For the fourth year in a row, schools in the Berkeley Unified School District showed improved results in California’s Academic Performance Index (API). API scores are calculated by the state Department of Education based on results in a variety of standardized tests across multiple subjects in grades 2 through 11.

The school district’s API improved to 784 in 2010 from 767 in 2009. In a district where the achievement gap in a diverse student population has been a major issue, schools showed improvement across all groups.

Some improvements were particularly notable. In 8th grade algebra, proficiency increased from 32% to 50%. Grade 2-5 math proficiency is now 66% or higher at every grade level, which is a new high for the district.

“It’s a model of what you want to see in closing the achievement gap,” Superintendent Bill Huyett said to Berkeleyside. “Seeing the strong gains were a good confirmation that we have the right strategy.”

Huyett pointed particularly to the algebra results. The district had established an algebra taskforce precisely because of concerns about poor results in previous years. Among the actions Huyett identified were encouraging principals and teachers to focus on prompt interventions in the classroom when standards-based programs and testing revealed problems; getting teachers to discuss regularly what works and what doesn’t work; and making sure there was a “coherent curriculum” so that, for example, after-school programs are aligned with with what’s happening in the classroom.

Huyett also said that the dramatic improvement in the API for Latinos is likely to be the result of a change in methodology. The state has changed the method for determining which students are listed as Latino. This year, 23% of the students tested in Berkeley counted as Latino, and 11% counted as multiple race. In previous years, according to Huyett, about 20% of Berkeley students tested were multiple race.

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Lance Knobel (Berkeleyside co-founder) has been a journalist for nearly 40 years. Much of his career was in business journalism. He was editor-in-chief of both Management Today, the leading business magazine...