Struggling students were spotlighted Wednesday as fifth- and sixth-grade teachers gathered at Jordan Middle School to parse their learning difficulties -- while overall the Palo Alto Unified School District ranks in the top five in the state, officials reported.
Teachers shared concerns about individual students and discussed case-by-case strategies to help them.
The meeting reflected new efforts not only to help struggling students but also to address a persistent and pronounced achievement gap between Palo Alto's African-American and Hispanic students and their Caucasian and Asian classmates.
Some gains among low-achieving students were reported this week, along with stellar overall results among Palo Alto schools as measured by the state's Academic Performance Index.
School board members challenged one another to "dance on the table" in celebration of the overall academic results, which places Palo Alto in the top five K-12 districts in California as measured by district API scores.
The other four are San Marino, La Canada, Piedmont and Manhattan Beach.
The news came in a staff compilation of academic data from various sources.
"The trends look great," school board President Barbara Klausner said.
"This is just one example, and certainly not the only example, of the outstanding caliber of our teachers and educators in the district," board member Barb Mitchell said.
Board member Dana Tom called the results "mixed."
"There's a lot of good news, and significant progress for most disadvantaged groups, especially students with disabilities, but also African-American students and socio-economically disadvantaged students.
"But growth lagged among Latino students," Tom said. He asked district staff members how they plan to address the issue.
Assistant Superintendent Virginia Davis said principals and teachers are working on a case-by-case basis with individual students.
"We do know who the students are, and principals are working with teachers," she said.
"We need to continue to do more to have preventive instructional strategies so we don't have to go to intervention, starting with pre-K and going all the way through.
"We're working very specifically in this area with these populations, doing more in classrooms and less in the way of pull-out.
"We're doing more parent education and helping them become more acquainted with how to help their students be successful."
In a June 2010 report on the achievement gap, the district said 41 percent of all Palo Alto's African-American students and nearly 25 percent of all Hispanic students are enrolled in special education, compared to a district-wide average of about 10 percent.
Those groups also enroll in fewer high-level classes, perform worse than their Caucasian and Asian peers on standardized test and have higher rates of school suspension and other discipline issues, the district said at the time.