Achievement data on school board agenda tonight

Parents say they will come out to urge a 'broader and deeper' definition of success

Average SAT scores and college-going rates of Palo Alto students far exceed those of students in California or the nation as a whole, according to data that will be presented to the Palo Alto Board of Education tonight.

Tonight's presentation is the third in a series of reports analyzing student achievement in light of the school district's goal to support "all students so they thrive and achieve their academic potential every year."

The statistics portray a district with SAT averages so high that a student in Palo Alto's 25th percentile ranks in the state's 75th percentile.

Earlier academic achievement reports, presented to the board Sept. 13 and Oct. 25, also described numerous efforts to close the gap for low achievers, which have been met with mixed success.

A group of parents organized under the name "We Can Do Better Palo Alto" urged its members to attend tonight's meeting to dispute the report's characterization of high Advanced Placement participation as "super impressive."

"Focusing on AP exams and SAT scores is both narrow and not particularly informative about the actual successes and failures of the schools," said parent Ken Dauber, an organizer of the group.

"The high school achievement report underlines the need to broaden and deepen the definition of success in the high schools, beginning with the district leadership," he said.

Dauber's wife and co-organizer, Michele Dauber, said there is a "disconnect between the Board's professed interest in turning down the stress-o-meter" and the presentation lauding high AP participation and test scores.

In other business tonight, the board will hear from the Citizens' Oversight Committee on the Strong Schools Bond, the $378 million facilities bond approved in 2008 that is funding massive renovations across Palo Alto's 17 campuses.

The bond program, now in its fourth year, has completed several projects including the Gunn industrial arts building and aquatics center, the Paly multi-use field and technology improvements at elementary campuses.

This past summer, the district awarded more than $50 million in construction contracts for major new buildings at Gunn and Paly and other major projects are under way on middle and elementary school campuses.

The board also will discuss nominees for a 10-member Citizens' Oversight Committee for the 2010 Parcel Tax, as well as a proposed "process and timeline" for discussions with the City Council on the future of the old Cubberley High School campus.

The board is expected to approve a resolution designating Dec. 5-9 as "Inclusive Schools Week," noting progress made in "providing a supportive and quality education to an increasingly diverse student population, including students who are marginalized due to disability, gender, socio-economic status, cultural heritage, language preferences and other factors."

Also on the agenda is approval of the district's memorandum of understanding with Project Safety Net, a community coalition focused on youth well-being that was formed in response to a series of Palo Alto student suicides in 2009 and 2010.

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

It will be cablecast live on cable services Channel 28 and webcast live on the Midpeninsula Community Media Center website.

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Like this comment
Posted by Harriet Chessman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 8, 2011 at 10:54 am

Wonderful article! Thank you. It's so important for parents, students, and other members of the community to voice a belief in the value of high school students' genuine engagement with ideas and bodies of knowledge. This excitement on the part of Paly high schools over high test score and lots of APs is understandable, in the national context of increasing competitiveness over scores, yet such excitement should be tempered with and chastened by questions about how our children are actually growing intellectually and emotionally. I see a huge gap between this public "achievement" and real engagement, which involves questioning and risk-taking, and immersion in subjects of interest, apart from any public measurements or scores. Denise Pope's evaluation in DOING SCHOOL is still, unfortunately, accurate.

Like this comment
Posted by Me Too
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2011 at 11:29 am

I'm happy to hear about other measures too, though I certainly want to keep hearing about (and congratulating) SAT scores and AP participation. What relevant measures are available that we can readily and fairly compare ourselves to others on?

Like this comment
Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 8, 2011 at 2:41 pm

It's so easy to pat ourselves on the back for the performance of our students and applaud the school system. In fact, we have a very selected group of students from highly-educated families, living in an elite environment, being compared with the rest of the state.

The real question is whether PAUSD is helping students realize their true potential. Sadly, I believe that it is falling far short. The middle schools especially, are a disaster, when compared with other affluent neighborhoods (Cupertino, Los Altos).

Like this comment
Posted by China/India/USA
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm

Whichever camp you belong to - lets not forget we do need a population that can compete in the globalization context.

Like this comment
Posted by jason strober
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Nov 8, 2011 at 4:01 pm

We do need to compete. But the number of AP tests is not the way to do this. The arms race to take more and more APs does nothing more than teach kids to quickly study and memorize lots of material, not to learn to think deeply and analyze this data. Many of the best public and private schools (including Castilleja and Crystal Springs -- not schools lacking in academic intensity) are eliminating AP tests in favor of classes that go into the material in more depth and give more time for analysis and discussion. Praising the number of AP classes that each student takes is counterproductive.

Like this comment
Posted by Matt Chew
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 8, 2011 at 4:31 pm

You are right, the elite private schools like Castilleja absolutely *destroy* Gunn and Paly when it comes to producing great, well rounded students that succeed globally and in our top US universities! PAUSD should not be patting themselves on their backs yet.

Like this comment
Posted by Says Who?
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 8, 2011 at 4:37 pm


Where in the world do you get your data? I would love to see it. I also didn't know we were into destruction....

Like this comment
Posted by Misc
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 8, 2011 at 4:42 pm

Middle schools such as JLS are sub par. This lack of adequate middle school coursework is what contributes to immense pressure when kids get to Gunn, which requires strong academic skills. So instead of patting ourselves on the back for these high school standardized test results, we need to address the middle school curricula and provide an easier transition to gunn or paly.

Like this comment
Posted by China/India/USA
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Before we start slamming AP Courses - the parents/schools should take a moment and find out what a student takes to get into colleges in countries like China and India.

They will be shocked.

We should also stop slamming phrases like "memorizing and lot and learning nothing" - that is an opinion not true in actuality.

Or there is another approach - bury our heads in the sand.

Like this comment
Posted by sheryl
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 8, 2011 at 10:18 pm

What happens to the kids who find AP too challenging and have to drop out? How close to the end of the semester are they allowed to drop and preserve their transcript grade? Are there enough science, math, and history classes for them to take in the other lanes in case the support systems talked about in tonight's board meeting don't actually work? What are those support systems by the way? Is their open unenrollment just like there's open enrollment?

Like this comment
Posted by Ann
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 8, 2011 at 10:35 pm

Strange to see an intelligent principal like Paly's say "ditto" as his formal, on the record remarks after his colleague was so explicit in describing Gunn's program in great detail. Can we agree that Mr. Winston's honeymoon is officially over and ask what kind of leadership skills he possesses? "Getting out of the way" is not a sufficient answer when asking about policy.

Like this comment
Posted by inclusive
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Nov 9, 2011 at 7:42 am

How about ours schools include our parents and our teachers too.

Like this comment
Posted by Katie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 9, 2011 at 8:44 am

@Ann: Phil Winston has been a great leader at Paly and everyone loves him. He has improved Paly tremendously. Winston does not have an Ivy League degree, but he is a fantastic administrator, much better than our superintendent, who has a Harvard degree and is a follower.

@Misc: Jordan has too much homework. Students are staying up until 11:00 at night. Not sure if that is preferable for growing children.

@Matt: Castilleja attracts a certain type of student - the Hillary Clinton type, so their data is being misinterpreted. Paly has to take any student, including EPA students. Many of the Castilleja graduates I know have extremely strong personalities which are repulsive.

Like this comment
Posted by explainplease
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 9, 2011 at 8:53 am

Katie, what do you mean "Castilleja graduates I know have extremely strong personalities which are repulsive." ? Certainly seems like a broad dismissive statement. I have known some neighbor children who went to Castilleja and they are wonderful people now. (The only criticism of Casty that I have heard is that they work students too hard at times.)

Like this comment
Posted by Katie
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm

@explainplease: of course, it is a general, stereotypical statement. I, too, know of Casty girls who are nice but most seem to be very driven and have strong opinions. A girl who attends Paly and sits next to my child in class claims Paly is more difficult than Castilleja.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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