News

Smarter Balanced results: achievement gap, low high-school participation persist

District sees 20 percent of juniors taking test

Results from this year's Smarter Balanced standardized test indicate that the achievement gap is not only persisting in the Palo Alto school district, it's widening for African-American and low-income students.

In both English language arts and mathematics, the percentage of African-American and low-income students meeting or exceeding standards on the statewide standardized test dropped just below or near to the Santa Clara County average.

On the English exam, 45 percent of African-American students in Palo Alto met or exceeded standards on English language arts, compared to 46 percent countywide and 31 percent statewide. Thirty-seven percent of Palo Alto Unified's economically disadvantaged students met or exceeded standards, one percentage less than in the county. Latino students in Palo Alto did slightly better — 52 percent compared to 37 percent in both the county and state.

By contrast, 85 percent of white students and 92 percent of Asian students in Palo Alto met or exceeded English standards in the 2017 test.

In math, 35 percent of African-American students and 32 percent of low-income students met or exceeded standards, a few percentage points higher than the county averages. Forty-six percent of Latino students met the same bar, much higher than the county average of 27 percent.

Far more white and Asian students also met or exceeded standards in math in Palo Alto — 85 percent and 93 percent, respectively.

At Tuesday's school board meeting, trustees said the results are a concerning indicator that despite concerted efforts to address the achievement gap in recent years, including the creation of a dedicated task force and a district-wide "equity plan," test results for these students are not moving in the right direction.

"What is really disappointing to me with all the focus we've put on MATD (the Minority Achievement and Talent Development committee) and our equity plan (is) we're not showing the progress I would expect to see," said board member Melissa Baten Caswell.

Board member Jennifer DiBrienza said it matters less to her how the school district stacks up against other school districts in the county or state; percentages at these levels are not acceptable.

"We're just not doing it. Even if we were better than them, it's just not good enough," she said.

Vice President Ken Dauber said low-income students' performance is particularly important: It illustrates how the district is doing for students who have less access to outside support or resources such as tutoring, he said.

"The fact that we are not doing as well for those students as for other groups and also that we're not doing better than substantially less well-resourced districts in the state is really concerning," Dauber said.

District staff said they're using the data to inform more specific plans at individual schools to support these students. Dauber asked staff to come back to the board with a deeper data analysis to better understand what's driving the test results.

"If we control for socioeconomic status, do we still see these effects of race, for example?" Dauber asked. "That will help us to understand whether we're seeing discrimination, whether we're seeing resources… It will start to enable us to ask questions like, 'What is it about how our curriculum is being delivered that it seems to work better for students who are well resourced versus not well-resourced?'" Dauber said.

Palo Alto High School senior Richy Islas, the school's student board representative, also urged the district to drill down on results for students with disabilities, particularly to analyze what percentage of low-income students and students of color are receiving special-education services.

The Smarter Balanced results also point to a different kind of problem at Palo Alto Unified: uniquely low participation rates among high school juniors.

About 20 percent of Paly and Gunn High School juniors took the test this year, following low rates in 2015 and 2016.

This is "one of the lowest participation rates that anybody has heard of," said Chris Kolar, the district's director of research and assessment. "Something that was a bad situation two years ago has continued to deteriorate over the last two administrations (of the test)."

This year, 310 students at Gunn and 174 at Paly opted out of the test with their parents' permission, according to the district. A significant number of students simply didn't show up for the test: 231 at Paly and 56 at Gunn.

Kolar, who said he worries about the low participation trickling down into the middle schools, asked the board for support in launching an initiative to "energize the community and message the parents about the importance of participation."

Board member Todd Collins agreed, calling it an "all-hands-on-deck kind of situation." The lack of high school data could skew the district's ability to understand how to improve outcomes for minority students, for example, he said.

He asked interim Superintendent Karen Hendricks to "come back with a plan on how we can really attack this with all of the resources we have."

Baten Caswell disagreed, suggesting that the district consider advocating for more established tests like the ACT or SAT as potential replacements for the Smarter Balanced exam.

When the computer adaptive exam was rolled out several years ago to replace the Standardized Testing and Reporting program, it was hailed as a new kind of standardized test that would better gauge student mastery and skills.

Baten Caswell argued, however, that the new test provides limited value to high schoolers "doing so many different things."

Senior Advait Arun, Gunn's student board representative, took the test last year, but said other juniors "felt entitled to the fact that they didn't need to," instead taking the time off to work on assignments or catch up on sleep. He said many concluded that the test wouldn't impact their priorities at that time of the year — namely, grades and college admissions.

DiBrienza attached less importance to this particular test. As long as schools are helping students that other assessments indicate are in need of extra support, "that's the most important thing," she said.

California schools are required by federal law to meet a 95 percent participation rate on the Smarter Balanced test. 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, but other schools in the district are.

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Comments

18 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2017 at 12:22 pm

> Baten Caswell argued, however, that the new test provides limited value
> to high schoolers "doing so many different things."

While the public education system is supposed to educate our children, it is not free. By law, 40% of the State's budget is to be dedicated to "education".

Overall spending for California public schools is about $76.6 billion when federal funds and other funding sources are added. That comes to about $12000 per student statewide. Locally, the PAUSD is spending almost $20,000 per student. The taxpaying public has a right to know what the results of this massive spending.
These tests have revealed that:

California Test Scores Stall:
Web Link

About 3.2 million students in third through eighth grade and 11th grade took the tests in the spring. This year, 49% passed the English exam, compared with 48% in 2016. In math, 38% of students met or exceeded the state’s standard, compared with 37% last year. Fifth graders’ scores dropped slightly in English.

Spending $76B on public education seems to not be a very effective use of money when the results are so disappointing. Claiming that we spend more money is ridiculous--given that the US as more than quadrupled its investment in public education since the late 1970s.

So--the refusal to take these tests by the Palo Alto "elites" should not be tolerated--given the incredible financial investment in education in this town. Clearly, these teens have given the middle finger to Palo Alto, and the State and Federal taxpayers.

Enough is enough. Time to change the law mandating these tests for everyone.


26 people like this
Posted by Shocking
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Baten Caswell and Dibrienza are shocking. This is THE standardized test that all schools in California are benchmarked on. This is how the district, other districts, the state, the US, see how they are doing. And those board members encourage the students to ask, "well, what's in it for me?"

The opt-out rate statewide for 11th graders is <2%, according to the dept of ed. PAUSD is 80%. This is incredible and wrong. Our 11th graders are not so different, so busy, so special, so entitled, that they can skip the test that 98% of other 11th graders statewide make the time for and the state and federal government require.

PAUSD, get your act together.


37 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2017 at 12:57 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

"Latino students in Palo Alto did slightly better — 52 percent compared to 37 percent in both the county and state."

"Forty-six percent of Latino students met the same bar, much higher than the county average of 27 percent."

For all the fretting, you could reframe this as "PAUSD smashes achievement gap: Latino students massively outperform their cohort in California and the county."

Are Asians or Whites outperforming the county by 15%-19%? Looks like PAUSD is failing them in a bigger way.

BTW, is 52 percent compared to 37 really only "slightly better"?


4 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2017 at 1:10 pm

Hispanic/Latino includes a lot of students with middle to high incomes vs. most of the county Hispanic students who are low income. If you look just at low-income students (all races), they did about the same that the county as a whole in English (37% v 38%) and in math (32% v 29%) (pages 5 and 9 of the slides Web Link)

PAUSD spends what, 2x what San Jose or Gilroy spend? And for those kids they get the same results? And low income kids are 30-37% meet or exceed vs. white/asian 85-90%? That's pretty bad.


11 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2017 at 1:38 pm

I wish the school district would

1) give statistics of the students who took the test, how many were of each race.

2) give statistics of the students who did not take the test, how many were of each race.

3) what is the average GPA, by race, of the students who took the test

4) what is the average GPA, by race, of the students who did not take the test.


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2017 at 1:38 pm

For a country that prides itself on not teaching to the test, there are far too many tests for our high school students. From APs, SATs, ACTs, two lots of "finals" each academic year and these tests which basically test the school rather than the student, our students are suffering from over testing. Can't some of these tests be incorporated into each other rather than requiring the students to sit again in a test environment and suffer the stresses of being "tested"?


25 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2017 at 1:46 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@ Parent - Even economically disadvantages outscored the state by7% in math. What's a realistic expectation? There are issues here out of the control of PAUSD.


12 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2017 at 1:57 pm

PAUSD is only concerned about high achieving students to maintain their national prestige.

Pretty soon, PAUSD will be discouraging any "average" to "below average" students from attending, the same way Cupertino's public Monta Vista HS administration told parents of low achieving kids to go some where else.


30 people like this
Posted by Mary
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2017 at 2:00 pm

Much more correlated with school performance than race and poverty are parental involvement and single parenthood. It's good that our schools try to remedy the deficits that poor parenting and family structure leave many students to struggle with, but real progress will come only with big changes in the culture that is the root cause of student failure.


41 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2017 at 2:03 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@BP - I'd argue the opposite. PAUSD generally ignores high achieving students, leaving it to parents to supplement. Especially at the elementary and middle school levels. If PAUSD cared about high achievers, there would be a gifted program, there would be tracking, there would be a world language program in elementary schools.


5 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2017 at 3:24 pm

@john, I supposed it depends whether you think it matters if we have "good schools." I would expect good schools to meaningfully lift the performance of all students, including low income. Otherwise, as someone said above, it seems like it is not the schools that are delivering high student performance, it is the wealth and focus of the parents.

Doing about the same as the county average and somewhat better than the state average for low income kids is not very impressive, especially since we spend almost 2x per student as much as most districts. Maybe the schools are actually not that good after all?


33 people like this
Posted by No reason for students to take the test
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2017 at 3:28 pm

No reason for students to take the test is a registered user.

I see no reason for students to show up for yet another day of testing when they could be studying for AP exams, the SAT or ACT or getting caught up on projects. Try offering free pizza to the kids who show up and maybe you will get a better turnout.


Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2017 at 3:33 pm

Does PA care enough to help the poor and minority’s populations? If so what is the plan?


33 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2017 at 3:58 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Parent "Maybe the schools are actually not that good after all?"

I don't think the schools are particularly good in Palo Alto. They get a free ride on the backs of an educated and wealthy population. And perhaps school just don't have as much ability to affect outcomes as we think or want.


Posted by Accountability
a resident of Barron Park

on Oct 26, 2017 at 4:54 pm


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33 people like this
Posted by A PALY Mom
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2017 at 5:52 pm

A PALY Mom is a registered user.

@john, I agree with you!

Our teachers and admins frequently cite the number 1 ranking in Niche to proof how well we are doing in teaching at PAUSD. I always wonder how much of the number 1 is due to wealthy and well educated parents' money and efforts.

Well, the result of Smarter Balance test showed the truth: the performance of those low-income students IS the REAL indicator of how our schools teach! It sucks!


6 people like this
Posted by Teacher
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2017 at 8:12 pm

The elephant in the room is that we have oodles of so called "education specialists" who are very educated on filling out forms, getting feedback from teachers, and conducting countless of fancy labeled anacronym meetings that identify, label, and send countless emails about these achievement gap kids. And then, when someone on this big team finally figures out because he or she hasnt been read to in their formative years and the parents cannot be found because they are trying to make a living here they stop filling out the forms and the ball ......gets....dropped. Happens every day on every level in PAUSD. God forbid we hire teachers outside of milennials coming from PA .....wouldnt want that we might solve a problem.


15 people like this
Posted by why another tests
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2017 at 10:01 pm

My 7th grader in Jordan has enough tests, quizzes and homework on most of the days. I opposed doing unnecessary tests. I don't the test results for comparison. I rather my kid spends that time to read, relax and chill out.


20 people like this
Posted by BP
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2017 at 11:25 pm

If PAUSD is ignoring high achieving students, and failing to bring up the abilities of those lower on the ladder, then what is PAUSD accomplishing with all that PIE money and teacher raises?


23 people like this
Posted by Fairmeadow Dad
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2017 at 8:28 am

@John_Alderman
@Parent "Maybe the schools are actually not that good after all?"

I don't think the schools are particularly good in Palo Alto. They get a free ride on the backs of an educated and wealthy population. And perhaps school just don't have as much ability to affect outcomes as we think or want.

John, I wonder about this correlation as well. What I see amongst my son's peers and other parents in my local community, almost all of the kids are paying for extra resources on a regular basis (Russian School of Math and Mathnasium and reading tutoring, extra language programs, private music lessons, summer camps for coding, etc). The non-scientific sample size I have personally witnessed is that a huge percentage of the kids taking these courses/camps/lessons are Asian and Caucasion and a small number are Latino and African American. I can't help but wonder if the gap is at least partially explained by things outside of the PAUSD's control but by the priorities and capabilities of many of the parents within this city.


4 people like this
Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2017 at 8:58 am

My child's experience has been about 30% of the teachers are outstanding, 50% are average, and 20% should really being doing a different job. What helped my child the most is that there is a large enough community of kids who decide they want to go to college so they are want to put in the work, and are willing to help others who want to go to college as well. In various years, some teachers may be sub-standard, and some of the kids will get outside tutoring, and then work with others in their classes to help them with the material.


10 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 27, 2017 at 9:05 am

I question the idea that our schools are wonderful when I visit family and friends in other states and other countries and see what some of their high school students are doing. Their foreign language lessons were far more advanced than here without rules of no English in the classroom or cooking or making posters. If they were out sick they could watch online their math or science classroom presentations of new material. They had little or no homework, but the school days as well as the school years were longer and most assignments were done during class time. Homework was well graded and returned and if mistakes were corrected the adjusted work was also graded and higher scores recorded. The students were much more attuned to learning rather than completing assignments and wanted to improve their knowledge as much as bettering their scores.

On my latest visit to one foreign country I had lunch in a local small cafe. All the wait staff were high school students on a "week's work experience" where the students had a real work experience for a week as part of their sophomore year, I discovered. They were learning what it means to dress appropriately, turn up for their shifts on time, respect customers, and plenty of other life lessons. Community service was another week during sophomore year where the students spent time with a soup kitchen or other non-profit where they did useful service projects. Both of these special weeks were done during school hours, arranged by the school, and no academics were planned for these weeks. They also had their life skills weeks where they not only had their sex education, drug education, but real world life lessons of taxes and money budgeting lessons (among other things) also done as a week without academics. I found that all the high school students I met were polite, respectful, and willing to ask me questions about American life for people their age. They also found it strange that there were no school uniforms in particular as well as other American traditions particularly in relation to sports that they couldn't identify with.


Our schools are doing nothing more than attempting to be a machine for getting students into college and even that is debatable.

I would like to see more learning and less college preparation in the lives of our high school students.

Sadly I don't think it is going to happen.




1 person likes this
Posted by Parent bandwidth
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2017 at 9:57 am

Parent bandwidth is a registered user.

I think @Teacher has a really good point that parent bandwidth (with kids, with teachers) is a big issue here, one that impacts the kids' early (and later) development and also the ability of the family to take advantage of extra resources when they are available. It may be because the parents are working really hard to make ends meet, or have many kids, or have kids with special needs, or ...

If there are patterns like that (would be good to know), it would help us assess the degree to which the school district can compensate. I also find that the district has an excess of parent volunteers. Maybe we could redirect them in some way to help.

I don't know. I appreciate @Teacher's pointing out that there is more going on here.


12 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2017 at 10:05 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@resident - Your teacher distribution matches our experience, and you've basically described a normal curve. I.e, PAUSD teacher hiring is just a little better than random. There are more good teachers than bad, but hiring clearly isn't a core strength of PAUSD.

@Fairmeadow Dad - Look at it this way, what is special about PAUSD that elevates it? I don't see anything out of the ordinary in hiring, curriculum, facilities, philosophy, etc.


7 people like this
Posted by PAmom
a resident of Mayfield
on Oct 27, 2017 at 10:30 am

stop freakin' testing kids. just let them learn. the problem is that they're always being tested. no wonder there's a gap. and let them play. get rid of homwork in elementary schools. for such a forward thinking area Palo Alto is so far behind the times.


8 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2017 at 10:40 am

john_alderman is a registered user.

@PAmom - Like it or not test taking is as much a valuable skill as anything else kids learn in school. You aren't doing them any favors by sheltering from the reality that they will be faced with life affecting tests in their lives. Good luck on the SAT if it is your first pressure experience with a standardized test.


15 people like this
Posted by SC
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 27, 2017 at 11:51 am

Agree with BP: "If PAUSD is ignoring high achieving students, and failing to bring up the abilities of those lower on the ladder, then what is PAUSD accomplishing with all that PIE money and teacher raises?"

My kid was in Addison couple years ago. Addison is a Title One school(have enough low income families qualified for more fundings) in Palo Alto. School pretty much ignored the average and above students to the parents to supplement. Instead I seen staff and teachers spending EXTRA EXTRA efforts for the slow learners. But it didn't work well when the parents of these slow learners didn't participate to help them at home.


13 people like this
Posted by Carlos
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2017 at 12:30 pm

As long as any school performance issues are presented through the prism of ethnic categories (easy to consume for those who have been conditioned to label people in a diverse community), we'll never understand the real issues behind these gaps:

1. Family and personal circumstances shaping each student's ability or willingness to learn (regardless of ethnicity/nationality)

2. Wasteful allocation of school resources to address challenges beyond the district's control

3. Educated parents going the extra mile to help their kids with their academic work

As an immigrant from a Latin American country with a fairly diverse population, I can tell you these gaps happen there as well. The difference there is that people are realistic enough to understand it's not an ethnic issue, which seems to be the never-ending label in the US (and heavily exploited by our politicians and public officials)


18 people like this
Posted by Single parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2017 at 1:51 pm

@Mary: As a single parent of very successful children I find your comment ignorant and offensive.


20 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2017 at 2:06 pm

Marie is a registered user.

@ Mary As a single Mom in the early 90's, both my kids got into UC Berkeley although they both ended up attending other competitive schools and have continued to have successful careers. I think my example as a single Mom succeeding in a career was incredibly valuable to their development.

Other socioeconomic variables have far more impact than whether there are one or two or more adults in the household.


6 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2017 at 2:12 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Single parent - I'm sorry Mary's comments offended you, but, what should we do when real data shows information that is relevant, important, but potentially offensive? Ignoring it doesn't help underachieving kids. Our reluctance to talk openly about sensitive issues that may be a root cause is one of the reasons we have a problem with underachievement in the first place. We know there is a correlation between single parents and lower achievement; as a single parent don't you want to have an open discussion on how to mitigate those effects? It may not even be relevant to your situation, but for the sake of the other single parents?


6 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 27, 2017 at 2:19 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@Marie "Other socioeconomic variables have far more impact than whether there are one or two or more adults in the household"

Two parents in a household is a very good predictor of socioeconomic position. The median married couple makes over 3x the income of the median single mom. As to anecdotes about specific families, they are great for motivation, but for making policy they are as useless as anecdotes about smokers who live to be 100 years old.


9 people like this
Posted by TestWithoutPurpose
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2017 at 5:33 pm

Our kids are over tested and under educated.

Literally- why test them?

Is it to provide guidance on what was unclear and go back to clarify and develop mastery in the subject?

No. That simply doesn't happen.

The test is used to judge children and sort them into buckets. There is literally zero educational value in most tests our kids take.

There COULD be value if used more broadly as feedback to the teacher on where to focus for mastery. But that level of skill, and that style of curriculum doesn't exist in public school. Their goal is to judge, label, and sort.

Wonder why kids are anxious? Just look at the process they are being subjected to. It literally drives despair, lack of control and fails to give learning opportunities.

Pathetic mess. And you wonder why kids don't want to take another pointless test? Because the have done nothing but pointless tests for years. And nobody is helping them learn what's misunderstood.


18 people like this
Posted by Mechanisms for Constant Improvement Instead of Coverup Needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2017 at 10:28 am

Math education here is a train wreck for many kids. There are so many resources now to individualize math education, I am shocked that we can't seem to move to that. Lots of kids get pigeonholed as not being good at math when it's the system that has failed them. Why should people be shocked that low-income and minority students are hit to a greater degree?

We have a kid like that. The failures of the system compounded year after year, making said child feel bad at math. Students in one classroom might be allowed to work ahead where in another, young children are told to believe there is something really bad about doing that. Teachers down the line compounded the problem, favoring those who were easiest to teach (were luckier early on or had tutoring), or whose parents they liked the most.

We left PAUSD for high school, and now same child is doing advanced college-level calculus in the middle of high school (where in PAUSD, same child wasn't on track to have even gotten to it) in a program for gifted students, and performing even better on standardized tests than while at PAUSD. We tried to get help to overcome the hurdles in PAUSD, but were meanly rebuffed for reasons that came down to personalities (asked MCaswell for help; she was not helpful, seems to see the world in the same sorting/hierarchical way the unhelpful teaching did).

I don't necessarily think this problem can be solved by looking at it as a minority issue, but rather, dealing with the systemic issues so that the district actually functions to help every child reach their creative potential, that will solve things. Ensuring that systems work for everyone equally is essential. When getting special ed resources depends on how well parents can afford a legal team to get them and protect their family from retaliations, it's not realistic to expect any task force to fix things. Every problem an individual brings to their attention should be viewed as an opportunity to fix the system, including for the many who won't persist to complain. Instead, people who complain are viewed as problems to cover up or "encouraged" to go away.


Like this comment
Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2017 at 7:09 pm

So disheartening - there is no excuse for any achievement gap in PAUSD. We have the resources; there is plenty of money, plenty of personnel. There are lots of well intentioned people, but clearly we're not meeting the needs of all of our students. Every child cannot be given the exact same level of support all of the time. It's clear that some students need more - a lot more. The problem is what to do? Are there societal/economic/racial/cultural forces at play that make this a tough problem? Yes, but so what? We can't use that as an excuse. This is public education, and the mission of public education is to educate ALL who come through those doors. The fact is, we're not serious about tackling this problem. Who is rising up at Board meetings speaking for these children? There clearly is not political will, so there is no will on the part of leadership. For our leaders to take this on, they would have to confront the fact that our system has limits, and that some constituencies will not get what they want. Who do they find it easier to say "no" to? Dig into that and you'll see how we have an achievement gap.


Like this comment
Posted by Parent bandwidth
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 28, 2017 at 8:50 pm

Parent bandwidth is a registered user.

@Mechanisms for Constant Improvement Instead of Coverup Needed

It sounds like you are comparing PAUSD to a gifted program in a private school. (Is that right?) If so, it's tough to say that's a fair comparison. It's great you found a place that's a terrific fit for your kid. But PAUSD has bigger classes with a wider range of kids than such a context, and will not ever be as good a fit. I expect it has fewer resources as well.

I'm not saying it can't get better. But please keep the above in mind.

Regarding personalized math, the Mountain View middle schools tried something along that lines a year or two ago, and it was a disaster. They rolled it out and had to roll it back within a year, due to parent outrage. Automation/personalization is not as clear-cut as you may think.


20 people like this
Posted by It's about my kid
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 29, 2017 at 1:41 am

Let's just call a spade a spade for once here.

No one is Palo Alto wants an achievement gap to exist. And most all are ardent progressives. Until.... my little Johnny or Jane may be affected. Then all liberal attitudes go out the window and it's "my kid first."

Look at the attempt to de-lane certain classes at Paly. The research was all lined up to support the decision. Then what happened? The parents of a few higher achieving students stepped in to muddy the waters and further institutionalize class advantage by stopping the effort. Thank you tiger moms of Palo Alto.

So it would be good if we could all refrain from being so sanctimonious about our politics. We are liberal when it suits us. That's why there's an achievement gap and a place like Palo Alto.


9 people like this
Posted by Mechanisms for Constant Imorovement Needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2017 at 3:03 am

No, we did not go to a private school, we do not have better resources, in fact, we wish we had even close to similar resources. In the beginning, our child simply chose a curriculum and worked out of the book at a significantly accelerated pace, turning in tests, something PAUSD would not allow. The gifted resource came later, and is not part of a school. Personalization does not have to mean automation. It just needs a commitment to the potential of every child.

One of the things we learned is that it’s not possible to move to such independent learning successfully without a decompression period. People need to be educated about how it will work. In the context of an over abundance of classes that don’t do things that way in a child's schedule, the independent learning can get crowded out. It can’t be easily done in a vacuum. So, yes, I agree it's not necessarily simple to implement. But one failure does not mean personalized education is impossible but rather lessons should be learned to do it right.

Our child finds math the easiest and most intuitive subject but was not doing well in PAUSD, and was getting pigeonholed. Some of it was probably related to executive function, which self paced helped a lot. Kids who thrive on what we have in the school should not lose that. Personalizing means keeping what works for those who benefit, and providing something more appropriate for those who don’t.


1 person likes this
Posted by Crowding
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 29, 2017 at 9:53 am

"Personalization does not have to mean automation. It just needs a commitment to the potential of every child. "

Personalization is difficult with these growing class sizes. I don't know why the Board refuses to discuss the issue of building another high school.


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Posted by Old Timer
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2017 at 10:08 am

Class sizes have gone down at every level the last 2 years. Elementary enrollment is falling fast, middle now too as the 4 bubble classes move on to high school. They've added teachers to the high schools to push down class size there too. In fact class sizes are probably as good as they've been in Palo Alto from a long time.

Adding a new school would be a waste since enrollment is dropping.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent bandwidth
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 29, 2017 at 12:54 pm

Parent bandwidth is a registered user.

@Old Timer -- You may not be aware, but Palo Alto has been and will be growing significantly. The new Comp Plan that is being discussed (Web Link) is advocating the addition of 9500 people to Palo Alto over the next 15 years. That is about a 15% increase. School capacity will be exceeded for elementary and middle school, and on the cusp for high school. Fees are supposed to cover the construction of new schools needed. (That seems implausible to me, but that is what the report says!)

Others: I agree that class size is a big impediment to personalization, and meeting each student where they are. When I talk about "resources", it's just not money, it's also time. Home schooling presumably maximizes that resource. And private schools do better than public on that front. The danger is that people think computers or videos can do personalization in large classes. But it's not that straight-forward. One of the things I see in PAUSD is kids at similar levels learning from each other. I think that is a promising approach.


1 person likes this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 29, 2017 at 1:16 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

If schools were willing to start tracking kids earlier, you'd effectively get personalization, and you'd be able to focus attention on the kids that need help closing the achievement gap.


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Posted by Old Timer
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2017 at 1:39 pm

Parent bandwidth, you may not be aware, but the comp plan does not dictate what happens, and we can expect reality will fall well short. In the meantime, school enrollment is actually shrinking today, so when you say Palo Alto has been growing significantly, I'm not sure what you mean. The fastest growing demographic in Palo Alto is senior citizens.


5 people like this
Posted by Mechanisms for Constant Improvement Needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2017 at 1:52 pm

One of the things that helped our student was that in the new program, the grade was based more on a longer-term assessment and culminating in final work, rather than like school was with lots of short-term grades that work like a score card but not a self-improvement guide. In the new program, when problems were missed, the teacher required extra honors problems and then the homework or test could be redone. Every time there was a test or homework, our student was responsible for and benefited from correcting mistakes and understanding why. For logistical reasons, our student ended up basically doing two curricula worth of problems and tests, and yet even with redoing extra problems and tests with errors, because the work was on our student's timeline, not someone else's, it was considerably less stressful and was possible to accelerate to about 2-3X the normal curriculum speed in school. It was possible then to considerably accelerate the education to make up for lost time in a poor match non-self-directed school program. Same student did better (perfect score) on standardized tests after that, so there are ways to judge whether it's working without constantly grading the kids on everything.

Given that schools keep telling our kids to make their own mistakes, I really don't understand why they don't just let the kids who want to decide to do something like this if they want to, without penalty. If it works out, then the schools might get far higher achievement across the board. If not, and the school doesn't create an indelible score card of failure for the kids who try, then they could just go back into the regular path. The difference here for us was the chance to put the focus on learning for a child who wasn't a good fit for the existing program, and whose situation was compounded by low expectations and lost opportunities once the system failed that student from the start. The new program has not been more expensive, nor from an elite private high school, nor even from expensive tutors (or any tutors), it's in partnership with a public resource. The difference has simply been a commitment to giving the students control of their own time and learning. That's really it. It doesn't even require any newfangled software, there are many good math textbooks out there.

I heard recently from a friend of same student from Gunn who is working hard and unfortunately being shuttled into a kind of second-class achievement status, too, when I know this child could do more advanced work if given the right kind of setup, too. (The teacher tried to discourage the student from pursuing math because of the teacher's fixed-mindset about math learning.) I know some students who are getting the support they need and who do well with the existing program. I applaud that. It really is possible to do better for those who don't get what they need from the existing program without upsetting the apple cart for those who do.


2 people like this
Posted by Parent bandwidth
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 29, 2017 at 4:40 pm

@Old Timer, yes, the 65+ demographic has grown from 15.9% in 2009 to 17.3% in 2016, per the US Census. In contrast, the population of school-aged kids (well, 5-14) remained relatively steady at around 13.8% during that same period. Seniors rule!

The school population trend I was referring to is on page 56 of the big pdf here: Web Link (Sorry, not sure where the original is.) I realize that right now enrollment is going down. (That's why I said "has" instead of "is".) And you make a good point about the City possibly not achieving 15% growth over the next 15 years. But the current City Council seems very keen to do so, and adding lots of housing (esp BMR housing) seems to be the primary approach they have in mind for addressing our City's top issues (per survey, summarized here: Web Link), namely affordability and congestion. (The other would be eliminating jobs and office space, which I don't think has had much serious discussion.)

@Continuous -- It sounds like you have a wonderfully gifted child. From what I read on these message boards, there are many in Palo Alto. I hope you can rally those parents around you and sell this new program to the district.


19 people like this
Posted by Another single parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 29, 2017 at 9:10 pm

@ Alderman: When statistically characterizing the population of Palo Alto, is your narrow-mindedness to be considered a data point or an anecdote?


3 people like this
Posted by Mechanisms for Constant Improvement Needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 29, 2017 at 9:19 pm

@Parent bandwidth,
I agree, this district has a wonderful student (and family) population. The program is not new, it’s a few decades old. We did try to do that, try to interest the district in exploring, it was a pretty disillusioning experience. I’ll leave it at that. I think it would be wonderful if someday the district did things like that, but unfortunately it won’t happen in time to help ours or our friend’s child, if ever. I am overcommitted in the communities of learning we benefit from now, I wouldn’t be able to do more about bringing something to PAUSD even if I thought I might be more successful now, which I

I have heard that the new high school at the Oracle campus allows kids who want courses they don’t teach there, like advanced calculus, to leave school early to take them. They don’t assign homework for the most part. There are many innovators in the Bay Area. I have heard of things like this being allowed on a kind of under the table basis here. But parents would need to organize to ask for change...


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Posted by Old Timer
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 29, 2017 at 10:09 pm

@parent bandwidth, thanks for at least caring about the actual data (not all do). If you look a couple pages further in that same board packet link (p 61), you can see K-5 enrollment dropped by 289 that year (2016). This year it dropped another 105 (see Web Link). So that is a drop of 394 - that's a whole elementary school's worth of students over 2 years! That trend in elementary school inevitably works its way up to the middle and high schools.

Could it change back? Sure. But last time the tide crested like this, enrollment went down for 20 years (and then went up for 20).

In any case, we have plenty of elementary school capacity (more than needed), middle school enrollment is finally dropping, and high schools will get relief in a handful of years. Building schools will not be a worry we have any time soon.


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