The Wall Street Journal
By: Vauhini Vara
August 25, 2011
Affluent Los Altos is home to some of the best public schools in the state, but the district serving most of the town has larger gaps in math scores between fourth-graders of different income levels than any other in the Bay Area.
That is one of the takeaways of the statewide Standardized Testing and Reporting program, whose 2011 results came out this month. Los Altos School District was among many well-heeled Silicon Valley districts that showed big gaps between financially well-off and poorer students, according to an analysis of the data done for The Wall Street Journal by the Education Trust-West, a research and advocacy group.
"A lot of [low-income] parents are making the decision to move into some of these districts because they think they're giving their child an advantage by going to these schools--and in fact, it's quite the opposite: There is no advantage," said Arun Ramanathan, the group's executive director.
Education experts said one reason for large gaps in the affluent districts could be that there are relatively small numbers of low-income students there, so their parents have a less prominent voice, and services aimed at these students might be underdeveloped.
Yet some districts, wealthy and not, have been successful at shrinking the gap, Mr. Ramanathan said. Those districts tend to better track low-performing kids and use interventions such as after-school programs to improve their performance, he said.
In Santa Clara County, which ranges from wealthy suburbs to urban San Jose, Superintendent Charles Weis said he wants to close the achievement gap in the coming years, through such strategies as boosting early-childhood education, improving support for parents and targeting teaching methods to learning styles.
Today, large gaps persist in some county districts. At Los Altos Elementary, 96% of "economically advantaged" fourth-graders, defined as those who don't qualify for free or reduced-price lunches, were proficient in math compared with 53% of those whose families' low income levels qualify them for the subsidized lunches. Statewide, 84% of economically advantaged fourth-graders were proficient in math, compared with 64% of their disadvantaged peers.
"We are aware that a gap exists, and it's something we're constantly working on," said Alyssa Gallagher, the district's assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction. She said the district gives extra help to low-achieving students regardless of income.
Ms. Gallagher added that there are so few economically disadvantaged students in the area that low performance by a handful of low-income students might have skewed the district's results.
Big gaps also appeared in some lower-income areas. At Calistoga Joint Unified School District, the student body is made up largely of low-income children of farm and hospitality workers, with smaller numbers of high-income children whose parents are in the wine business. There, 100% of economically advantaged fourth-graders were proficient in English and language arts, compared with 57% of disadvantaged students.
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