Statement: “For a sixth consecutive year, we had positive steady improvement across all grades, all subject areas,” San Diego Unified Superintendent Bill Kowba said in an Aug. 25 interview on Fox 5’s morning news show.

Determination: Barely True

Analysis: Much of the recent news about San Diego Unified has focused on the school district’s shrinking budget. To cut $88 million, the school board voted to lay off teachers, suspend popular school programs and scale back bus routes.

So while appearing on Fox 5, Kowba reassured parents preparing their children for school next week that encouraging steps had been made. “For a sixth consecutive year, we had positive steady improvement across all grades, all subject areas,” Kowba said.

He referred in the interview to California’s standardized tests, which assess student performance in mathematics, reading, science and history. So to check Kowba’s statement, we simply pulled the district’s results for the past six years.

Kowba’s description fell within the ballpark for most test scores, but not all as he claimed. Student performance did improve between 2006 and 2011. Last year, more students met state standards than six years ago for all but two of the 62 tests we examined.

But Kowba said the improvements had been consecutive. And our analysis of the scores show there are numerous exceptions where test scores didn’t improve each year. Nearly all grades had at least one year when test scores didn’t change or fell slightly from the previous year.

Between 2006 and 2007 for example, five grades scored slightly worse in math than the previous year and the district’s combined score fell, too.

Last year’s results weren’t the best for all grades in all subjects either. Those trends are contrary to the steady improvement Kowba described.

Still, test scores bounced back in most cases over the period and continued an overall upward trajectory. The district’s cumulative English and math scores, key measures watched by school officials, reached new highs.

Our definition for Barely True says there is an element of truth in the statement but critical context is missing that may significantly alter the statement’s impression. It fits Kowba’s statement.

Kowba accurately described overall positive trends during the past six years but overstated the consistency of those improvement across all grades and all subject areas. Most grades didn’t steadily improve every year, which runs contrary to the statement’s impression.

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. You can also find him on Twitter (@keegankyle) and Facebook.

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