Dec 20, 2023 - News

How San Diego schools performed in California's annual review

Illustration of a pattern of apples and stacks of textbooks.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Chronic absenteeism declined in the San Diego Unified School District last year, while high school graduation rates and test scores stayed stagnant.

Driving the news: The state released its annual performance ratings of school districts and charters on the California School Dashboard last week.

  • The metrics are based on academic performance, academic engagement, and conditions and climate among different student groups for the 2022-23 school year.

Why it matters: These ratings are the state's main accountability measure for school districts, county educational offices and charter schools.

  • The data shows parents and the public how schools perform on academics, discipline, attendance and college preparedness.
  • Districts also use these metrics to plan their budgets and programming to improve student outcomes.

How it works: Schools are rated on five performance levels from highest to lowest: blue, green, yellow, orange and red.

  • The color ratings consider a school's current performance and how it compares to the previous year.
A screenshot of an online dashbord showing San Diego Unified School District's performance on state academic measures.
San Diego Unified's performance on The California School Dashboard. Photo: Kate Murphy/Axios

Zoom in: San Diego Unified, the state's second largest school district, enrolls about 94,000 students and more than half are socioeconomically disadvantaged, per this report.

  • English language arts: Yellow — Stayed above the standard;
  • Mathematics: Green — An increase from last year, but below the standard;
  • English learner progress: Yellow — roughly about the same, with about 50% making progress;
  • College/career: High — About 60% are prepared, but not equitably across student groups.
    • Outcomes were lower for English learners, foster youth, students with disabilities, and students experiencing homelessness, African American, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
  • Graduation rate: Yellow — 90% graduated — about the same as last year; rate varies across student groups.
  • Chronic absenteeism: Yellow — 27% of students are chronically absent, down 10% from last year;
  • Suspension rate: Green — About 3% of students were suspended at least one day, similar to previous years.

Of note: The district met its locally-imposed standards for access to a broad course of study, parent and family engagement, implementation of academic standards, basics like teachers, instructional materials, facilities and a local climate survey.

Zoom out: Academically, San Diego Unified outperformed other major urban California school districts, including Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Between the lines: San Diego Unified fared better than the state in every category except chronic absenteeism, which accounts for students in kindergarten through 8th grade who are absent 10% or more of the instructional days they were enrolled.

  • "We're seeing improvement but it is categorically higher than it was before the pandemic. That's one we're paying close attention to," Steven Green, senior director at the San Diego County Office of Education told Axios.
  • Students are absent an average of 14 days in the district, across the county and statewide, but it's higher among students of color.
  • Most local schools struggling with attendance are in communities with higher poverty rates and less economic opportunity.

Be smart: Parents and students can explore the data for schools locally and statewide, but should be cautious of direct comparisons. Schools are different sizes, face different challenges and serve different demographics, even within a district.

The bottom line: "Things are improving," Green said. "The struggle to get back to where we were 3 or more years ago, that's the challenge.

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