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 Fact Check: Improving Test Scores at San Diego Schools

Statement: "Although funding for San Diego’s schools has steadily increased, the students’ scores have not improved," David King, president and CEO of San Diego Newsroom, wrote in a column published June 19.

Determination: False

Analysis: For more than a year, a coalition of philanthropists, parents, academics and business leaders have advocated for adding four appointed members to the San Diego Unified school board, which currently has five elected members. The coalition, San Diegans 4 Great Schools, says the current system of government is failing students at a great cost to taxpayers.

The group argues that too many students are performing poorly on standardized tests or dropping out of school altogether. King echoed their call for reform in his column and attempted to bolster the group's position with this inaccurate claim:

Although funding for San Diego’s schools has steadily increased, the students’ scores have not improved.

 

But that's not true.

The school district's operating budget hasn't steadily increased and student test scores have actually improved. King didn't specify a timeframe in his column, but any period in the last decade debunks his comparison. While the budget fluctuated, falling in the last three years, San Diego students continued to score better on state and national tests.

In an interview Tuesday, King backed away from his assertion and said he didn’t know which test scores or timeframe the statement in his column was referring to. He said it reflected the general theme of a recent presentation by Scott Himelstein, who leads San Diegans 4 Great Schools, and he needed to check with Himelstein on test score figures.

On Wednesday, King emailed us a San Diegans 4 Great Schools memo. But it undermined the statement in his column. The document said local students' performances on national test scores had improved between 2003 and 2009. King hasn't corrected his column.

The graphic below shows how the district's national test scores improved slightly since 2003 (the test is conducted biannually).




And this next graphic shows how the district's state test scores have improved more dramatically in the same period.




We've stamped the statement False because test scores have consistently improved in the last decade by both state and national measures. We decided to not factor the first part of King's statement into our rating because it's unclear what specific funding measurement he was talking about.

While the district's operating budget fluctuated in the last decade, Himelstein and others associated with San Diegans 4 Great Schools often note that per pupil spending steadily climbed. As enrollment fell by a greater degree than funding, the cost per pupil grew. The district spent about $10,500 per pupil last year — about $2,300 more than seven years earlier.

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

Keegan Kyle is a news reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. He writes about public safety and handles the Fact Check Blog. What should he write about next?

Please contact him directly at keegan.kyle@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5668 and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/keegankyle.

Dagny Salas

Dagny Salas was web editor at Voice of San Diego from 2010 to 2013. She was an investigative fellow at VOSD from 2009 to 2010.

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