Academic Assessment Finds San Francisco Students’ Grades Don’t Reflect Proficiency

Academic Assessment Finds San Francisco Students’ Grades Don’t Reflect Proficiency
A student performs a math assignment at Mathnasium, in Laguna Niguel, Calif., on May 12, 2021. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Micaela Ricaforte

Only 3 percent of elementary school students in San Francisco schools meet grade level standards, according to assessments conducted by a nonprofit academy.

The school which performed the testing was Bertrand D. Hsu American and Chinese Bicultural Academy, a bi-cultural, nonprofit for grades K–8 that operates year-round in Potrero Hill, San Francisco.

Last month, the school began offering academic assessments in math and English vocabulary and language arts for third through sixth grade for any students in the area as a free public service.

Over the past month and a half, the school conducted four assessment sessions with 31 students who attended 17 schools across San Francisco—most of whom came from San Francisco Unified, according to a Nov. 14 press release by the school.

The assessment found that only 3.3 percent of the results were at grade level proficiency. It found that on average, students were behind by 1.56 grade levels in math, 2.1 grades behind in vocabulary, and 1.64 grades behind in English language arts.

The gaps were also found to be larger among higher grades.

Most of the assessed students attend public schools on the west side of the city that are considered “desirable” and had “strong academic report cards,” according to the press release.

All assessed students were Asian, according to the release, and were bringing home report cards with mostly A and B grades.

Bert Hsu Academy founder Ann Hsu said the students’ parents were “grateful to know the results and plan to take action to support their children.”

Ms. Hsu told The Epoch Times that the school’s assessment tests are different from state assessments.

The school uses assessment technology from education company Afficient Academy, which uses common core standards to test students first on what they should know according to their grade level.

If students score below 85 percent on tests at their grade level, they are tested on knowledge in the grade below. If they score below 85 percent on that grade, they are bumped down another grade until they score above 85 percent, according to Ms. Hsu.

“We believe this approach is more rigorous and comprehensive [than state assessments], and that’s why we chose it for our assessments,” she said. “We believe it’s a better product than some of the others for our purposes. We also decided to let the community use it so they understand where their students are at.”

Ms. Hsu also said assessment results may be inconsistent with students’ school grades because when learning to read and write, many students were not properly taught phonics due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result, the majority of students are below grade level in English language arts—but since teachers can’t spend time helping every student individually, they give them a passing grade, according to Ms. Hsu, who calls the practice “grade inflation.”

“Grade inflation is easier for the teacher,” she said. “Because sometimes parents complain about their child’s grade, and rather than work individually with each student, teachers can just give them a better grade, so parent won’t complain. That’s why many students who deserve Cs and Ds are getting As and Bs.”

The school plans to continue offering the assessment for free for one weekend each month “until there is no further demand.”

They are also launching weekend classes every Saturday to help students with oral and written English language skills.

The school’s assessment findings are consistent with another recent survey by research tank Gallup and nonprofit Learning Heroes.

The Gallup survey found that 88 percent of parents think their child is on grade level in reading, and 89 percent believe their child is on grade level in math.

However, a federal survey of students’ academic progress last year said half of all U.S. students started last school year behind their grade level in at least one subject.
Micaela Ricaforte covers education in Southern California for The Epoch Times. In addition to writing, she is passionate about music, books, and coffee.