Grading Neighborhood Schools: Fact Check

Grading Neighborhood Schools: Fact Check

File photo by Sam Hodgson

In a 2010 file photo, Mira Mesa High teacher Marsi Holmes works with students on a poetry project that aims to develop their language skills.

 

Image: TrueStatement: “Mira Mesa High is one of our highest-achieving high schools and the elementary and middle schools also win honors. Mira Mesa schools are neighborhood schools. The overwhelming majority of Mira Mesa families stay in Mira Mesa schools,” San Diego Unified School District board president John Lee Evans said in a Dec. 24 U-T San Diego story.

Determination: True

Analysis: If the San Diego Unified School District had its way, most students would attend schools in their own neighborhoods.

The district has pushed attendance at these schools in recent years as part of its Vision 2020 plan. The district sees Vision 2020 as its blueprint for improving schools, engaging parents, attracting quality educators and operating more efficiently.

One of the initiative’s major goals is to bolster educational programs and achievement at neighborhood schools so parents are less likely to enroll their children at schools in other areas of the district.

In an interview with U-T San Diego last month, the school board president said Mira Mesa schools deserve credit for their success.

Evans, who represents San Diego Unified’s Sub-District A, which includes Mira Mesa, said most students there attend schools in their neighborhoods and that those schools are high-performing.

We decided to scrutinize Evans’ claims because the neighborhood schools initiative is a major component of the district’s Vision 2020 plans, and he offered Mira Mesa schools as an example of the success that’s possible when the majority of students remain in their local schools.

We started by reviewing state Academic Performance Index scores across the school district.

The index evaluates schools based on the California Standardized Testing and Reporting exam and the California High School Exit Examination results. Scores range from 200 to 1,000 and schools try to reach at least 800.

Mira Mesa High School scores have steadily increased in recent years, according to API data from the California Department of Education.

In the last five years, the high school’s score rose by 73 points. In 2012, the school received an 861 and a year earlier, scored 844.

Those scores put Mira Mesa High among the school district’s highest-scoring schools in the past two years.

There are about 40 high schools within San Diego Unified boundaries. Here’s how Mira Mesa’s scores compared among that group’s top-scoring high schools in 2012:

• Scripps Ranch High: 900

• The Preuss School UCSD: 892

• Kearny High School International Business: 877

• Mt. Everest Academy: 873

• San Diego High School of International Studies: 861

• Mira Mesa High: 861

• La Jolla High: 854

And in 2011:

• The Preuss School UCSD: 899

• Scripps Ranch High: 883

• San Diego High School of International Studies: 873

• Kearny High School International Business: 860

• La Jolla High: 849

• Mira Mesa High: 844

• University City High: 810

About half of those schools are considered nontraditional. The San Diego and Kearny international business schools are magnet schools that require students to submit applications and The Preuss School UCSD is a charter school. Scripps Ranch, Mira Mesa, La Jolla and University City high schools are considered neighborhood schools so students in those neighborhoods are eligible to attend.

Mira Mesa High was among the top-scoring schools in both years, so Evans gets a “true” rating on his claim that the school is among the district’s highest-achieving schools.

Now let’s zero in on Evans’ second statement. He said the “overwhelming majority” of Mira Mesa parents choose to enroll their children in Mira Mesa schools.

A school district report broke down the number of students who live within district boundaries and attend Mira Mesa schools.

The analysis showed 4,151 students attend one of the neighborhood’s six elementary schools. Only 486 students don’t attend those schools, meaning about 90 percent attend San Diego Unified’s Mira Mesa schools.

The proportion of students who attend one of the district’s two middle schools in Mira Mesa was similar. The district said 1,891 students, or about 89 percent of students, attend one of those schools and another 241 go to other schools.

The percentage is lower for Mira Mesa High. District numbers show about 78 percent of high school students who live within that school’s boundaries attend the high school. About 690 out of the 3,117 students go to another high school.

All told, about 86 percent of students who live in Mira Mesa attend one of the neighborhood schools.

That makes Evans’ second statement true.

While strong academic performance may spur Mira Mesa parents to keep their children in local schools, the school board president suspects choice plays a role in student success too.

“We believe there is higher student achievement when there’s more parental involvement and it’s difficult to have parental involvement when the students are farther from the school,” he said.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa.halverstadt@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0528.

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Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt

Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

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12 comments
Eduardo Stephano
Eduardo Stephano subscriber

all the highly qualified experienced teachers from the high performing school. Will wait for several years, then see if standardized test scores improve at the crappy school and decline at the good school. I bet there will be very little change in regards to test scores at either site. Because in reality, teachers (unionized or not) are only one small piece of a complex system. I can tell you firsthand we have plenty of happy & affluent neighborhood parents at the successful public school were I work. I'm sorry your so angry.

zeekzeus
zeekzeus

all the highly qualified experienced teachers from the high performing school. Will wait for several years, then see if standardized test scores improve at the crappy school and decline at the good school. I bet there will be very little change in regards to test scores at either site. Because in reality, teachers (unionized or not) are only one small piece of a complex system. I can tell you firsthand we have plenty of happy & affluent neighborhood parents at the successful public school were I work. I'm sorry your so angry.

Jill Heller
Jill Heller subscriber

What I see is a system that's totally broken - child-hostile - developmentally inappropriate - and much more focused on adult needs rather than the needs of kids and the communities they serve....and until that changes - we will continue to have schools that are not in alignment with their neighborhoods - and more affluent students voting with their feet. Don't be mad at me when I do so - my goal is to get the best possible education for my own children - and that isn't just a test score.

ClassroomVolunteer
ClassroomVolunteer

What I see is a system that's totally broken - child-hostile - developmentally inappropriate - and much more focused on adult needs rather than the needs of kids and the communities they serve....and until that changes - we will continue to have schools that are not in alignment with their neighborhoods - and more affluent students voting with their feet. Don't be mad at me when I do so - my goal is to get the best possible education for my own children - and that isn't just a test score.

Jill Heller
Jill Heller subscriber

Now YoLaTengo - I just backed up my beliefs with hard facts from the district's own website, from the census, and from the CA Dept of education. - using 1 school as an example. So my challenge - using FACTS - prove me wrong....and I'll happily eat crow. My opinions are based on these FACTS - that well educated middle class folks in these neighborhoods do not utilize their schools - and every one I know who has tried it - has pulled their children in disgust when their children are virtually ignored.

ClassroomVolunteer
ClassroomVolunteer

Now YoLaTengo - I just backed up my beliefs with hard facts from the district's own website, from the census, and from the CA Dept of education. - using 1 school as an example. So my challenge - using FACTS - prove me wrong....and I'll happily eat crow. My opinions are based on these FACTS - that well educated middle class folks in these neighborhoods do not utilize their schools - and every one I know who has tried it - has pulled their children in disgust when their children are virtually ignored.

Sydney Allen
Sydney Allen subscriber

I understand why you (and other concerned parents) would not want your "firmly middle-class, highly educated" kids at an ugly "dumbed down" school with poorer, less-educated parents/peers, but please spare us on your stereotypical "poor teachers" excuse.

YoLaTengo
YoLaTengo

I understand why you (and other concerned parents) would not want your "firmly middle-class, highly educated" kids at an ugly "dumbed down" school with poorer, less-educated parents/peers, but please spare us on your stereotypical "poor teachers" excuse.

Jill Heller
Jill Heller subscriber

I imagine most of the parents who are like me in this neighborhood feel the same, there are reasons we chose to bear the burden of sending our kids elsewhere. No where is the SDUSD dealing with those issues. They just think all will be ok if we all go back to where we were "assigned"....I have news for you Mr. Evans.....most of us won't EVER go back....you can end busing, but once we see a really high achieving pretty school, we won't be herded back into psudo-prisons with poor teachers and test scores.

ClassroomVolunteer
ClassroomVolunteer

I imagine most of the parents who are like me in this neighborhood feel the same, there are reasons we chose to bear the burden of sending our kids elsewhere. No where is the SDUSD dealing with those issues. They just think all will be ok if we all go back to where we were "assigned"....I have news for you Mr. Evans.....most of us won't EVER go back....you can end busing, but once we see a really high achieving pretty school, we won't be herded back into psudo-prisons with poor teachers and test scores.