School board to parse achievement data tonight

District measures progress toward goal of boosting the 14 percent below grade level

New data sheds light on efforts to remedy the achievement gap in Palo Alto schools.

The Board of Education tonight will discuss progress toward its goal of boosting the results of the 13 to 14 percent of elementary and middle school children considered below grade level in math and English.

Overall, Palo Alto students score among the top six K-12 school districts in California, in the company of San Marino, La Canada, Manhattan Beach, Piedmont and San Ramon.

Palo Alto's goals to boost results for lower-achieving students are part of a strategic plan adopted in 2008, with targets set for 2012.

Test results for elementary and middle school students will be spotlighted tonight. High school achievement data will be presented at the board's meeting Oct. 11.

The targets include having 95 percent of third- through eighth-graders scoring "proficient" or "advanced" in English and math, as measured by the California Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test. A second goal is to have 85 percent of students show at least one year's progress in grade-level curriculum as measured by the STAR test.

While past progress has been recorded, the district falls considerably short of the "95 percent proficient or advanced" goal it set for itself in 2008. STAR results for 2011 show the district is 7.7 percentage points short of the goal in English, and 8.7 percentage points short in math.

On the "85 percent making a year's progress" goal, the district remains 3 points short in English and 5 points short in math.

At least 75 percent of the below-grade-level students have at least one of three "academic risk factors" -- low-income, still learning English or in special education, according to data prepared by school district staff members.

In a breakdown of "numerically significant subgroups," the data shows that Hispanic students in San Marino, La Canada, Manhattan Beach and San Ramon score more than 100 points higher on the Academic Performance Index than those in Palo Alto.

African-American students scored 134 points higher in Manhattan Beach and 100 points higher in San Ramon than those in Palo Alto. African-American enrollment in the other top-performing districts was too small to yield meaningful comparisons.

In other business tonight, the board will discuss a framework for collaborating with the City Council to make decisions on the future of the old Cubberley High School site, and vote on the district's broad "focused goals" for 2011-12.

The board's public session begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.

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Posted by Learn from others
a resident of Ohlone School
on Sep 13, 2011 at 11:42 am

After looking at the data (esp. slide 20), we have to ask:

What are the Manhattan Beach and San Ramon school districts doing for their Socio-Economically disadvantaged kids? They have more SE disadv kids than us and those subgroups outperform our SE disadv kids by over 100 points!

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Posted by Tinsley?
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2011 at 12:26 pm

How many of the low achieving students are Tinsley students coming from East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park? It would be interesting to break out that data, since that's likely a big source of low performing students Palo Alto needs to work hard to educate.

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Posted by resources
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 13, 2011 at 3:45 pm

Could the school board please address what percentage of elementary add-on resources (both with teacher time and with $$$) are being spent on the bottom 13-14% of STAR test achievers (those scoring basic or below) versus resources spent on students scoring in the other STAR levels? From what I have seen, the school district views minimizing those at basic and below as its main priority, and that this outweighs any other allocation of resources that might be more equitable.

Has the community as a whole agreed that this should be the school district's priority and that this is how the district's limited funds should be allocated? Seems to me we are trying to maximize the results of a test that is too simplistic to address the majority of our community.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2011 at 7:42 pm

The achievement gap is an important issue, but I think the discussions with the city about the future of Cubberley and focused goals for the coming year (of which the achievement gap may be one) are also of great importance and discussion on these topics must be reported also.

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Posted by parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 13, 2011 at 8:06 pm

I don't know about you, but I don't want to live in a world where only the privileged survive. As I read my kids' facebook pages and see the comments about the tutoring their friends have, the SAT classes and tests they are taking in SEVENTH grade, I agree with the focus the district has on the kids who don't have those luxuries. They are not just the Tinsley kids.

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Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 13, 2011 at 10:11 pm

I remember an article a few years back in Time magazine about the public school system in the US, and how unfair it could be to those students who are more gifted than average.

The point that 'resources' brought up before is a valid one, and I wouldn't be surprised if more resources are spent on the low performers than other groups (I'm making my observations based on anecdotal evidence in my kids' classrooms). Unfortunately the flip side of this approach is that we might fail the good students by not nurturing them enough, and let's face it, it is these good and very good students who some day will come up with the next Microsoft, Oracle, Apple, etc etc....that will keep our competetive edge as a society and create the good jobs we need to maintain our standard of living.

Other countries have already long accepted that not all students are created equal, and not all of them are college material. Instead, they provide vocational paths which some students with lower performance can take, creating a more efficient distribution of limited resources in the educational system.

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