District plan sets goals for learning-disabled and other students | News | Palo Alto Online |


District plan sets goals for learning-disabled and other students

State-mandated accountability plan focuses on English-language learners, at-risk youth, overall student well-being

A state-mandated plan that aims to help underperforming Palo Alto students but could benefit all students was praised by the Palo Alto Board of Education Tuesday morning. But board members asked for clarity on how the plan's impact will be measured.

The district must create the Local Control Accountability Plan (LCAP) to satisfy the educational priorities for students with specific needs. The LCAP is part of the state's new method for distributing money to school districts, known as the K-12 Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF). School districts are required to develop, adopt and update the three-year plan annually beginning on July 1.

Under the new funding formula, for the first time in 40 years the district can prioritize its funds to meet specific student-population needs instead of being directed to spend the state allocations on specified programs.

The school district will receive $1.4 million in "supplemental" LCFF funds beginning 2014-15. The amount will increase to approximately $2 million for 2015-16 and $2.3 million for 2016-17, based on the number of students who fit specialized categories described in the plan. Those students include English learners, low-income students, foster and homeless youth, and students with disabilities.

The funding amount is not an increase from prior years. The state is allowing school districts that are funded by local property taxes, such as Palo Alto, to retain the past state funding amounts. That so-called "supplemental funding" pays for programs that benefit underserved student populations. About 16 percent of school district students fall in the targeted categories.

Board members lauded the plan for its emphasis on developing 21st-century learning skills -- such as critical thinking, collaboration, communication and creativity -- and efforts toward greater inclusiveness and equality in learning for all student groups.

"This is a responsive, living document," said board member Heidi Emerling, who praised the plan for its attentiveness to current district issues, especially bullying.

The plan sets as two of its goals a full adoption at all school sites of the district's new bullying regulations and development of a baseline to measure and document reported bullying by 2015.

In 2013, 65 percent of respondents to a district survey said they were satisfied with the district's response to bullying; by 2017, the district hopes to increase that number to 79 percent, with targeted improvements for each year.

Total LCAP program expenditures for 2014-15 are estimated at $2.9 million, to be funded by a combination of sources. Staff said that many programs and policies are already in effect and will help all students, not just the underserved populations.

Goals that could benefit all students include: that 100 percent of teachers are credentialed to teach in their subject areas; standardizing instructional materials; raising the number of students who take and pass Advanced Placement courses; using technology for expanded learning; continuing professional education for teachers; developing more options that reflect students' talents and interests; improving a sense of safety and connectedness; and enhancing college and career counseling.

But much of the plan focuses on getting underserved students up to speed. A 2014 survey of parents, teachers, students and district staff by consultants Hanover Research found that 21 percent of respondents said they were "very satisfied" with school support for under-performing students; 46 percent were "somewhat satisfied."

Parents and students were also less likely to agree that students with special needs have access to necessary support for learning. The survey found that 33 percent of all respondents said they were very satisfied and 51 percent were somewhat satisfied.

Administrators hope to remedy these problems through more focused learning in smaller groups, additional tutoring and after-school programs, providing additional attention to English-language learners and aide support for special-education students so they can be better integrated in the general classroom setting.

The plan would add teachers and staff who reflect student diversity. Newly hired teachers would complete school district accreditation that focuses on teaching low-performing, special-education and English-language-learners and at-risk youth who are in foster care or homeless. Teachers would have additional, required professional-growth instruction every two years. Staff would have instruction on cultural literacy to help identify cultural customs and perspectives that have negatively affected attendance and learning.

The plan seeks to quantify improvement. The LCAP would aim to reduce truancy to 35 percent by 2017. Truancy is defined in the California Education Code as an unexcused absence of three full days within a school year and/or unexcused tardiness for more than 30 minutes, three times a year. Current district-wide truancy rates are 50 percent, staff noted.

The district would try to increase the percentage of students who take and pass Advanced Placement classes. In 2013, that figure was the lowest in six years. A district study showed that 69.6 percent of students took and passed at least one Advanced Placement class. The highest number was 75.5 percent in 2011.

The plan invests heavily in English-language-related programs, with an eye toward increasing college preparedness and counseling among the underserved groups. An estimated $1.4 million would be spent in 2014-15 for English-language-learner teachers, a language coordinator and teaching coaches to instruct educators.

Early literacy and other prevention strategies, particularly for pre-kindergarten to grade 3, would improve math and language skills for low-income students at an estimated cost of $245,000. After-school English-language intervention at Walter Hays, Escondido and Fairmeadow elementary schools would cost $15,750 as part of that package. About $65,000 would enhance the College Bound program at Barron Park Elementary School for low-income students, English learners and foster youth.

While a large portion of the document identifies programs for English-language learners, board members Tuesday said they wanted a better delineation of how programs will benefit special-education students.

Board Vice President Melissa Baten Caswell asked staff to identify which programs are currently funded and which are new. The plan identifies programs and policies that are mostly in effect, with a few new additions, staff said. Caswell also wanted to see metrics added to the plan to identify when goals are achieved.

Board members asked for greater clarity and communication when bringing the plan, which is not to be confused with the district's Strategic Plan, to the public. An advisory group that includes special education, parent, student, PTA and educators' groups developed the plan.

A public hearing and discussion takes place on June 3 before the board, with a vote on June 17. The Santa Clara County Office of Education will receive the finalized plan by June 30.

The 50-page plan can be viewed at http://tinyurl.com/PAUSDLCAP.

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Like this comment
Posted by Special Needs parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 22, 2014 at 5:04 pm

As a parent of a student with IEP, it seems to me that the teachers designated to be case managers are overwhelmed by the number of students they manage. As a result, the ones with the most severe problems take up most of the allotted time, which kinda makes sense, but those who sit quietly waiting for some help are just left sitting waiting.

These groups need to be smaller imo and those who are not causing problems should be able to get just as much time from their teacher as the noisier students.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn Parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 22, 2014 at 5:23 pm

How is this objective aligned to the fund source?

"The district would try to increase the percentage of students who take and pass Advanced Placement classes. In 2013, that figure was the lowest in six years. A district study showed that 69.6 percent of students took and passed at least one Advanced Placement class. The highest number was 75.5 percent in 2011."

Note that for the first time in 40 years the district has leeway as to how the funds are spent. It looks like the proposal is to take the focus away from spending on students with special needs and to fund more generalized services that benefit the general population or students who are already high achievers.

Watch out!

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Posted by Elementary Parent
a resident of Midtown
on May 22, 2014 at 10:18 pm

How about funding to support differentiation for gifted children? The District seems to spend a great deal of time addressing the needs of children who are challenged to meet basic learning standards. Why isn't more being done to address the needs of children for whom the basic standards aren't a challenge at all? In a community such as Palo Alto, one would think there would be all sorts of programs for gifted children. Instead, if you look for gifted and talented education on the PAUSD site, you get the following message:

"Due to the elimination of funding for the GATE by the State, PAUSD has suspended the identification of GATE students. The District remains committed to serving the individual needs of high achieving and gifted students regardless of GATE identification."

Despite the assertion that the District is "committed" to serving individual needs, to date all I've seen is teachers teaching to the average, and in some cases teaching to the remedial to help challenged kids catch up. In the meantime the gifted kids are often just spinning their wheels or -- a personal favorite -- helping to teach the other kids. I don't want my kids teaching other children, I want them to be academically challenged throughout their school careers. Surprising to see parents willing to tolerate this situation given that we have so many smart, accomplished parents in Palo Alto.

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Posted by why APs
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 23, 2014 at 6:13 am

Gunn Parent,

The state is looking for increased AP participation rates I believe.

The PAUSD students not taking as many AP classes include low income students whom this plan is intended to help. (This article says this plan is intended for English language learners, low-income and foster youth. It is not limited to students who are not proficient academically.)

The drop in APs IMHO is because groups like We Can Do Better and Challenge Success have pushed hard to lower academic stress - including proposals for the district to limit APs - which results in TAs and counselors telling juniors and seniors to take fewer of them or, for some students, to take none. Students with well-educated parents are not affected because their parents counsel them on the importance of challenging themselves. But once again capable ELL and minority students with parents who are new to the US or did not go to college only have the messages they hear from those folks to rely on.

Students come in all shapes and sizes with varying interests, abilities and outside of class time demands, so setting an AP limit BTW would be silly.

I have heard some argue that it is a civic duty to put a limit on the number of APs the most capable students can take so other students will be less inclined to take them and so freed from academic stress. This ignores that students who are well-counseled will self-regulate the numbers they take because, at least in the college admissions world, AP classes with bad grades are worse than no APs at all.

A better push would be to give students an ACCURATE time and work commitment that each AP class involves BEFORE they enroll and a liberal drop policy for the students who were over-confident and find that they need to drop a class after the semester starts.

While a few APs require significant pre-requisites, many are accessible to all students. PAUSD's extremely high 95% AP pass rates demonstrate that.

APs give students who feel intimated by the thought of going to college (I'm speaking to Paly's 10%) a good sense of what it involves.

Getting a score of 3 or more on the AP test translates into real, live college credit at CSUs and UCs and is empowering for smart students who feel average here because of how high our academic top is. APs let those students see that they are quite capable in a college and world context.

Like this comment
Posted by palo altan
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 23, 2014 at 6:48 am

As usual, a plan for students with learning differences ends up in a discussion about AP classes.

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Posted by ChangeTheCulture
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on May 23, 2014 at 7:24 am

Tha culture at some of our schools is pretty discouraging. Especially for kids with special needs. Try getting even the slightest accommodation in the simplest aspect of school at Jordan, and you get the canned response "I have 140 students, how can I possibly help your child?" And the classic admission of do-nothing attitude "...it'll only get worse next year". And we are not talking about some huge disruptive request either: write the assignment in Schoology, share the grading rubric/expectations ahead of the lab, or asking for flexibility on homework after illness. All met with inflexibility, and unaccommodating responses.

Small changes in flexibility show the kids (especially kids in need ) that they are important, welcome and wanted. That the school wants to teach them. Jordan lacks this attitude, and it speaks volumes in student engagement.

I am surprised the LCAP plan missed student engagement as a goal. It would show a real problem in some classrooms. This should be measures on the 11th day, and mid semester and end semester with student surveys (confidential of course, as Jordan has a retaliation culture)

What to do about it? Lots could be done when you have the data. For starts I would make high engagement and increasing engagement a factor for new teachers to gain tenure. Some teachers have 'It' some don't. Change the staff, change the culture.

Like this comment
Posted by palo altan
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 23, 2014 at 9:31 am

@elementary parent

there but for the grace of God

can't you just be happy and grateful that your child is gifted instead of complaining?

furthermore, you may never find this out because you are focused on giftedness, but much of this is just talk, you think the district spends time on the needier children but they really don't, they just use it as a way to shut the gifted parents up. the curriculum is already geared for your children but no one will say it out loud in that context

Like this comment
Posted by teacher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 23, 2014 at 11:51 am

I'm a teacher. I agree with "Special Needs Parent" above. If the plan is to help "underserved" (strange label -- those 16% might be receiving more than 16% of the district funds... SpEd, ELL, Psych, Counseling -- cost a lot of money), then schools need smaller class sizes to make this happen. Meeting these goals is gonna cost a lot, just sayin'.
And yes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

Like this comment
Posted by Gifted and Talented
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 23, 2014 at 12:07 pm

Elementary Parent: we, too were dissatisfied with PAUSD for our gifted daughter. We were also tired of the bullying that can come with being the only blue-eyed blonde in a large classroom.

We finally enrolled our daughter in a private Carholic sschool, where she was tested and placed a full year ahead of where she had been at Walter Hays!

We had to do some prioritizing, but education and safety come first, so it was worth the expense. She now loves going to school again.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2014 at 12:19 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of another community
on May 23, 2014 at 12:22 pm

[Post removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Just Sayin'
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 24, 2014 at 10:47 am

My child was picked by Kevin Skelly to be mainstreamed out of IEP far too soon ( in middle school), which then caused him to fail in those mainstreamed classes, especially math and foreign language. We could not get him accepted back into IEP during Skelly's tenure, even though independent testing had shown that he had been oxygen-deprived during and immediately after birth, causing damage in certain parts of the brain such as auditory processing and short-term memory, etc.

This has caused him so much failure that he cannot even get into ANY college other than a community college, cannot qualify as a learning disabled adult ( which requires IEP documentation from the high school to register with the state and receive certain benefits), or hold anything other than the most menial job( which drives him crazy with boredom).

I cannot help thinking that all the trimming of IEP services Skelly performed during his tenure surely must have lowered the ratings of the PAUSD, as it lowered the scores. I cannot help thinking of the futures it killed and the lives it ruined, all to save the district some cash.

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