Palo Alto elementary students logged a strong performance on May's California STAR Test, easing some anxieties about a new math curriculum adopted amid controversy last fall.
The city's traditionally high-scoring elementary pupils scored even higher, particularly on the math section of the exam, which measures students in second grade and above in math and "English Language Arts."
The math scores were particularly watched this year as an indicator of the effectiveness of the "Everyday Mathematics" curriculum, introduced amid controversy in Palo Alto elementary schools last fall.
"Even though we're at a really high level, we continue to make outstanding progress in this regard," Superintendent Kevin Skelly told the Board of Education Tuesday night.
"It's hard to keep moving scores that are this high up, but we continue to do that."
A solid majority of elementary students -- even larger than last year -- scored in the "advanced" range on the math test. Second graders went from 69 percent to 74 percent scoring "advanced," among third graders, the "advanced" number went from 64 percent to 72 percent, among fourth graders, 69 percent to 73 percent and among fifth graders 60 percent to 65 percent.
Most pupils who struggle in math also appeared to make some gains. The percentage of third, fourth and fifth-graders scoring "below basic" or "far below basic" -- hovering around 5 percent -- dropped slightly. However, among second graders, the percentage scoring "below basic" or "far below basic" rose from 4 percent to 5 percent.
Starting in summer 2009, elementary teachers received training on how to teach the new Everyday Mathematics material and were asked to focus strongly on math throughout the year.
Parents and teacher surveys this spring yielded mixed reviews of the new program.
A greater number of parents (52 percent) were regularly helping their children with math homework than a year before (46 percent), according to the 472 parents who responded to the 2010 Elementary School Math Survey.
And parents who felt the math homework materials to be confusing went from 5 percent to 13 percent.
Nearly half the parents who took the survey added individual comments, and they were overwhelmingly negative.
However, there was no change from last year in the percentage of parents who felt their children needed extra help in math (27 percent).
Among teachers, 55 percent agreed with the statement, "I have found the Everyday Math materials to be an improvement to our elementary math program," while 45 percent disagreed.
The narrow, April 2009 school board vote to adopt Everyday Mathematics followed lengthy debate and widespread opposition.
Critics said the program does not sufficiently focus on mastery of basic mathematical concepts.
More than 700 residents petitioned for a one-year delay in the vote so that other, more traditional textbooks could be considered.