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Home / Blog / CRUNCHED: Are We Closing Achievement Gaps in Oakland?

CRUNCHED: Are We Closing Achievement Gaps in Oakland?

CRUNCHED!, OUSD      November, 2019     

Following up on my recent post on high-level takeaways from the past 5 years of SBAC scores, I wanted to dive deeper into whether Oakland has been narrowing racial achievement gaps over time. It’s good to know that Oakland has improved over the past 5 years, but are those increases evenly distributed across different student subgroups?

Let’s look at the 5-year scores for the major racial groups in Oakland, comparing our citywide progress against statewide trends:

Figure 1. SBAC ELA proficiency rates for Oakland and statewide from 2014-19

Figure 2. SBAC Math proficiency rates for Oakland and statewide from 2014-19


Some highlights:

  • Positive increases for all racial groups over the past 5 years. For both Oakland and California, Black, White, Latinx, and Asian students have been increasing in proficiency rates from 2014 to 2019, which is good news, though different groups have different rates of increase (more on this later).
  • In both ELA and Math, Oakland students remain below statewide averages with the glaring exception of White students. The difference between citywide and statewide rates vary across groups, i.e., ~10 percentage point difference for Latinx students and ~20 percentage points difference for Asian students (the largest difference).
  • The “reading crisis” is hitting our Latinx and Black students hard. In 2019, only 22% of our Black and 28% of our Latinx students are reading at grade level. For me, this goes beyond politics (i.e. charter vs. district-run) because about 1 in 4 Black/Brown students are reading on grade level across the city. I understand why parents (like those of The Oakland REACH) are mad as hell and demanding change that will drastically move that statistic now.

And the million-dollar question: Are we closing the proficiency gap between racial groups in Oakland?

Figure 3. Citywide proficiency rates for ELA and Math from 2014-19 across racial groups.

  • 5 years later, White and Asian students are still 2-3 times more likely to be proficient than Black and Latinx students. The proficiency gap is more pronounced in Math than ELA, which is concerning, given how many local job prospects rely on strong math skills. The persistence of the proficiency gap adds to the urgency of needing to double down on resources to close this gap. On the bright side, it’s positive to see that there were gains across the board but…
  • Oakland has made gains individually across all major racial groups, but the gains have NOT been enough to close the gaps. Change takes time, and I know it might be years until we can see the effects of reforms and changes enacted years ago. Say that White + Asian students hold their current level of proficiency constant and Black + Latinx students continue at their current rates of increase. It’ll take approximately 3-5 decades for Latinx students and 6-8 decades for Black students to close the gap between them and White + Asian students. Except in reality, their rates are not actually constant…

Figure 4. Change in percentage of students proficient from 2014-15 to 2018-19 for ELA and Math across racial groups.

  • The gap between White students and students of color is widening in both ELA and Math. For me, this is extremely startling, especially since White students are improving at rates almost double what Black students are improving at (recall from above that White students in Oakland are already performing above the statewide average). I know proficiency isn’t the best metric nor the most accurate given how it doesn’t capture the growth of a student before they hit proficient status, but I still think this is an alarming trend because it shows who has been most visibly benefiting from the efforts in our school system over the past 5 years. Because of this…
  • At the current rates of increase for the subgroups, we will never close the gap fully. At the current rate of increase, the gap will never close because White and Asian students are increasing in proficiency faster than the Black and Latinx students in ELA and/or Math. If we do not intervene, this gap will get worse, not better.

Last Thoughts

This whole post is NOT meant to diminish the gains that many teachers and their students are experiencing but may not be enough to push kids into proficiency yet. Change takes time, AND the fact we’ve been making positive progress across the board despite the increasingly challenging conditions (financial, political, etc.) speaks to the commitment of our Oakland educators. But I do want to highlight this persisting gap to keep the end goal in mind and as a call for extreme focus and resources to be devoted to Latinx and Black students who are in schools where the majority of students are not proficient. There are some schools that are doing great work, and we’ll be exploring that in the next post.

Some technical details for data nerds: I’ve displayed both statewide and citywide averages in this post. I consider citywide to be inclusive of all Oakland public schools operating within Oakland’s boundaries because they’re serving Oakland students, which I want to know more about. Students are only tested in 3rd – 8th and 11th grades, meaning that over half of Oakland’s students are tested, providing a representative sample to draw trends from.


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