Bay Area school districts barely get passing grades for how well they teach minority and low-income students, according to a report released by an education advocacy group Thursday.

Of the 147 unified school districts statewide that were ranked, Palo Alto Unified scored next to last, earning a grade-point average of 1.0 -- a D. The report did not award any A's.

Palo Alto's low grade was one of many startling findings in the 2011 California District Report Cards put out by the Oakland-based Education Trust-West. The second-annual report evaluated seven criteria for how well districts are educating poor, African-American and Latino students. For the sake of making accurate comparisons, the report focused only on about 15 percent of school districts in the state, those that serve kindergarten through 12th grades.

There has been no significant improvement since the first report was issued in April 2011 in the Bay Area. The biggest gain was West Contra Costa, which moved from an F to a D. While the state made closing the achievement gap a top priority, budget cuts have derailed many strategies -- from summer and Saturday school to tutoring to small class sizes -- to help accomplish that.

Among the latest report's findings:

  • In the Bay Area, San Ramon Valley scored the highest, a C-plus.

  • Besides San Ramon, only Castro Valley, Gilroy and South San Francisco scored at least a C, all slightly better than Los Angeles Unified.

  • More Bay Area districts scored a D than any other grade. Seven earned a D-plus.


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  • Only one in four Latino and black students graduates eligible to enter the University of California or California State University.

  • Lake Elsinore in Riverside County earned the highest score in the state, a B-plus; San Juan in Sacramento County earned the lowest, a D-minus.

    "The report confirms what we know to be true: Too many kids aren't being served by our current system," said Erica Wood, vice-president of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which invests in trying to narrow the achievement gap.

    Ed Trust's grades equally weigh black and Latino students' achievement, score improvement over five years, the achievement gap with white students; and the percentage graduating "college ready," meaning passing all the prerequisites for the University of California with a C or better.

    Overall, Southern California schools outscored Bay Area districts, a reversal for Northern Californians accustomed to scoring at the top in school tests and competitions. The report points out an embarrassing weakness.

    "We got the highest grade of any district in the county, but it's still a C-plus, and there are gaps," said San Ramon schools Superintendent Steven Enoch. "We are aware of the achievement gap and take it very seriously."

    Oakland has the widest achievement gap between white and Latino students, district spokesman Troy Flint noted. "There's no excuse. We just have to get better." The district did significantly improve in one area over the previous year: 52 percent of Latino graduates were eligible for a state university, up 10 percentage points.

    In general, Flint said, "We have some of the highest-scoring white students in the state, so our numbers are going to look different than in districts that have a large working-class white population."

    But Carrie Hahnel, Ed Trust-West's director of policy and research, wasn't buying it. "If you're able to achieve high scores for some students, why are you not able to achieve high scores for all students?" she asked.

    Fremont Unified, whose schools often top state tests, moved from a D in the previous year to a D-plus in Ed Trust's recent report. Superintendent Jim Morris said he wasn't sure what accounted for the gain.

    The district is taking various measures to boost achievement among minorities, he said. "We need to be doing a better job educating parents about standards and communicating with schools."

    Palo Alto's low ranking came as disappointing but not surprising news to groups that have been pressuring the district to improve teaching for all students.

    "No, I'm not happy about my district's rating," said Lucas Brooks, vice president of the Student Equity Action Network. "This gives us something to take as evidence that we really need to make a change."

    Brooks, a senior at Palo Alto High, said he hopes the school board in May will raise graduation standards by requiring all students to meet UC-entrance requirements.

    The district has been reluctant to address how to educate students not in accelerated tracks, said Ken Dauber, a Palo Alto parent and member of the group We Can Do Better Palo Alto. But it's useful to have a respected outside organization calling attention to the achievement gap in the district, he said.

    "Embarrassment is often a good impetus for change," said Dauber, a Google software engineer and former sociologist.

    School board President Melissa Baten-Caswell acknowledged the need for change. "We need to teach differently. Just doing the same thing over and over isn't going to change things."

    Staff writers Theresa Harrington, Katy Murphy and Jason Sweeney contributed to this report. Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775.

    Ed Trust West's 2011 District Report Cards*

    C-plus: San Ramon Valley
    C: Castro Valley, Gilroy, South San Francisco
    C-minus: Pleasanton, Livermore Valley, San Lorenzo, San Leandro
    D-plus: Milpitas, San Jose, Santa Clara, Pajaro Valley, Berkeley, Fremont Unified, New Haven
    D: Hayward, Oakland, West Contra Costa, Alameda, Antioch, Morgan Hill, Mount Diablo, Palo Alto
    * Includes only K-12 districts of 5,000 students or more