News

First results of new Common Core testing released

Eighty-three percent of Palo Alto students at or above standard in English, math

The first results from California's new standardized testing, which looks at how students meet the new Common Core State Standards, were released Wednesday, Sept. 9. The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) tests mathematics, English language arts and literacy levels of students in grades 3 to 8 and 11.

Palo Alto Unified School District students took the new computer-adaptive Smarter Balanced Assessments in the spring, following a trial run in 2014 for which the scores did not count nor were shared with districts.

Eighty-three percent of Palo Alto students who took the test performed at or above standards in both English language arts/literacy and mathematics, compared to 44 percent of students statewide in English language arts/literacy and 33 percent statewide in math.

Chris Kolar, director of research and assessment for the school district, said Thursday that Palo Alto's positive results affirm the investments the district has made over the last several years to implement Common Core.

"The general mood is that we're happy and we're now spending a lot of time digging in," Kolar said. The results have been shared throughout the district, Kolar said, and school principals are working to integrate the data into their Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA), strategic road maps developed by each site every three years to guide their work.

However, there was a discrepancy between the number of participating students the district recorded at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools and JLS Middle School and the number the California Department of Education posted online Wednesday, Kolar said. His office flagged this discrepancy last week, and was told Thursday that the results posted on Wednesday, Sept. 8, are "based on a snapshot of student data in mid-August," so additional data will be added and the website finalized in early October, Kolar said.

"What that means is that the counts are likely to change between now and October for those three schools," he said.

Palo Alto's high schools also have lower participation rates, with about half of the junior classes at both Paly and Gunn opting out of the test in April.

Kolar also noted that when broken down by students' socioeconomic status and ethnicity, the results confirm the persistence of Palo Alto's longstanding achievement gap. Thirty-seven percent of economically disadvantaged students (students who are eligible for the free and reduced priced meal program, foster youth, homeless students, migrant students and students for whom neither parent is a high school graduate) performed at or above standards in English language arts/literacy compared to 87 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students, according to the results released this week.

The same percentage of non-economically disadvantaged students performed at or above standards in math, while 39 percent of economically disadvantaged students met or exceeded the math standards.

About half of African-American and Hispanic students met or exceeded the standards in English language arts compared to 85 percent of white students. Forty-two percent of African-American students and 48 percent of Hispanic students met or surpassed standards in math compared to 85 percent of white students.

The district has not yet received individual student scores, but they are set to be sent to parents later this month.

The more than 20 states, including California, that have adopted the Common Core state standards worked in collaboration with K-12 educators in 2012 to develop the Smarter Balanced test, which replaced the paper-and-pencil Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program.

The Smarter Balanced test is done entirely on computers at all grade levels, with a format that is meant to gauge students' mastery of concepts and skills.

The new test is aligned with the Common Core values of critical thinking, analytical writing and more authentic assessments meant to engage students in real-world applications of what they learn in the classroom. The test is also adaptive, meaning the software adjusts the difficulty of questions as a student moves through so that his or her results can better illustrate what skills he or she has mastered or needs to improve on.

"Because they are based on more challenging academic standards, the new tests are too fundamentally different to compare old scores with new," State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson said following the release of the much-anticipated results on Wednesday. "Instead, these scores are a starting point, a baseline for the progress students will make over time."

Palo Alto is doubling down on its Common Core efforts this year with the addition of three district-level teachers on special assignment, or TOSAs, dedicated to coordinating the standards' implementation at the secondary level. Each of the three teachers will serve as a coach and facilitator in a particular subject area — mathematics, English/social studies and science — guiding middle and high school teachers as they shift their instructional practices toward the state's new standards.

The new standardized test results will also be some of the first data provided to school principals and teachers through Schoolzilla, a new comprehensive data platform the district is rolling out this fall. The platform ties together existing data systems, pulling previously disparate data into one place, Superintendent Max McGee explained to the school board at a retreat last month.

McGee and others have described the district's data systems before as antiquated, disjointed and impeding schools' use of student data, from standardized test scores to attendance and grades. Administrators are hoping Schoolzilla will change that.

The school board will discuss the Smarter Balanced results at its next meeting on Sept. 29.

To see detailed test results for individual districts and schools, go to the state website and choose a report to view. The website has results for the entire state, for each county, each district and each school and also lists results by disability status, economic status, English-language fluency, ethnicity, gender and parent level of education.

To find a school, first choose the county, then the district and then the school. Data is shown in bar graphs, with actual percentages shown by hovering the cursor over the bar.

An example of an individual Student Score Report is posted online as well as a California Department of Education video explaining the score reports.

Below are results for the Palo Alto Unified School District.

---

English Language Arts/Literacy

Grade 3 77% at or above standard

Grade 4 83% at or above standard

Grade 5 85% at or above standard

Grade 6 83% at or above standard

Grade 7 82% at or above standard

Grade 8 82% at or above standard

Grade 11 81% at or above standard

All students grades 3-8 83% at or above standard

Mathematics

Grade 3 83% at or above standard

Grade 4 86% at or above standard

Grade 5 83% at or above standard

Grade 6 80% at or above standard

Grade 7 81% at or above standard

Grade 8 84% at or above standard

Grade 11 79% at or above standard

All students grades 3-8 83% at or above standard

Comments

11 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2015 at 12:05 pm

What exactly is an "economically disadvantaged" student? How do the schools come by this information? Do they require that parents provide the districts their income tax returns? Do the schools do some sort of background checks? Or do the schools simply allow the parents to declare themselves "economically disadvantaged", no matter what the family income might be?

This is such a vague term. For instance, if the prime earner in a family were out of work at the time this information were tapped-then the family income could well be zero at that particular moment-whereas it might have been at significant levels in the past, and in the future.

The word "disadvantaged" seems to suggest that the individual is somehow a victim of "the system", and his/her income can never be any higher than it is now--through no fault of the parent.

It's time to stop using this particular term, replacing it with terminology that provides value to the data more than "some people are victims".


7 people like this
Posted by Elena Kadvany
education reporter of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Sep 10, 2015 at 12:11 pm

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

Bob: "Economically disadvantaged students include students eligible for the free and reduced priced meal program, foster youth, homeless students, migrant students and students for whom neither parent is a high school graduate. Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2015 at 12:23 pm

@Elena:

Thank you for the clarification, but your explanation does not answer the question--

Where does the information about these students come from?

A friend indicated that when he registered his child for school, there was a lengthy set of documents that were required that requested some personal data, where some of this kind of information was likely taken. But students are in schools for up to 12 years--so an "immigrant" could well become a naturalized citizen by the time his children graduate. Does this "economically disadvanted" status follow the child through his/her full twelve years of publicly funded education? Parents without high school educations could well have obtained a GED in twelve (or more) years.

The question still stands--where does this information come from, and what kind of validation exists to justify acceptance of the data?


7 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 10, 2015 at 12:44 pm

@Bob,
I believe the majority of the information comes from those parents applying for the free/reduced lunch program. Each year parents have the option of signing their child up for the program. And I assume each year, the information provided on those particular forms is validated by the district to ensure those families do indeed qualify.

Parent must do this each year to stay on the program. So just because a student is qualified 1 year does not mean it automatically follows them in the following years. It’s also good to note that there are many families who do qualify for the lunch program but choose not to apply for personal reasons. So the number of “economically disadvantaged students” is often higher in reality than the numbers show.


4 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2015 at 1:01 pm

@Parent:

Thanks for your information, but I am skeptical of a couple of your points—

1) Your claim that the District actually verifies the financial status of parents requesting participation in the lunch program is backed up by what District policies, or certifications?

2) Your claim that some people who are qualified do not apply. How would you come by this knowledge?

And the question as to what the linkage between parent income and student performance still stands. Lots of research has been done in this area. Rather than income—the education of the parents has always been shown to be a better predictor of student performance.


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 10, 2015 at 1:36 pm

@Bob,
I don’t claim to have all the answers. That’s why I wrote “I assume” that the district verifies the information.

I do know that as a parent you have the option of signing up for the lunch program every year because my kids have been in the district 13 years total now. And each year it has been an option.

And I claim that some people do not apply because I personally know of 2 families who chose not to. And one of those families told me there are others, but I concede that is 2nd hand information. So I apologize that I wrote “many”, I should not have said that. But if I alone know of 2 families then I’m assuming there are at least some others. I doubt I know the only 2 families who don’t apply.

I have no input for your question as to the linkage between parent income and student performance. I’m sure others are more qualified to speak to that.


8 people like this
Posted by Truthseeker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 10, 2015 at 1:41 pm

Truthseeker is a registered user.

Maybe I'm overly sensitive, but this article perpetuates the subconscious media bias that only three races/ethnic groups matter in public discourse. For example, the number of "Asian" test takers is almost equal to the number of "White" test takers in PAUSD. Yet this article only mentions African American, Hispanic/Latino, and White students. Let's forget for a moment the idiotic nature of the government's ethnic/racial categorization, in light of today's America. Any study of the impact of ethnicity/ culture on student academic performance must include all groups. Also, if Palo Alto Weekly wants to contrast the performance of the lowest scoring group with the highest, they're looking at the wrong groups at both ends of the scale. Here's the complete picture.


% of PAUSD test takers who met or exceeded standards, in 8 ethnic groups ordered by population size:

English Language Arts/Literacy:
- White: 85% (out of 2,530 students with scores)
- Asian: 92% (out of 2,149 students with scores)
- Hispanic/Latino: 50% (out of 684 students with scores)
- Two or more races: 87% (out of 376 students with scores)
- African-American: 51% (out of 125 students with scores)
- Filipino: 82% (out of 76 students with scores)
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 37% (out of 43 students with scores)
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 62% (out of 21 students with scores)

Mathematics:
- White: 85% (out of 2,614 students with scores)
- Asian: 95% (out of 2,248 students with scores)
- Hispanic/Latino: 48% (out of 698 students with scores)
- Two or more races: 89% (out of 384 students with scores)
- African-American: 42% (out of 128 students with scores)
- Filipino: 76% (out of 79 students with scores)
- Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander: 33% (out of 45 students with scores)
- American Indian or Alaska Native: 66% (out of 21 students with scores)


Reference: Web Link.


20 people like this
Posted by muttiallen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 10, 2015 at 2:09 pm

muttiallen is a registered user.

Because there is such a large achievement gap for low income minority students in PAUSD, those parents considering the Tinsley Voluntary Transfer Program from Ravenswood to PAUSD should strongly consider the advantages of neighborhood schools in Ravenswood that are getting so much better each year to the disadvantage of being one of 'those kids' and spending hours on a bus every day. I've worked in Ravenswood for almost 20 years and the improvement is huge!
Besides that, the gentrification is driving the low-income families out anyway. A house across the street from the Ravenswood District Office just rented for $4,000/month to young single people. Too bad. EPA is now a family-friendly city.


8 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 10, 2015 at 2:47 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@muttiallen - The Tinsley observation is interesting. Looking at economically disadvantaged latinos in elementary school in Palo Alto, they seem to do a little better than their Ravenswood counterparts. But between 5th and 11th grade, something goes wrong, and they end up substantially underperforming their counterparts who end up at MA.


15 people like this
Posted by Failure
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 10, 2015 at 4:27 pm

Barron Park School should be exempt from accepting Tinsley students so long as they have the Buena Vista kids. With both groups, they have twice the underachieving minority population as the rest of the schools in the city and this is negatively affecting the other students, and probably the minority students as well.

Speaking of Buena Vista, 50% of hispanic/latino students at Barron Park across all grade levels are not meeting math or ELA standards. When you count economically disadvantaged hispanic/latino, its over 75% not meeting standards. Are they really getting an education here they can't get if they moved somewhere else? I'm pretty sure you can fail math and ELA anywhere.


6 people like this
Posted by former Paly mom
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 10, 2015 at 4:38 pm

Having administered this test and so many others for three decades, there needs to be a carrot for high school kids to take this test seriously. Results are never accurate because students have little incentive. Why not allow a PSAT, SAT or ACT score suffice count? This test was given to juniors who during the SAT/ACT testing season. you tell me which test they took seriously?


5 people like this
Posted by Long time local
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 10, 2015 at 4:46 pm

@ Truthseeker

How come Filipinos are not included under your Asian category? Last I heard they are Asian. Why not break out, say, German Americans from the Caucasian category while you are at it and listing them separately?


7 people like this
Posted by Katie
a resident of Triple El
on Sep 10, 2015 at 4:49 pm

Maybe the achievement gap is partly due to how much tutoring the parents can afford not really how well the teachers are teaching. Majority of the kids in PA have tutors or doing additional work online (EPGY, iXL, Khan, etc.).


13 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 10, 2015 at 5:05 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Long time local - The state makes the categories, the poster just listed them. The reasons are the same reasons they decided to separate latino from white,which were considered the same race in this country - people realized racial polarization was politically beneficial.


2 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2015 at 6:01 pm

"people realized racial polarization was politically beneficial"

I think its because, long ago in Palo Alto (i.e. up through the 70s) when "race" was used as a factor in descision making, determining who could buy property where or go to which schools, categorization was based on whether someone looked Black, Mexican, etc. I'd hope we've made some progress since then...


7 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 10, 2015 at 6:17 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@ Robert - No, I don't think covenants in deeds (which the supreme court made unenforceable in 1948 and have been illegal since 1968) are the reason that the state and federal governments decided to split Filipinos from Asians. It is because there are political advantages to separating Filipinos from Asians.


4 people like this
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Sep 10, 2015 at 6:23 pm

@Slow Down

By all means, explain what these "advantages" are?


13 people like this
Posted by Truthseeker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 10, 2015 at 6:27 pm

Truthseeker is a registered user.

@Long Time Local:
Not my breakdown. Check the link I included at the bottom of my posting to the official results website. Like I said in my original posting: let's forget for a moment the idiotic nature of the government's ethnic/racial categorization. Yes, Filipinos are from the Asian continent. Why does the US government track them separately? What is an Asian? That's a pretty big continent with cultures as different as India and China. What the heck does "White" mean? Predominantly European ancestry? If so, aren't most Latinos White? Are we talking Caucasoid? Then we are really getting into murky territory, like going as far as Central and South Asia. Totally stupid system. I believe culture matters, but not at the level at which they track data in this country.


Like this comment
Posted by Long time local
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 10, 2015 at 7:44 pm

@ Truthseeker

You are right, the government, not you, is the source of this breakdown. Slow Down had already corrected my mistake. Splitting people into different "racial" or "ethnic" categories is indeed tricky.


4 people like this
Posted by Computers
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 10, 2015 at 8:18 pm

A point that has been ignored here is that parts of the test are taken on computers. Children in the third and sometimes in the fourth grade, may not yet have the fine motor coordination to master the keyboard, and they are asked to write essays and I believe marked off for typos. A second, related point is that low-income families may not have computers at home, unlike many other families, adding another hurdle for the disadvantaged.

A third point is that special education children have to take these tests, on computers, multiplying their difficulties in taking the tests.


6 people like this
Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 10, 2015 at 8:37 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Robert - One example is that by separating Asians and Filipinos into separate groups they don't have to compete for the same college admission slots.


8 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 10, 2015 at 9:30 pm

If you compare these results to the experience in New York when Common Core exams were first given, these are pretty good. They confirm what PAUSD already knew without huge surprises. Not bad for a first time report.


23 people like this
Posted by John94306
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 9:19 am

John94306 is a registered user.

"Palo Alto's longstanding achievement gap"

The achievement gap is not a specific problem to Palo Alto - it is present everywhere in this country.
We love to blame institutions for all of our societal problems, but we have to focus on the root of this issue:

1) Family culture
2) Schools

If you have an economically disadvantaged, minority student in a family that emphasizes that "developing your mind is first priority" at an early age, the kid will be fine (e.g. Ben Carson). We can't expect that schools will fix everything. The biggest responsibility is on the family to ensure kids stay on the right track from day one. Communities (outside of the school) need to get together and make this happen.


42 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 11, 2015 at 11:38 am

Nayeli is a registered user.

As a Hispanic woman who grew up in a migrant farm-working home and attended school in a poor, at-risk school district, I will attest that the issue is NOT simply or purely one of "race," "ethnicity" or "economically disadvantaged" issues.

In every district in this nation, there are minority students from poor families who succeed academically. Why?

I think that John94306 (and others) stated it correctly. It is about the direction and encouragement that you receive at home.

In our home, my parents (both of which were limited to elementary school educations in Mexico), knew the value of education. They made education a priority in our home. We came to the U.S. when I was reaching middle school and I didn't speak English, yet my parents expected me to earn A's in my classes. They reinforced our education every day by asking what we learned. We would explain to them in Spanish what we learned in English.

My nine siblings and I knew within days after arriving to the United States that we were going to graduate from high school and college. We knew that we were going to overcome any and every challenge that we had.

My parents have a home decorated with diplomas. All of my siblings graduated at or near the top of our high school classes -- classes that consisted of migrant farm workers and the children of wealthy families. We all went on to graduate from college and six of us have post-graduate degrees (and two more are in graduate school). Yet, we didn't have computers at home. We didn't have encyclopedias. We had one dictionary (a cheap paperback that my brother purchased from a dollar store).

In my opinion, this was the formula for success: There was an accountability at home to succeed in school. We had parents who cared. I don't care if you are Black, Asian, Anglo or Hispanic -- having parents, a parent or other guardians who care that you succeed enough to hold you accountable for it is vital to doing well in school. We didn't think about our challenges as "handicaps." Yes, some of my classmates came from homes with computers, the internet, printers, cable television, access (via cars) to the library, etc... However, we found ways to supplement our education. It was a little more work for us, but we knew what we were working toward.

The problem is not money. Schools can have all of the money, equipment, technology, etc... and still produce poor test scores if the students come from homes that do not motivate, challenge or encourage them. Moreover, every challenge -- from lack of access to computers/internet/printers to language barriers -- can be overcome with persistence if you have the encouragement and accountability from parents who expect that you will succeed. Failure was never an option in our home.

I think that this is a problem in many of today's homes. It isn't the poverty. It isn't the race. It isn't the ethnicity. It isn't the racial-ethnic culture. It isn't the money. It isn't the language barriers. Rather, it is the motivation. Motivation often has to be nurtured and the teachers can't be expected to successfully nurture this in 30 kids in every classroom. It has to come from the home.

I would argue that teachers should be able to focus on just that -- teaching. If schools have a percentage of at-risk students (based upon factors like test scores, achievement, etc...), then I would argue that counselors should reach out to the parents and guardians at home. They should stress just how vital that educational success is -- and instructed in ways in how to nurture this at home. It is about educating parents (some who might lack motivation) to be the overseers that their children need if they will succeed.

Parents can be instructed on how to supplement their children's education (even by encouraging them to use the school library or public library). Athletics should NOT take precedence over academics -- and I would argue that participation should be limited if grades AND achievement test scores are mediocre.


13 people like this
Posted by John94306
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 11, 2015 at 12:47 pm

John94306 is a registered user.

Nayeli,

Thank you for sharing your experience. Your message is very encouraging.
Anytime there's an article about how a PAUSD task force is trying to fix the achievement gap, we should just link back to your post.

Only if there was a Palo Alto Hispanic Society to help support this message...


27 people like this
Posted by Alright!
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Sep 11, 2015 at 1:52 pm

@nayeli,
Thanks so much for telling your experience and the truth! Education and it's importance starts at home! Finally someone speaks the truth! All the money in the world will not make the problem any better! What more money and programs are for is political correctness and votes. Democrats get elected on the VICTIM AGENDA AND KEEPING THE MINORITY POPULATION POOR AND UNEDUCATED.


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

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