Paly, Gunn again see low Smarter Balanced participation

Despite different timing for standardized test, many students opt out

For the second year in a row, both Palo Alto and Gunn high schools failed to meet the government's required participation rates for new standardized test, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, with about half of the junior classes choosing to opt out.

About 47 percent of Gunn juniors and 61 percent of Paly juniors submitted exemptions, with their parents' permission, to opt out of two days of testing the week of May 16, according to Janine Penney, the district's manager of research, evaluation and assessment.

At the elementary level, approximately 1 percent of third through fifth graders opted out, according to Penney, and less than 3 percent of middle schoolers.

California schools are required by federal law to meet a 95 percent participation rate. Schools with federal Title I status, meaning they have high percentages of low-income students, could face losing federal funding if they don't meet the participation threshold. Paly and Gunn are not Title I schools.

Last year — the first year that the new test would yield official, full results — about 50 percent of the junior classes at both schools also decided to opt out, citing concerns about the test's close proximity to upcoming Advanced Placement (AP) and SAT exams.

Smarter Balanced, the successor to the state's longtime Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) test, is the new assessment for the Common Core State Standards, which California adopted in 2010. Third- through eighth-graders and high school juniors take the test. Smarter Balanced is adaptive, taken entirely on computers at all grade levels and is aligned with the Common Core values of critical thinking, analytical writing and real-world application.

The new test has not, however, appeared to have caught on with students, despite the district's best efforts. After last year's student complaints, the district scheduled the test this year for after AP and SAT exams rather than before. The Gunn and Paly principals sent messages home to students emphasizing the importance of the test.

"Smarter Balanced Testing is a low stakes assessment for students but a high-stakes test for our high school and its state-wide and national rankings, as well as being the primary source for school-wide data to inform our WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges accreditation) continuous improvement process," Paly Principal Kim Diorio wrote.

Superintendent Max McGee, too, wrote specifically to the parents of juniors the first week of May with information about the test. He noted several ways in which the Smarter Balanced results affect students directly, including qualification for the Golden State Seal Merit Diploma, which recognizes graduates who have demonstrated mastery in specific subject areas; for the State Seal of Biliteracy, which recognizes high school graduates who have attained a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing one or more languages in addition to English; and for the California State University system's Early Assessment Program in English and mathematics. His letter went out in English, Spanish and Mandarin.

Penney noted that the district does not yet know the schools' "positive" participation rates. There are several sections of the test, and a student has to answer a certain number of questions in each in order to be counted as participating. Some students might have also chosen to not show up but did not submit an official exemption letter, she said.

Gunn junior Shannon Yang took the Smarter Balanced test and said she actually felt there was more "pro-Smarter Balanced sentiment" this year. She thought the timing, too, was better -- after the AP testing window and not too close to finals.

While she feels she has a "duty" to participate in standardized testing, she felt other students focus more on the personal impact of the test when deciding whether or not to take it. They might only do so if the Seal of Bilteracy or CSU program is important to them, for example.

"I respect their decision to opt out or in because time is very valuable for us and shouldn't necessarily be spent on tests we don't believe in," she wrote in an email to the Weekly.

The district is now talking about how to improve the high school participation rates next year. Staff are looking at other Santa Clara County school districts' practices and considering not only new scheduling approaches but also around "messaging" for the standardized test, said Chris Kolar, director of research and assessment for the school district.

Some districts have been able to schedule the standardized testing for before spring break — farther out from AP and SAT exams — but the schools have to complete a certain percentage of instructional days before testing can begin, Penney said. Paly and Gunn do not reach that point until after spring break, she said.

The district will start to send results home to families in August, Penney said, and the state could release full results the next month.


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41 people like this
Posted by Mom
a resident of Midtown
on May 29, 2016 at 9:27 am

My Junior at Paly was one of only a few of his friends that participated in this test due to MY insistence that it was his civic duty. Students at school are under so much pressure/competition to prepare and perform on their own assignments and exams. The students' perception was this interfered with their studies and had no redeeming value for them. If the participation rate needs to go up then our students need to be taught to think of others as this exam does not impact them. We need to address a different issue- social responsibility for others. A quick fix in the current mindset/system would be to offer "volunteer hours" for Juniors that participate. I am still determined to be a parent and teach my child about civic duty despite his very strong arguments about how he could have used the time better to study for his own exams.

13 people like this
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Palo Alto Orchards
on May 29, 2016 at 1:14 pm

Dear "Mom" (of Paly junior),
I salute you for your efforts to instill a sense of civic duty in your child and I think your suggestion for community service hours is really smart.

12 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 29, 2016 at 2:59 pm

Our high school students have way too many tests and exams. It is no wonder they get stressed. Our schools should be finding ways to help them do less testing by advocating for a one test does all system rather than attempting to blackmail them into doing more.

10 people like this
Posted by Paly Mom
a resident of Duveneck School
on May 29, 2016 at 5:49 pm

My daughter felt it was her duty even though she had upcoming AP exams. Mom posted a fantastic idea about granting them community service hours, which would be 8 or 9 hours, otherwise it's quite unfair to those who clocked the time and followed the rules.

20 people like this
Posted by Selfish is as selfish does
a resident of College Terrace
on May 29, 2016 at 7:22 pm

Here's my suggestion. If you don't take this test you can't sign up for honors, AP or sports. That should ensure that all relevant subgroups are represented. Apparently people are too selfish to understand that they have to give back without Putting themselves first and only no matter what. Now we have zero data on how minority students are doing. It's embarrassing.

[Portion removed.]

Palo Alto is a giant cocoon of self interest. I can't wait to retire and move out of this haunted house. The stench of self intesest is so thick.

1 person likes this
Posted by GraceBrown
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 29, 2016 at 8:55 pm

GraceBrown is a registered user.

@y Selfish is as selfish does

While you suggest a reasonable remedy, the last Paly principal who implemented this resigned in the onslaught of community and district blowback.


19 people like this
Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on May 30, 2016 at 3:26 am

Marc Vincenti is a registered user.

Monday, May 30

This exodus from testing sounds as if the students are voting with their feet, en masse, to put some distance between themselves and the stress of high school.

Our kids have had unusually rough years; it's hard to be a teen in this town, and I think they should take their relief where they can find it.

Instead of this "accidental relief," though, the system should be implementing planned, year-long relief that requires no disruptive changes in daily schedule, no special permission slips, and no guilt for accepting it.

Save the 2,008, the community plan to reduce stress and discouragement at Gunn and Paly would accomplish precisely that--via commonsense changes in the areas of homework, grading, cheating, APs, all-day access to social media, and classes as overcrowded as our local jails.

For 20 months the School Board and Superintendent McGee have turned away Save the 2,008 and its hundreds of supporters.

But you can support our proposals, at:

Kids won't have flee Smarter Balanced to feel relief.

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Campaign Coordinator, Save the 2,008

13 people like this
Posted by Opt out
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 30, 2016 at 7:18 am

Opt out is a registered user.

@Selfish - do you take the results of one test to find out how your child is doing in school? Does a teacher use one final to determine 100% of a student's grade? Of course not. The smarter balanced test is not, and should not, be the only factor in determine a student's achievement. The results of the test are meaningless in a place like Palo Alto that doesn't get state or federal funding. There is no baseline test, and the results don't come back until the beginning of the next school year, preventing any teacher from being able to do anything about the test results.
Why would I put my child through weeks of testing when there is no benefit to her? I opted my elementary and middle schoolers out this year and I don't consider myself selfish. I've done a lot for their school and for this district to try to make it better for all students, not just my own.

4 people like this
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 30, 2016 at 9:01 am

Actually PAUSD does receive a small amount of state funding.

10 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 30, 2016 at 9:04 am

If Juniors are all taking the PSAT's, the SAT's, and the ACT's, why not just use these tests to measure how the students are doing? What's the point of paying for yet another test?

10 people like this
Posted by A Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 30, 2016 at 9:41 am

Some states are substituting SAT/ACT for SBAC as their accountability measure for 11th graders. This comes with a bunch of watch-outs (as the article describes), but it cuts down on the number of tests many (most?) kids need to take.

Will States Swap Standards-Based Tests for SAT, ACT? Web Link

3 people like this
Posted by A Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 30, 2016 at 9:42 am

BTW, I am pretty sure the test to use is a state-level, not district-level, decision.

3 people like this
Posted by Opt out
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 30, 2016 at 9:55 am

Opt out is a registered user.

PAUSD gets money for Title 1 and that's about it. Funding that has nothing to do with achievement.

29 people like this
Posted by Smarter?
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 30, 2016 at 10:45 am

How can a test that requires the school to shut down for 2 days and idle 3/4 of the student body while all resources are focused in giving yet another test be a smart thing?
Roughly 3000 students plus another 500+ that opted out were out of school for 2 days!
A poorly planned and poorly administered testing plan at an awful time of year. Followed by news that Gunn had failed to correctly administer APs. Perhaps we need to do less better?

6 people like this
Posted by Not a helicopter parent
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on May 30, 2016 at 11:36 am

@"Selfish is as selfish does"

You may disagree with Julie Lythcott-Haims philosophy on testing, but you don't need to disparage her. Is 10 years as Dean of Freshmen really a "short" tenure -- I don't think so. Writing a book about your thoughts and experiences is a not a bad thing as your post implies.

I believe her big push against testing was directly at college testing, wanting to de-emphasize SAT/ACT/APs during admissions so HS Jrs and Srs are less stressed and more focused on the love of learning.

20 people like this
Posted by James Thurber
a resident of Mountain View
on May 30, 2016 at 11:37 am

James Thurber is a registered user.

As a retired teacher I do not support standardized testing in any form. My son(s) would never take a "State" standardized test.

Besides, May 16th was right in the middle of AP testing. Which is more important, tests which count for college credit or a test designed solely to provide political bragging rights to the state?

Some day our education system might wise up but probably not in my lifetime.

8 people like this
Posted by pamom
a resident of Barron Park
on May 30, 2016 at 12:21 pm

Agree with Opt Out and Anonymous. Scrap the CA test at 11th grade and look at SAT/PSAT/ACT scores instead. The Smarter Balance is unnecessary and that's nonsense it should be required as civic duty.

And is this new State Standardized test really Smarter? How come they keep changing the test every ten years? How can they compare the level of achievement to students in the past?

27 people like this
Posted by Sue allen
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 30, 2016 at 12:36 pm

First, a nit-pick. Smarter Balanced is the name of the secure browser for taking the test and the name of the consortium that develops the test. The test is CAASPP -- California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress.

Second -- it's a total waste of time for 11th graders. Other states have decided to subsidize all 11th graders to take SAT and/or ACT and count that as the standardized test.

Third -- the only real penalty for Palo Alto is that without 95% participation, there is no API score (Academic Performance Index) which is the number that Realtors use to push the continually higher home prices. Maybe no API score will help our prices drop a little.

Fourth -- I work for a district, not PAUSD, and administer this test. It is so much better than the old STAR. Student have to think about real problems and explain answers. That's good one one level, but it's really hard to ask 3rd graders to type answers to essay questions. The ELA part of the test becomes a typing test, and the Math becomes an ELA test, because the students have to write out explanations. The classes do the best in lower grades when the students are given paper and pencil to write out their answers and then type them into the computer. Since the tests are all untimed, this works fine.

4 people like this
Posted by A Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 30, 2016 at 12:49 pm

There are number of issues with using the ACT/SAT as the standardized test for 11th graders. You can read about some in the article linked to above.

Opting out of standardized testing is analogous to opting out of vaccination. The child gets a small benefit, but the overall population is more at risk. The standardized tests, including sub-group results for low-SES, minority groups, special education, ELL, etc., are a critical measurement of how schools perform. To say they simply generate APIs and benefit realtors is short-sighted and incorrect.

And note that the 95% participation rate is a federal requirement. That doesn't mean it is right, but it has nothing to do with PAUSD.

So your kid can opt-out, sure. And maybe there are good reasons to make the testing less cumbersome and better scheduled. But remember the vaccine analogy when your kid's testing time comes, and think about whether you want to be a free-rider on a test that literally over 95% of kids in other districts generally take.

11 people like this
Posted by Beth Wahl
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 30, 2016 at 1:09 pm

I am a parent of a junior who opted out (in the interests of full disclosure, when I signed his form I thought I was allowing him to leave when he finished the test, not opt out entirely). I explained my feeling that he should take the test because of the benefits to the school district and because they need the data to validate the impact of Common Core standards. My 16-year-old disagreed with me, and most of his friends did as well. At this age, when we disagree, I respect his decision and will not force him to take a test he doesn't want to take.

I think that after years of taking annual STAR tests, high school exit exams etc., our kids feel "tested out," and I can't blame them. If we administered fewer tests and didn't make this an annual ritual, I think it would be better for all concerned. I don't have anything against the new tests and I welcome the Common Core standards, but I can't argue with kids who have taken test after test, year after year, without any sense of how it benefits them.

My son particularly hated the state exit exam because he couldn't leave when he was done and had to sit there in utter boredom until the allotted time was up. So I believe the state and the district do need to a better job justifying the many hours our children spend taking standardized tests before our kids stop voting with their feet to spend their time doing something else. And perhaps we should be asking why kids have to be tested every year instead of every year or even once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school.

All best,

Elizabeth Wahl

Elizabeth Wahl

7 people like this
Posted by Paly Dad
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 30, 2016 at 6:22 pm

Let the Juniors take this on the first and second day of school. Problem solved.

5 people like this
Posted by MP Resident
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 31, 2016 at 7:21 am

If you really want to get rid of the SBAC - instead of refusing to take it, take it and intentionally bomb it.

If you can get enough students onboard, the test will disappear - low API scores are far worse than no API scores.

20 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2016 at 10:35 am

If Paly & Gunn school administrators want higher participation rates, then they need to measure and *lower overall homework loads*, something we parents who've tried to make happen at ground level have been unable to influence. There are mandated overall homework loads that both Paly & Gunn administrators, IMHO, visibly do nothing to make them a reality.

Until our school administrators actually, successfully manage student homework loads so that they fall within ranges already in place, I consider it my *duty* as a parent to *not* have him take this test. The first duty I have is to my own children, and any other civic duty comes distant second, a point that I hope does not fall on deaf ears.

Like this comment
Posted by Question
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 31, 2016 at 11:31 am

"There are mandated overall homework loads that both Paly & Gunn administrators, IMHO, visibly do nothing to make them a reality. "

@Chris - how do you feel the homework policy is not followed?

4 people like this
Posted by pickpocket
a resident of Palo Verde
on May 31, 2016 at 12:12 pm

So according to Max McGee, students should take this test because it qualifies them for a Golden State Seal Merit Diploma ???? LOL! If that questionable award even exists (none were given out at Gunn awards night), a student can equally qualify by just getting a B+ or higher in 9th, 10th, OR 11th grade. Laughable!

Web Link

Yes, I exempted my 11th grader. Better they study for finals (something that actually DOES matter for grades, college, etc.)

4 people like this
Posted by Chris Zaharias
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2016 at 1:46 pm

@Question: teachers do not track and manage to the aggregate homework load each student has, ditto for school administrators, as the results of this survey I ran back in December 2014 shows:

It would be soooooo easy to track and manage to actual homework levels, so it's really just a question of parents coming together and making clear this is what we want for our children. If we do that, the school will do what's right.

Like this comment
Posted by Question
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 31, 2016 at 2:09 pm

@Chris. Thanks. Many are not familiar with the district policies. The district's policy is "As a guideline ... students might reasonably be expected to devote the following amounts of undistracted, focused time to nightly homework": for grades 9-12, the amount is 7-10 hours on average. "Students who choose to enroll in Advanced Placement, Honors, or accelerated courses should expect higher homework loads, but not to exceed an average of 15 hours per week."

Note also the need for "undistracted, focused time." Per the Challenge Success surveys, the a large majority of students do other things while doing homework (from listen to music and eat to chat, text, and watch TV). That's not a problem, it just makes it hard to measure/compare what students report or experience vs. what the policy calls for.

Your survey of students is interesting. Have you asked administrators or teachers? They may have a different perspective, or different information, than the students.

BTW, if the schools required the students to fill in daily/weekly time sheets on their homework completion, would that be helpful? I'm not sure how else they can systematically gather the data from the students on individual student homework load and behavior. There'd also be an issue of confirmation - might require the parents to sign off on the time sheet. That all seems cumbersome to me. Do you have suggestions on how it could be done?

4 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on May 31, 2016 at 4:17 pm

Due to the shift in the school schedule (starting in the first half of august, getting out last week of May), the time window in which this kind of testing, AP testing, and Finals has been dramatically compressed. We looked at the new, compressed schedule last year and basically said heck no, something had to give; had finals been happening June 7th or 8th or so, allowing breathing time, we would have made a different decision. So the "stress-free" calendar deserves some of the blame for this mess

13 people like this
Posted by Paly Junior
a resident of South of Midtown
on May 31, 2016 at 8:35 pm

Oh yippie a Golden State Seal Merit Diploma!! Tell me again why I should take this test? When our government is productive, useful and efficient I will gladly follow their lead...until then don't waste my time I have a future to plan for.

9 people like this
Posted by Grew up in England
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 31, 2016 at 9:05 pm

When I was a high school teacher in another district in California and first encountered the CA state test, I couldn't believe that school evaluation was based on a test that meant nothing whatsoever to students. When I asked students to do their best, my students openly told me they knew this wouldn't go on their transcript, so they wouldn't try very hard. Ridiculous waste of time and money.

4 people like this
Posted by AB neighbor
a resident of Mountain View
on Jun 1, 2016 at 10:53 am

We have a clear and sad evidence of how excessive and unnecessary stress can make our kids lose perspective on what is really important in life. Struggling to achieve perfection in tests and high scores does not help with this.
I applaud the students (and parents) for their courage to speak up by making a decision they considered to be the best for their own health and future. PAUSD needs to be more invested in looking for better and healthier alternatives to show its success than in showing scores at the expense of the kids' mental and overall health. Time to revisit values, policies and real-state prices? What is our definition of success in this metropolitan area?

3 people like this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 1, 2016 at 3:58 pm

This speaks to how much respect and care was given from the admin. to the students. I think this was a great test and I think the kids sent their votes in to this particular group of administrators. There is site called opt out CA where you can get forms. public schools can not offer these to you. They have to give these tests, but there is no law that says your child has to take it. There can be no retaliation for not taking a standardized test. They can not ask you why you do not want to take it.

All of you who think kids not taking this test is somehow a bad choice should look at this test. It is apalling and inispid in every way. For the younger grades, they make the kids play video games becasue they assume they need a "fun distraction" while they take the test which consists of lots of dribble an hour or explanation and actually just 4 math problems. Time would be better spent looking out a window daydreaming. This test tell nothing about a child's level, learning or skill set.

Maybe, when the principal and vice principal at Paly decide to support the kids, go to concerts and other events or even possibly enforce best standards for teaching, the kids will take these tests to make them look good. These kids are not happy with the way teachers have been allowed to treat them and are silent because they need to get grades. This is the one time they can make a point and show what they think of the admin. I think they should have more opportunity to do things like this instead of more tragic ways to show their anxiety and frustration towards this climate.

1 person likes this
Posted by outsider
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 1, 2016 at 4:08 pm

another option would be to give the juniors just one percent of the real estate deals brought about by their high test scores, sweat , blood an tears in the form of college scholarship divided equally among the test takers.. I guess you could also give more money to higher scores. Somehow , they should be getting a piece of the pie.

1 person likes this
Posted by Bravo
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 1, 2016 at 9:53 pm

Bravo to the students! A vote with your feet is still a vote.

A Vote of No Confidence speaks loudly, when there is no retaliation looming overhead.

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

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