Palo Alto Unified Superintendent Don Austin has directed administrators and principals to conduct a wholesale evaluation of academic policies and practices at the district's three middle schools in response to Latino and low-income students' declining achievement, particularly in mathematics.
Austin's direction was prompted by new results from the state's Smarter Balanced exam, released on Oct. 9, that show Latino students dropped from performing above standard in English language arts and math in fifth grade to below standard by the time they graduated eighth grade. Low-income students also dropped farther below standard in both English and math by the end of eighth grade. In his weekly update on Friday, Austin described these results as "worthy of concern."
The school board will discuss the test results at its meeting on Tuesday.
Austin has asked administrators from Educational Services and the three middle school principals to work with teachers to evaluate their math programs and bring back recommendations before winter break. Specifically, he's asked them to scrutinize historic data for minority and economically disadvantaged students, placement practices, instructional time, naming of math courses, homework practices and teacher credentialing issues for content-specific courses, among other areas.
"Our team sees this evaluation process as an opportunity to challenge past assumptions and look for the next right answers," Austin wrote.
The board will hear a presentation on all students' "distance from standard," or the distance a student scores above or below the minimum standard met score for his or her grade level on the Smarter Balanced test.
At the elementary level, students overall continue to score above standard in math and English. In the past year, students who were identified as socioeconomically disadvantaged showed "accelerated growth" towards standard in both subjects, according to a staff report. Low-income students who graduated from fifth grade earlier this year were overall 32 points below standard in math, up from the previous class's 64 points below standard. Latino students also moved closer to the minimum standard score in English.
By the end of eighth grade, however, students moved from being 25 points above standard in English when finishing fifth grade to 13 points below standard, according to the district. In math, they moved from one point above standard to 20 points below standard.
In other business Tuesday, the board will discuss whether to pursue a staff housing project in Palo Alto. If board members support this, the district will next conduct a feasibility study, including looking at a site assessment, a market study and an initial financial analysis, according to staff.
The board will also hear a report on school safety and emergency preparedness, including recommendations for how to strengthen safety procedures.
The meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the district office, 25 Churchill Ave. View the agenda here.