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Test scores are too low to qualify for grants at 3 schools where teachers voted to reject the funds

Sarah Favot | November 8, 2016

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UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl (file).

UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl

More than 70 percent of students at three schools where teachers voted last week to reject grant funds did not meet proficiency on state standardized tests last year in English and more than 80 percent did not meet the standards in math, a review of test data shows.

The fourth school where the teachers voted is performing better, but that is the only school LA Unified has taken off the table for the grant funding. 

In September, Great Public Schools Now issued a joint news release with LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King announcing the nonprofit would make up to $3.75 million in replication grants available for five successful schools to expand to make room for more students. The grants are targeted for 10 neighborhoods where GPSN has identified a need for high-performing schools in poverty-stricken areas.

On Friday, the LA Unified’s teachers union, United Teachers Los Angeles, announced that teachers at four schools — Gompers Middle School, Drew Middle School, Pacoima Middle School and San Fernando High School — had overwhelmingly voted to reject the grants. Gompers and Drew middle schools are in South Los Angeles.

LA Unified spokeswoman Shannon Haber said the district had intended to apply for the grants for all four schools, but that it had withdrawn the application for San Fernando High School.

San Fernando High School is the only school that appears to fit the minimum academic requirements for the grants.

The following is the eligibility criteria for the grants, according to the Request for Proposals that was issued by GPSN:

“At a minimum, the achievement thresholds are the following for the prior academic year for which data is available:
• 50 percent of the students in the existing school met or exceeded proficiency in ELA OR Math in the latest CAASPP school-wide results, or
• The existing school scored significantly better than charter and district-operated public schools that the students would otherwise attend in both Math and ELA, but no fewer than 25 percent of its students are performing at proficient levels.”

San Fernando High School was the only school of the four schools where at least 50 percent of its students performed at proficient levels in math or ELA on the Smarter Balanced tests administered in the spring: 53 percent of its students met or exceeded the standards in ELA.

None of the four schools had at least 50 percent of its students score at proficient levels in math.

It also doesn’t appear that the other three schools could qualify for the grants under the second part of the criteria — that students perform better than nearby district and charter schools — because at least 25 percent of students have to be proficient in math and ELA. Twenty-seven percent of Pacoima Middle School students scored met or exceeded proficiency in ELA, but just 14 percent hit that threshold in math.

According to a rankings report published last week by the California Charter Schools Association, which ranks all schools in the state based on standardized test scores and also compares schools with similar demographics, at least one school is performing better than other schools with similar demographics: Gompers Middle School.

Gompers was ranked 6 out of 10 based on its standardized test scores compared to schools with similar demographics. San Fernando High School ranked 4/10, Drew Middle School ranked 3/10 and Pacoima Middle School ranked 2/10.

The goal of the GPSN replication grants is to expand what is working well, not to give money to low-performing schools that are in need of a turnaround.

The teachers union called the grant funding “a PR stunt, not a genuine effort to fund schools in need” and is calling on the district “to uphold the vote by not accepting the grant money from GPSN, in any way.” 

UTLA takes issue with the funding from The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation and Walton Family Foundation, which have given money to charter schools. Caputo-Pearl told the LA Times the grant offer was “chump change.”

The teachers union accuses charter schools of siphoning money from the district. Representatives from the Broad and Walton foundations are members of the GPSN board. Los Angeles has the most charter schools of any city in the nation, with about 16 percent of Los Angeles schoolchildren enrolled in charters.

“I wish I could say I was surprised to see UTLA – which purports to represent teachers and students around Los Angeles – put politics ahead of what is essentially no-strings-attached funding for district schools. Instead, I am just perplexed. Why would UTLA impede teacher leaders from doing what they do best and lead more innovative programs to serve students better?” said Myrna Castrejón, executive director of GPSN, in a statement.

LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King did not respond to a request for comment. The district also did not provide an official who could speak about the grant applications to the GPSN grants.

The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation funds Spanish translation on LA School Report en Español. The Walton Family Foundation supports The 74, parent of LA School Report.

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