San Diego Unified students show “extraordinary levels of academic achievement,” according to new study by the Learning Policy Institute

Posted: Friday, May 17th 2019


A new study by the Learning Policy Institute (LPI) has found San Diego Unified students -- including those from historically disadvantaged groups -- are reaching “extraordinary levels of academic achievement.” Co-authored by the new State Board of Education Chairwoman, Linda Darling-Hammond, the report found African-American and Latino students in San Diego Unified are “defying trends and exceeding the performance of students of similar backgrounds in other districts across the state.” The Union Tribune led local coverage of the new report, which is titled, California’s Positive Outliers: Districts Beating the Odds.

The Positive Outlier report looked at 435 diverse districts across the State of California, analyzing the academic performance of Latino, African-American and white students on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests in English language arts and mathematics from 2015-2017 when the new test was first administered. From the larger pool, researchers identified those districts where Latino, African-American and white students were performing at higher than predicted levels relative to their socioeconomic status. San Diego Unified was one of the districts identified as a positive outlier.

“Despite persistent achievement gaps throughout much of the state -- and the nation -- students of color and students from low-income families in these positive outlier districts are beating the odds and achieving at higher levels than their peers of similar socioeconomic background in the rest of California, said Stanford professor Sean Reardon, one of the report’s authors. “Our research aims to identify these districts so that researchers can uncover the strategies associated with their success.”

Teacher credentials and experience were at the top of the list of factors closely associated with academic success in the districts analyzed in the report by Reardon, State Board of Education Chairwoman Darling-Hammond, Learning Policy Institute Researcher and Policy Analyst Anne Podolsky, and RAND Associate Policy Researcher Christopher Doss. “The research finds that providing students with qualified, full-prepared teachers is a critical component for raising student achievement,” said Podolsky.

Superintendent Cindy Marten agreed with the report’s findings and said student success at San Diego Unified has benefitted from an emphasis on experienced teaching. Approximately 62 percent of San Diego Unified’s teachers who provide classroom instruction have at least 15 years experience, and about 20 percent have worked for the district for six to 14 years.

Marten also said she was heartened by results showing African-American and Latino students in San Diego Unified were outperforming their peers after adjusting for socioeconomic factors -- and that their progress has come at the same time as white students are also making gains.

“Districts like San Diego Unified have shown that equity and excellence are not competing goals,” Marten said. “In fact, a focus on equity is an essential ingredient in creating a culture of excellence that raises academic performance and produces better results for all students.”

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