The San Francisco School Alliance held their third annual Spring luncheon at the Mark Hopkins Hotel last week, an event that was co-chaired by Mayor Ed Lee, Warren Hellman of the investment firm Hellman and Friedman, and SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia, with the latter presenting recent data on academic achievement in San Francisco Schools.

According to Garcia’s report back to the audience of teachers, students, district officials and community stakeholders, San Francisco Unified is now the “highest performing large urban school district” in California, with an Academic Performance Index (API) score of 791. District drop-out rates, demonstrated Garcia, have been cut in half to 9 percent and two-thirds of all district schools have shown improvement in English language arts and math testing.

Interviewed after the event by Spanish-language broadcaster Univision 14, Garcia praised San Francisco public school teachers specifically for their role in raising the test scores of Latino students, gains that were cited by Garcia during his presentation. The data, based on standardized test scores aggregated by the state department of education, show that Latino 8th grade students in San Francisco made huge improvements in the area of English-language proficiency, to the tune of a 40.93 percent increase between the 2008-09 and 2009-10 academic years.

Math proficiency also improved over the same period, by 15.51 percent, among Latino students at the 4th grade level. While not as drastic, Latinos also scored slightly better on the high school exit exam (CAHSEE) from one year to the next, showing a 6.78 percent improvement in math section and a 1.56 percent increase on the English section.

Garcia, however, told Univision that those improvements should be taken with a grain of salt, since – even with the gains -- more than 50 percent of all Latino public school students in San Francisco are
still not passing the standard proficiency tests for English or math. And data taken from the National Student Clearing House shows a decrease of 6.35 percent in the number of Latinos in San Francisco who are enrolled in Post-secondary institutions.

While the school district will continue to implement strategies to close the achievement gap for Latino students even further, said Garcia, the best way to ensure the academic success of students in the long run is for parents to get involved in their children’s education.

The city’s African-American students also made notable gains between 2008-09 and 2009-10 in the areas of 8th grade English (30.04 percent improvement) and math proficiency (9.69 percent improvement). The percentage of African American students who passed the English section of the CAHSEE rose by 11.32 percent in 2010.