. Yes, they have a degree in their subject area, but know NOTHING about teaching, yet they are permitted to teach. Would you allow an intern electrician repair your home? Totally absurd!
Giorgio C. June 04, 2011 at 01:27 AM
Holy sh_t! Now I think I get it. In some places of employment, his record is an asset. Extra points for shredding subpoenaed documents! This demands more explanation.
Irene Rojas-Carroll June 04, 2011 at 06:11 AM
Haha. The *illegal* El Cerrito resident students whose families are okay with that big lie. In my opinion they would be doing just fine at ECHS...
Irene Rojas-Carroll June 04, 2011 at 06:12 AM
Wow. That's scary.
Giorgio C. June 04, 2011 at 02:31 PM
Recently, a parent pulled their child out of the district. One of the reasons cited was that their child was placed in a literacy intervention program, but the parent had not been informed until a later date. The parent was asked by the teacher, "Didn't your child tell you I placed them in a literacy intervention program?" The child was supposed to communicate this to the parents? I contacted the school and the district requesting copies of policies-procedures describing the implementation of this literacy intervention program, including details on how-when such decisions are articulated to the parents. No written policies or procedures were provided. How can such a serious matter be handled in such a loosey-goosey fashion? This is one more red flag in my book of an extremely poorly managed district. We have just learned of a staff member who possibly committed acts of fraud in his previous place of employment. Maybe it is time we take a closer look at those in charge.
Phil Simmons June 04, 2011 at 04:21 PM
Giorgio C. Actually as I understand it in California an electrician is not required to be licensed. At least no with the credentials that is in most states as long as the work meets code. Absurd.... And yes you just described part of the broken system. Don't take it out on the intern. Take a look at the system.
Giorgio C. June 04, 2011 at 04:27 PM
Phil, I support the interns 100%, hence my pleas. I was one. I want them to be placed in realistic situations with realistic expectations.
Phil Simmons June 04, 2011 at 04:30 PM
Irene Rojas-Carroll Many parts of the country (my home North Carolina) in particular combined school districts decades ago. And yes it making a large system instead of a bunch of small ones worked. The level of education rose tremendously, the teachers pay improved along with their benefits (completely without a union), overhead was pulled into line, and most importantly the educational system ended up much more equally distributed. Consolidation works. It has been proven over and over. An example: North Carolina (pre consolidation) was next to last in the 50 states. After consolidation it is now in the middle to high 2oties place. The county I was in has about the same land mass as CC County and the population is about the same as CC County. The county has 1 (one) district. Teachers are paid about like California teachers have life time benefits, the school system gets great quality reviews, even with similar wealth to poverty distribution. Consolidation works. California is broken.
Phil Simmons June 04, 2011 at 04:48 PM
Giorgio C. Good to hear that. We may have a common interest here. I am a huge supporter of teachers and students. They are not the problem. I come from a family with many educators at all levels (teachers, admins, superintendents, coaches, etc and I have lived through and watched close up how equal education for all as the focus along with consolidation of systems being phased in over time (it took 2 decades in NC) works. It is hard to accomplish because the management, and administration lobbys push seemingly convincing arguments on the advantages of the small districts we have in CA. The public buys it hook line and sinker. But the idea fails on the face of it. It should be obvious that there is far more overhead to manage and pay for. There is also a far more difficult task in keeping equivalency in all the districts. And, it should be easy to see that poverty riddled districts fail to perform as well as wealthy districts. I believe that it is the responsibility of our society to find the way to provide an equal education for all. California does not work on this. California is very segregated by income and social class in its k12 education system.
Giorgio C. June 04, 2011 at 07:06 PM
Phil, Parents from both the WCCUSD and Hayward brought suit against the state of California for the improper and-or excessive use of non-credentialed teachers. The state of California ruled against these parents. I am still stunned. The teaching profession is being reduced to something akin to a peace corps gig. And yes, way to much management and costly redundancy that is ineffective. Consultants and managers and politicians are striking it rich at the expense of our children.
Todd Groves June 04, 2011 at 07:23 PM
I believe the lawsuit was about labeling interns as "highly qualified" by NCLB definition meaning the following: must have: 1) a bachelor's degree, 2) full state certification or licensure, and 3) prove that they know each subject they teach. I know too many ineffective teachers who are "highly qualified"; conversely, I've met very effective interns without qualification. We must put effort into defining effectiveness rather than qualification. Our kids need the most effective teachers, not the most "qualified." Current systems are not delivering.
Todd Groves June 04, 2011 at 07:27 PM
I contributed only by researching and interviewing, not in the writing of this article.
Giorgio C. June 04, 2011 at 08:32 PM
This is why I requested to see all district training and competency assessment policies and procedures. Such assessments are not meant to be punitive to teachers, but will help show where resources need to be directed. We need to have a better idea as to what we are dealing with.
Todd Groves June 04, 2011 at 08:55 PM
The United Teachers of Richmond contract can be found here http://is.gd/js7qX8 . Article 15 contains evaluation procedures, as does Appendix J. Note, tenured teachers are evaluated biennially and have multiple means of evaluation, only one of which requires a classroom observation. The evaluation forms in the contract do not lend to thorough performance reviews of any sort IMHO.
Ira Sharenow June 05, 2011 at 12:37 AM
http://www.ed-data.k12.ca.us/Navigation/fsTwoPanel.asp?bottom=%2Fprofile.asp%3Flevel%3D06%26reportNumber%3D16 I did a search on Compare District Finances. In terms of per pupil expenditures, I compared WCCUSD with those of a similar size. Out of 29 schools, it ranks: 29 for average teacher salary (lowest; also lowest in Contra Costa County) 3 for per pupil administration expenses (third highest) 21 for per pupil certificated salaries (ninth lowest) 1 for per pupil employee benefits (highest)
Todd Groves June 05, 2011 at 01:44 AM
Check out Center for American Progress's Educational Return on Investment map, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/01/educational_productivity/ . Important if clunky attempt at comparing spending and effect.
Giorgio C. June 05, 2011 at 03:02 PM
I want to see an org chart for the district, then job descriptions and duty statements of all district staff and then the corresponding performance evaluation procedure and forms. These should be posted on the WCCUSD webpage immediately.

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