More work needed, educators report
School district makes gains, yet falls short on minority achievement-gap goals
Even though high school seniors in the Palo Alto Unified School District achieved the highest combined SAT score of any unified K-12 school district in California last year, local educators say "more work needs to be done" to close the achievement gap between some minority students and whites.
"The writing achievement has decreased, and the gap has widened with respect to our African-American and Hispanic students," Director of Assessment and Evaluation Bill Garrison said Tuesday regarding the district's performance from 2004 to 2006.
The district has a goal to "close the achievement gap among students in different racial/ethnic groups" by 20 percent per year.
The district saw African-Americans closing the gap by 10.8 percent on the California Standards Test for English Language Arts. Hispanics closed the gap by 3.4 percent.
On the California Standards Test for Mathematics African-Americans closed the gap by 11.1 percent and Hispanics 16.9 percent.
Success shown on the California Standards Tests, however, did not match results from the Educational Records Bureau Writing Assessment Program. Hispanic students' writing proficiency dropped 18 percent, going from 70 percent scoring "at or above grade level" in 2004 to 52 percent in 2006, according to the district.
African-American students' writing proficiency also dropped 3 percent in the last three years.
(African-Americans represent about 3 percent of PAUSD's 10,800 students, Hispanics 7 percent, Asians 25 percent and whites 52 percent.)
"Although all groups have improved across the state, the gap has widened because white students are making greater gains than non-white students (at the state level)," Garrison said. Socioeconomic class affects academic performance, he also said.
Educators extolled the need to close the achievement gap, but none gave specifics on how to do it.
"We've had this goal for six years," Director of Elementary Education Becki Cohn-Vargas said of the 20 percent target. "[We need to] actually step up our work in that area."
"We have tried to build a level of awareness with our staff on this topic," she said, but the efforts "need to be more systematic."
Educators acknowledged that the English Language Learner population in the district has grown, but the district has not increased the number of English Language Learner teachers to meet the rise.
"If you want to close the achievement gap with the Latino community, it's real important to have people on staff to make those personal relationships," said Annette Isaacson, English Language Learner teacher at El Carmelo Elementary School.
She used to have the time to make personal relationships, which enabled her to make a difference in her students' lives, she added. Now she sees them only once a week.
The achievement-gap statistics measured African-American and Hispanic student performance with white non-Hispanic students.
The educators did not include Asian student performance in the achievement gap measurements. If the district had included averages from the Asian student population in the district's average performance, the numbers would be higher, Garrison said. Asian students make up 25 percent of the district's population, he said.
Despite achievement-gap concerns the district continued to perform well, educators said.
"We're competitive with anyone anywhere," Associate Superintendent Marilyn Cook said.
In the class of 2006, the district had 108 students accepted to U.C. Berkeley, with about 40 to 50 attending this year, Garrison said. Thirty-seven students got accepted to Stanford University and 24 attended last year, he said.
"Most high schools in this state would love to have one or two students accepted at one of those schools," Garrison said. These statistics "speak highly" to the quality of education the district offers, he said.
Palo Alto's combined SAT scores averaged 1,874 out of 2,400, he said. Los Gatos averaged 1,827, while San Marino averaged 1,824, he said. The average performance scores for grade 12 students in the separate subjects were: critical reading, 614; math, 649; and writing, 611.
The district's report also showed that the total number of grade 12 students taking the SAT dropped from 92 percent in 2005 to 86 percent in 2006. In 2004, 87 percent of grade 12 students took the SAT.
Palo Alto Unified was also one of four unified school districts (K-12) in California that scored more than 900 out of 1,000 in 2006 on the California's Academic Performance Index.
Eighty-six percent of fourth through sixth grade students in the district scored "Proficient" and "Advanced" on the California Standardized Tests in 2006, a 4 percent improvement from 2004.
The percentage of students attending four-year colleges went up 7 percent from 74 percent to 81 percent.
However, students consistently demonstrated lower test scores on Algebra II and Chemistry than they did on U.S. History.
The board will take action on the recommendations regarding this State of the District address on April 10.
The district's report can be found at www.pausd.org.
Editorial Intern Susan Hong can be e-mailed at email@example.com.