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Home / Blog / CRUNCHED: A Look at OUSD’s Progress from Last Year

CRUNCHED: A Look at OUSD’s Progress from Last Year

CRUNCHED!, OUSD      September, 2019     

As the new school year gets going, with so many hopes and aspirations (as well as, sadly, some serious concerns), I find myself wondering how Oakland schools did last year and what progress they might be making. Last year was a hard one: budget challenges, midterm elections, and teacher strikes. In starting back up CRUNCHED, I wanted to highlight some bright spots and growth areas to start the data year off with some warmer, fuzzier feelings (because let’s face it, we could all use some in this these times).

Recall that we delved into grad rates and college/career readiness a few posts ago. We saw that there has been a citywide increase in grad rates. In this post, I’ll be focusing on preliminary data on SBAC and chronic absence (one academic and one climate/culture indicator from the state dashboard) from OUSD. This time I’ll focus on district schools; in a future post I will look at charters.

Student Academic Progress: SBAC over Past 4 Years

What we would ideally see is OUSD closing the gap on how far the average student is from reaching proficiency (i.e. Distance From Standard or DFS*). The more negative the average DFS is, the further from reaching proficiency, i.e., grade level standard as defined by the State. Here’s the data by grade level comparing last year versus four years prior:

Figure 1. Comparing Average Distance from Standard (DFS, aka DFM, DT3, APD) in ELA and Math for SY14-15 and SY 18-19 for district-run schools. (Note: These are NOT matched-student cohorts.) Courtesy of OUSD (preliminary data).


OUSD had some success closing the gap at the elementary level, made some progress at the middle school level, but saw the gap widen at the high school level:

  • Strong growth at elementary level: Amidst budget cuts, political storms, nationwide fears around deportation, and influx of newcomer students, elementary schools in OUSD have decreased their proficiency gap by 25% in ELA (+13.4 pp DFS change) and 16% in Math (+7.9 pp DFS change). That’s a huge win on progress. Because these kids grew up with common core aligned curriculum, I’m hopeful that this trend will hold as they progress through middle and high school.
  • Incremental progress at middle school level: With a +1.3 pp change in DFS for ELA and +3.0 pp change in Math, the progress has been positive over the past four years, but with pretty small gains.
  • Widening gap in our high schools: In both ELA and Math, high schools have had increasing DFS over the past four years, which means that on average, students are further away from reaching proficiency in 18-19 than they were in 14-15. I do think it’s odd that there was such a sharp increase in the gap this past year, given the slow rate of increase from previous years (see DF3 OUSD Dashboard). Some important factors to consider:

1. These students did not grow up with common core aligned curriculum and tests and have had to make shifts to acclimate.
2. SBAC tests only 11th graders, so comparing year from year SBAC averages at the high school level is comparing completely different set of high schoolers, with no overlap.
3. This past year had a very high chronic absence rate (30%+), which translates into a lot of lost instruction time, especially at the high school level.
4. 2014-15 was around the time Oakland saw a huge increase in newcomer students. I don’t have the 18-19 data disaggregated, but I would love to dig deeper into the progress of these students as they move through high school and their impact on the average DFS.

  • Caveat to the comparability of the data: Currently, DFS does not use matched student cohort data, so we’re comparing this year’s 3rd graders with last year’s 3rd graders. As they progress through K-12, students attend different types of schools in the city (district-run, charter, private, homeschool). DFS comparisons across grade levels (elementary, middle, high) therefore aren’t “apples to apples” comparisons because they’re not necessarily the same set of students, i.e., not a cohort match; but it’s the best public data that we currently have to measure progress.

Chronic Absence Data: Take with multiple grains of salt

Chronic absence data has not been publicly released yet for the 18-19 school year, but OUSD performed an internal analysis on chronic absence over past 3 years:

Figure 2. Chronic absence across all district-run schools from 2016-19, including strike days. Courtesy of OUSD (preliminary data).


We’ll have to take any annual chronic absence data with a critical eye; the strike had a huge impact on the chronic absence rates for district-run schools, doubling the chronic absence rates on average in the weeks after the strike (see the huge yellow spike in Figure 2). If we were to exclude the strike days, the trend looks more normal for 18-19, yet there does still seem to be some lingering impact post-strike period:

Figure 3. Chronic absence for across all district-run schools from 2016-19, excluding strike days. Courtesy of OUSD (preliminary data).


Even excluding the strike days, chronic absenteeism rates continue to increase annually, which normally would be a troublesome sign since it’s a bellwether for district health (in both financial and academic sense. District revenues are based on average daily attendance, and compounded lost learning time impacts the academics of students). In light of the events of last year, it’s hard to say if this is a trend or an aberration.

Given how chronic absence rates increased overall in 18-19, it would be all the more impressive if some schools were able to buck the trend and achieve lower chronic absenteeism rates—and some did! Here are the district schools that reduced their chronic absenteeism rates by 2 percentage points or more:

Figure 4. List of district-run schools decreasing chronic absenteeism by 2+pp. Courtesy of OUSD (preliminary data).


This is a huge feat for these schools with their impressive reductions, AND the progress needs to continue since there are sites with double-digit chronic absenteeism rates. We have to remember that in addition to the very real impact on student achievement and school culture (hence why it’s one of the two main Climate and Culture indicators for the state dashboard), chronic absenteeism also costs the district over $11 million annually.

I’ll be able to dig deeper (particularly into subgroup data) once more data from ‘18-‘19 starts rolling out throughout the year. What’s coming down the CRUNCHED pike soon: A potential blog post around the potential Blueprint Cohort 2 schools and my annual analysis on Oakland SBAC results. I don’t have any insight into the public release date for SBAC results, but my guess is late September, or more likely, early October. Stay tuned—you’ll know when I know!

P.S. A quick thank you and farewell to the LA School Data Nerd who’s closing his blog this fall. He was the original inspiration for this, as we loved the idea of digging into education data and sharing it out on a citywide scale.


* Distance From Standard is not a new concept but (mysteriously) has multiple names depending on when/where you first learned about it: Distance From Level 3 (DF3), Average Point Difference (APD), Distance From Met (DFM), and Distance From Standard (DFS). All the same!


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