No more A's and F's? Teachers experiment with 'standards based' grading | News | Palo Alto Online |

News

No more A's and F's? Teachers experiment with 'standards based' grading

New approach to grading emphasizes mastery of skills over letter grades

Laurie Pennington, a science teacher at Gunn High School, explains the concept of velocity to students during her conceptual physics class on Jan. 30. Pennington has used standards based grading for four years. Photo by Magali Gauthier.

In Laurie Pennington's science classes at Gunn High School, standards-based grading has tested students' and parents' firm attachment to traditional grades.

This is the fourth year she's used the form of grading that emphasizes students' mastery of prescribed standards over rote learning. The practice is growing in popularity in schools across the country. Pennington believes it's a more equitable, accurate and progressive way of evaluating students who learn in vastly different ways.

While some of her students have welcomed and excelled within this new system, others have balked, Pennington said in an interview with the Weekly. Numerous students, backed by their parents, dropped their science course this year out of frustration with the shift in grading practice, she said.

Pennington, who is also the science department's instructional lead, is among many middle and high school teachers in Palo Alto Unified who have organically started using standards-based grading in their classrooms. She hasn't ditched letter grades, though; students in her classes still receive them as well.

Like students and parents, reaction among teachers is mixed: Some have enthusiastically embraced the shift, including entire departments, while others remain resistant or have urged caution over adopting the new method too quickly. Some schools, primarily Gunn and Greene Middle School, have been moving rapidly towards standards-based grading; Gunn Principal Kathie Laurence said in the fall that she wanted the school as a whole to use standards-based grading by fall 2022. Palo Alto High School's entire world language department uses standards-based grading.

Meanwhile, the district appears to be walking a tightrope between supporting an evolution in grading practices while avoiding the appearance of a top-down mandate to teachers.

The practice is already in place at the elementary schools.

While increasing the number of teachers using standards-based grading is included in Palo Alto Unified's highest level planning document, the PAUSD Promise, the president of the teachers union said it supports "the district's decision to not require standards-based grading and allow for flexibility in the classroom."

"It's organic. It's supported. It's something we'd like to learn more about, but it's not an all-in mandate," Superintendent Don Austin told the Weekly.

"There could potentially be a time when the question isn't, 'Should we go all in?' and the question may be, 'Why aren't we all in?'" he said. "But I don't know how long that's going to take or if it's ever going to happen."

Sharon Ofek, associate superintendent of education services, said the number of teachers using standards-based grading varies from school to school and that "there really is no way to estimate" the total number.

Standards-based learning evolved in response to what proponents see as flaws in the traditional grading system: the conflation of behavior and academics, averaging of scores, high-stakes tests and embedded inequalities that tip the scales toward students with more resources, such as tutors or homework help from parents. In the standards-based model, students are given frequent opportunities to practice and improve, including by retaking tests to address the specific areas in which they're struggling. A student who improves over the course of a class gets credit for that rather than being penalized for poor performance on an early test due to averaging. Homework becomes an optional means for practice rather than points toward a grade.

"In true standards-based grading schools, kids are given lots of opportunities to reach the standards," said Denise Pope, co-founder of Stanford University education-reform Challenge Success, which helps schools implement the grading practice. "You see a much bigger range of kids being successful than just the kids who know how to play the game."

Pennington, who's been a teacher for 32 years, now assesses her students based on a scale of zero to four. Zero means a student has not demonstrated understanding of a skill, even with help; one indicates a student is showing partial understanding; two means a student has a grasp of simpler issues but still makes errors regarding more complex concepts; three denotes that the student meets the standard with no major errors; and four, a student is able to make in-depth inferences that go beyond what is taught in class. Students receive scores in more than 20 categories, from timeliness, independence and perseverance to writing a scientific question and calculating an average.

Instead of testing students by making them define terms on an exam, Pennington lets them use notecards but asks them to use the terms in a way that supports an argument or applies to a concept. When students retake a test, she writes a new, individualized set of problems that focus on the specific areas they're struggling with.

This takes significant time and effort — something other teachers have voiced concern about. Gunn Spanish teacher Liz Matchett, who has piloted standards-based grading in her classes, said at the Jan. 14 Board of Education meeting that she's felt "overwhelmed" by the amount of time it takes to support makeup work.

English teacher Diane Ichikawa said that the district should consider hiring extra tutors or provide teachers with an extra prep period.

"I would urge you to go slowly with this," Marc Igler, Gunn English teacher and teachers union vice president, told the board. "There are some good things about standards-based grading, yet it has many drawbacks. It can confuse students, oftentimes hurting the ones it is most designed to help. It can anger parents, and it's very hard to implement across all academic fields."

(Austin, for his part, said that "for the people that were concerned about the time it takes to reteach, I'd say, 'That's our job.'")

Successful implementation of standards-based grading requires a bottom-up approach and investment in support for teachers, said Joe Feldman, a Bay Area educational consultant and author of "Grading For Equity: What It Is, Why It Matters, and How It Can Transform Schools and Classrooms."

"It requires teachers to work more closely with each other and to define course outcomes more specifically in a way that they haven't been asked to do," Feldman said. "It's an investment by the school that results in changes not just to how we enter information into our grading software but how we function as a learning institution. That can be intimidating — and exciting."

To Pennington, the extra effort that standards-based grading requires is worth it — and is something she even calls a "moral imperative" for the district.

"There are students who have been so discouraged because the education system isn't a system that works for them the way it is now. They feel like they're stupid when they've just really never had the chance to figure out that they could do better," she said. "I think it's our duty, actually, to be able to show that they have success."

But she's encountered pushback from and confusion among students and parents — particularly because she still has to give letter grades for the school's transcripts. (A mix of two's, three's, and four's but mostly two's, for example, is a C in her classes.)

"They're constantly still looking at the letter," Pennington said. "They want to know what the letter is every moment."

Gunn parent Eva Dobrov said that it's stressful for students to be unclear on how the standards-based rubric translates to grades, and not all teachers interpret it in the same way.

"I don't even know what the grades mean," she said at the Jan. 14 board meeting. "The big issue, especially in high school, is transferring that data over to the transcript, which will eventually be seen by colleges."

Pennington agreed that the piecemeal rollout of standards-based grading is challenging for everyone.

Austin, however, said that he's not concerned about the inconsistency, nor does he plan any mandates for adoption of the system.

"There are some things in a district that need to be uniform and consistent all the way through, and some others can go at a different pace and have some space for some organic growth. I think this falls into that (second) category," he said.

At the same time, in his "superintendent's update" email earlier this month, he wrote that "we do not see prescription of a large-scale shift to a new model as viable, practical or universally beneficial at this time."

---

Follow the Palo Alto Weekly/Palo Alto Online on Twitter @PaloAltoWeekly and Facebook for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.

Comments

21 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2020 at 9:38 am

They tried this in (some of?) the elementary schools in the late 90's. Extra work for the teachers. But, the bottom line is, that some students are going to do better than other students. Parents of below-average students will know that either way. Parents of bright students will hope that their children will become Albert Einstein the Second. Average students will be-- wait for it -- average. Only, we won't call it "average". It will be "meeting standards".

Like the kids say: "Whatever"


67 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 31, 2020 at 10:42 am

I fully endorse Mr. Igler's statement of the need for care and nuance with this conversation about standards-based grading. In my opinion, this issue is very deep, subtle, and touches the some of the most important philosophical recesses of what education is or should be.

Self-ownership, pride of purpose, mastery of core skills, commitment to your friends/community to learn and grow together, discipline and accountability, creativity and expression. I could write dozens more.

Sadly, my opinion is that when bureaucracies push for "standard-level grading," it has little to do with deep thinking on these issues. In a recent article, a commenter "Yuri" mentioned that PAUSD achieved the appearance of better results on a mandated "D/F report" not by better serving kids or nurturing any of these virtues, but by simply changing practices around how we assign those grades. Does that help the kids? Have we improved? If it seems silly, we might ask "cui bono?"

Here's where I part from Mr. Igler. He left out the biggest red-flag of all. Namely, our educational strategy (inside but also well beyond PAUSD) seems to be that we can eliminate the achievement gap and other problems if we simply agree to close our eyes.

SAT scores poor for poor kids? Eliminate the SAT. Grades show inequality? Eliminate grades. Benchmarked scores show core skills are lacking? Bury them, or call the test instrument racist or classist. Too many kids getting detentions? Give fewer detentions. It sure is easy to solve problems these days.

Again, I ask-- Does it help the parents of a student with D's or F's to hide that fact? Does it help to redefine what a D is, or eliminate grades altogether? Or might that be the place where an educator's job starts?


40 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 31, 2020 at 10:42 am

Standards-based grading is educationists' artful tactic to closing the achievement gaps on report cards, which will perpetuate and even widen the true achievement gaps.

PAUSD just announced that all middle grades math teachers will soon start PD training with Silicon Valley Math Initiative (SVMI). SVMI aims to hold 8th graders at pre-algebra and postpone algebra 1 to 9th grade, a mission already carried out by Jo Boaler and David Foster in SFUSD since 2015.

Barry Garelick Web Link has the testimony--8th grade algebra takers dropped from 300+ to 46 in a year: Web Link.

Here is an ode of reform math: Web Link.

Meanwhile, PAUSD is adopting science programs aligning to the Next Generation Science Standards(NGSS) for 6-12 grades. Built around a preferred pedagogy (i.e. constructivism and inquiry-based learning as in Everyday Math and CPM) instead of knowledge standards, the NGSS are doing to science what Common Core and the 1989 NCTM standards did to math.

For more info, please read updates on Web Link.

PAUSD is fully geared to lead its students to the famous American "math-science death march."


42 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 31, 2020 at 11:10 am

@Sally - yes. Cue the teachers'union trying to cover up their failure to actually educate struggling students. Cue equity folks whose answer isnt to fix the problem and make sure kids are proficient, but instead to keep other kids down as though that helps lift other struggling kids up. It doesn't. Earn it.


28 people like this
Posted by Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 31, 2020 at 11:51 am

Separating out learning material vs. behavior grading (effort, attendance, conduct) makes sense. Both are actually important, but there's no benefit to conflating the two for reporting purposes (esp when the mix is arbitrary).

I don't read this as being "pushed by the bureaucracy" - it sounds like it is being organically tried or adopted by teachers. And far from "hiding D/Fs" - this is the first year PAUSD has EVER reported D/Fs by school or otherwise, so I'm not sure what's being hidden.

One of the things that has held PAUSD back is the high cost of trying new things - the union, some community members, and the school board all push back, not wanting to "break" what we have. But we need to acknowledge a couple things: 1) what we have is not that great - our students are awesome, but our schools are only ok (look at the performance of kids without strong family resources); and 2) that trying things is the only way to improve - though we have to make sure we look hard at what we try and not keep doing what does't work.

Given that, trying new things should be welcomed - though the right question is always, "did this give a better outcome for students?"


39 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 31, 2020 at 11:52 am

@Independent -- I may agree with you, likely up to 95%. But I will comment on where I feel we may differ. Perhaps that's a mistake to contend with a 95% ally in these divisive times, but here it goes!

I feel your "Earn It" goes too far. Maybe I am misreading what you likely mean by that.

My background was poor in many ways, but I was blessed with a grandparent in a poor town who taught me to love reading, laughing, cooking, and math. I didn't "earn" my love of learning. I feel I was given it. I didn't "earn" my virtues (habits?) of being forthright, dependable, and empathetic. My parents and grandparents enforced my childhood so I could do no other, to paraphrase Luther.

I was blessed with something like "benevolent dictators" in the adults around me, including at school, who knew I was a child in need of structure, but wanted me to grow into the freedom of a fully expressive citizen and adult. Maybe I am guilty here of mythologizing my "old-timey" native rural culture, community, and childhood. It was a long time ago.

But the idea that my grandmother would lower a standard so I could attain it feels like sin and lie for all involved. They were honest with me in the things I was poor at (piano, my temper, listening, writing, response to criticism). I knew they were being honest if I heard a compliment, too. One of those "growth-areas" even grew into a lifelong strength.


15 people like this
Posted by What Will They Do Next
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 31, 2020 at 12:08 pm

@ Sally....don't ever feel guilty about the fact you had people in your life that encouraged you to learn. IMO, some or all of standards based grading is about associating guilt with so-called "white privilege."


37 people like this
Posted by A Grade is a Grade
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2020 at 12:43 pm

My students have experienced both traditional and standards based grading in PAUSD middle school (English) and high school (languages). They and their peers don't like standards based grading. Metrics with numbers 1-4 are an amorphous mystery to students in general. My students (and their peers) had no idea why they received the 1-4 they did and what was needed to improve. Then at the end of the semester, all the students had a surprise letter grade (because to that point they'd received 1-4 and had no idea how to translate that to a letter A-F grade until it showed up on their report cards). And let's be honest here, a 1-4 is still a grade! Whether it's a number or a letter, all students' require assessment. There will be just as much inconsistency/unfairness in 1-4 as A-F. Perhaps even more grading inconsistency since 1-4 is totally subjective assessment. Solve the grading inconsistency issue, don't just give the problem a new outfit!


23 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 31, 2020 at 12:56 pm

#Sally - yes. We agree. What I meant by earn it was:
"But the idea that my grandmother would lower a standard so I could attain it feels like sin and lie for all involved."


32 people like this
Posted by A Grade is a Grade
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 31, 2020 at 1:11 pm

@ Denise Pope "You see a much bigger range of kids being successful than just the kids who know how to play the game."

Denise Pope saying that letter A-F grades serve "just the kids who know how to play the game" is offensive! Not all sucessful students are sucessful because they "know how to play the game"!

There are extremely hard working students who bust their behinds at Paly and Gunn to be successful (whatever they define this as, maybe it's A-F grades and maybe it's not). These students are trying to learn, master the material, and do well in their subjects. Some (shocker) are even passionate about some of what they're learning (my students pursued their passions in high school and were lucky to be able to do so). Imagine that, being successful and getting a good grade just because you're motivated and inspired by the subject matter or a teacher - not just 'playing the game'!

Yes, some students have more resources than others, specifically they can afford outside tutors to achieve higher grades, and they are robotically pursuing high GPAs. That's life and we can all help even the playing field. But this is not all students. And I would think teachers would also be offended at the insinuation that they are being 'played' in this game Denise refers to. An Education Lecturer, like Denise Pope, would do well to exit her ivory Stanford tower before referring to successful students as just those who "know how to play the game" -- particularly since her employer (Stanford) is one of the universities at the root of what drives students' academic insanity/pressure in high schools across our country.


29 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2020 at 1:25 pm

Thank you Sally for your many thoughts and insights. Without being in the classroom/school system, readers may be making some slightly inaccurate assumptions:

- Many teachers have long-ago incorporated the key feature of SBG already--being allowed to retake assessments (albeit with a B grade cap) and rewrite papers. Our directors of ed could work within our current system and with our teachers to evaluate improvements through that route. Such a practice doesn't require a total overhaul of the system, while maintaining a commitment to teaching personal responsibility (which seems to be out of favor these days). It also maintains compatibility with our current grade reporting platform (Schoology), which is unable to interpret the SBG 1-4 into a letter grade in real time for students. It also allows for more personal expression for teachers.

- Although some teachers have voluntarily incorporated SBG into their classrooms, it has been informally mandated at some sites from the top down. Granted, it has been modified to make it work better. Some teachers have made it work, others are overwhelmed by the additional time required. Is it fair to put the burden of reteaching--at any time during the semester--on a conscientious teacher who has a curricula to roughly adhere to, while the student can decide to finally get to work the week before finals and be granted unlimited opportunities for retesting? It doesn't seem respectful of the teacher's time.

- SBG is not necessarily any more accurate. Here is one possible scenario: It is possible for a student to have all 3s and 4s for semester work (which is A level work), but if there is one more 3 than 4, then 3 is the median. If a student has a poor final exam of 2, the final grade would be a 2 (C). Our current system works pretty well in that it allows teachers to weight certain types of work more heavily than others, and to assign overall points to those.

- SBG seems to reduce more complex, well-crafted pieces of work and art (writing, scientific analyses, a painting) into overly simplified elements (in order to score it).

- It does seem we're trying to redefine-away the problems for our students in the achievement gap. Although Ms. Pennington includes "timeliness" in her standards, I think this would be considered behavioral, and not allowed in the SBG format (could be wrong about that). It is similar to not holding students accountable for their attendance. Not sure how that works for a discussion-based English class where attendance is critical?

- It is interesting that SBG proponents/creators feel behaviors should not be included in a grade. I don't know of any PAUSD teachers who allow cupcakes to substitute for achievement (except a cooking class!). And although there are some solo-type professions where behavioral skills are not as important, they are critical for successful and satisfying employment in most careers: respectful face-to-face communication, ability to ask questions in a timely manner, ability/commitment to working together on-time as a team, ability to complete tasks on time to meet a more complicated/expensive deadline, entering a job with strong foundational skills, and facing personal limitations.

Unless we put some limitations into it, I'm not yet convinced SBG is what any student needs, especially those in the achievement gap. If we reduced our administration budget (no one paid more than 2X median teaching salary), added many on-campus tutors, had an after-school room for making up missed/cut classes, and had better home-school support/liaisons, we could improve quite a bit. We need our administration to listen to its teachers, parents, and students on this matter. How odd that "there really is no way to estimate" the total number." Is that a symptom of the larger problem?


12 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 31, 2020 at 1:56 pm

Thank you Laurie Pennington for your dedication to our students and for thoughtfully describing your support for SBG. As a parent of students who went to Gunn, they would have benefited from this practice. So many of my kids' teachers merely handed out tests without regard to how well the material had been taught or absorbed by their students. SBG is a way for kids to demonstrate that they have either mastered a subject or have improved their knowledge of a subject. Importantly, it is also a way to demonstrate that the teacher has successfully conveyed and supported the students in the mastery of a subject. It's more of a partnership than a one way street where the burden is on the student. My 2 cents.


12 people like this
Posted by Tests are the new homework
a resident of Mayfield
on Jan 31, 2020 at 3:45 pm

I like the idea that you can retake tests. It takes some of the stress off and focuses on the learning aspect. It does seem like more work for teachers, though.

I worry about the idea of de-emphasizing homework and not incorporating that effort into the grade. Isn't that how kids learn? Or is the concern that kids who have tutors or more involved parents get an unfair advantage? It seems a shame that teachers can no longer use homework to gauge how their kids are doing and help those who need it. Instead it seems that the shift is towards using tests because the parents/tutors aren't there to help with them.

So tests are becoming the new homework. Unless the kids are tested frequently, it seems to push back the normal learning cycle, making it pretty difficult on the teachers.


25 people like this
Posted by Teacher 586
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2020 at 8:48 pm

This is the newest fad. Everyone knows that a GOOD teacher, minus the bells, whistles, accolades, shout out from the principal, and a needy self esteem does elements of SBG already. They call it "Off the gradebook" grading. But teachers like above need a shout out from the powers that be.


20 people like this
Posted by Teacher 586
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2020 at 9:01 pm

And btw the LIFE LESSON of improving with EFFORT aligned with CURRICULUM AND CONTENT is a worthwhile endeavor. But leave it to BUREAUCRATS that have the audacity that they are "GAMING THE SYSTEM" and "PLAYING THE SYSTEM".Tell that to the first generation student of color and the teacher who mentored the student of color. Tell that to the B+ student who did EXTRA RESEARCH. Tell that to the FAILING Bio student who went into tutorial and listened to the advice and did the extra work to master it. No category for that? Must be a STEM THING. Bull*(#$. Show up to the district STUDENT PANEL EVERY MARCH AND HEAR WHAT THE OVERRIDING CONSENSUS is from a student perspective. Then publish that.


20 people like this
Posted by Teacher 586
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2020 at 9:09 pm

AND after all is said and done and the 1s, 2s, 3s, and 4s are added up and a LETTER GRADE IS STILL HANDED OUT a you are going to state it is objective after a kid has been sitting in your classroom for a semester? Right. I have some swampland to sell you. And books from education czars to sell you.


10 people like this
Posted by People’s Republic of Palo Alto
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 31, 2020 at 9:59 pm

[Post removed.]


19 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 31, 2020 at 11:13 pm

"In the standards-based model, students are given frequent opportunities to practice and improve, including by retaking tests to address the specific areas in which they're struggling. A student who improves over the course of a class gets credit for that rather than being penalized for poor performance on an early test due to averaging. Homework becomes an optional means for practice rather than points toward a grade.

"In true standards-based grading schools, kids are given lots of opportunities to reach the standards," said Denise Pope, co-founder of Stanford University education-reform Challenge Success, which helps schools implement the grading practice. "You see a much bigger range of kids being successful than just the kids who know how to play the game." "

I have been critical of things like academic busywork and the lack of independence in learning here. But if this truly works out as suggested, I applaud the district for trying to do this. I think it's patently obvious that teachers need more support to implement this properly without being overwhelmed. If I'm reading it right, it's essentially an attempt to better individualize and work towards mastery-based education.

We did that (by homeschooling) and our kid's test scores went from somewhat advanced on standardized tests to getting top 1% and perfect scores with little to no preparation. I love the homework optional part of SBG because it lets students decide how best to learn, and also gives them flexibility in their schedules so they can better succeed in all their courses. Giving students ways to use the grades as a way to know where they stand and how to improve so they can make an A is not "dumbing" things down but rather making it possible for more kids who CAN to succeed.

Bravo to everyone. This is a step in the right direction. I do think they need to get anything that smacks of behavior assessment out of SBG, though. That was a problem in elementary, and I don't think the elementary assessment was all that helpful for my kid to use to improve. (And they were a huge amount of work for the teacher.)


15 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2020 at 10:08 am

Although, JLS was a Challenge Success school under Ofek, too, and the actual experience on the ground was far different. This will work if the teachers feel ownership and support, and it’s really what it claims, rather than top-down from the district.


15 people like this
Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 1, 2020 at 12:18 pm

No one is criticizing dedicated teachers and hardworking students, regardless of what grading system is used. What I’m hearing from this article is frustration, and largely frustration at the lack of administrative leadership, clarity, and communication over SBG (with both students and teachers).

We all want students across the learning spectrum to have opportunities to master material. And to be fair, even if our family doesn't do it, a student wanting to get top marks using a tutor has that right. Not everyone can learn in large classes. As the parent quoted in the article states, there is much confusion for students over SBG, especially a lack of clarity over how a grade is assigned and the variety of ways teachers are applying it. I’ve heard some A-lane classes do not allow retakes, even if they are using SBG? Should H and AP use SBG at all? That is just one question that should be discussed. Should there be time limits? What resources will the district provide for teachers? There must be good information PAUSD teachers can share with our admins if they are asking and willing to listen. And if other districts have transitioned to it successfully, have they been consulted?


17 people like this
Posted by Palo Alto Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 1, 2020 at 9:25 pm

As @A Grade said, "Metrics with numbers 1-4 are an amorphous mystery to students in general. My students (and their peers) had no idea why they received the 1-4 they did and what was needed to improve. "

If that is indeed how it's working, then the teachers are doing all that work for nothing. The whole point, per what I read (and understand works) is for the new grading system to help kids engage in mastery-based learning, so they aren't just judged by how the do on this assignment or that assignment, but rather whether they learn everything by the end of the course.

One problem is if the process is cumbersome for kids, so that those who need to redo things end up in a burdensome cycle of constant catch up if the new system isn't indeed integrated into a new approach to learning. Another problem is if the kids just get confused because the new system is simply another way of doing the same old thing. We heard lots of great promises about EDM and that's not what we got. We heard lots of great promises about Challenges Success -- not what we got. The description of SBG sounds great, but it remains to be seen whether that's what we will get. And in a district that doesn't take feedback or work with families well, there's no culture of using feedback for constant improvement. Things can go off the rails or never even get on the rails, with no mechanism to get there.

I'm cautiously optimistic but it's concerning to hear this family's experience.


19 people like this
Posted by Anonymous1
a resident of another community
on Feb 2, 2020 at 12:32 am

No matter how hard they try, kids always will know exactly who is pretty good at what. If you have a human teacher who knows children and dies not fear parents, kids can be a great resource for each other. Now, with low level online quizzes to test low level thinking, there is pettiness and fighting over really nothing and a bad bot island atmosphere wrought with anonymity.

Higher lexoectations and human contact with teachers who have mastered the art of teaching instead if low standards and that can be digitalized for admin.

I remember an elementary teacher telling my kid the had mastered their grade level and beyond. They still gave them low grades because “ they had to show improvement” and could not just show mastery even if it was there. This created distrust and my kid just sat and watched others improve. We left thank goodness. Seems to all be getting like bad movies like the Matrix or sci fu movies with weird Utopias. Yuck.


20 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 4, 2020 at 3:43 pm

Sure Don Austin, shift the responsibility and decision making to the teachers.

Words like "organic" and "not top down" to rid yourself the responsibility when parents get upset with this.

NEVER take responsibility. Always make sure to point the burden on a group consensus and never spearhead anything. Never stick your neck out on anything. Wait until things actually do work, and then take credit. That's the way.

That way, you can ensure you continue to work at PAUSD with the high salary of $300,000 ++ with benefits and not have to take responsibility and be fired by the Board. That way parents can never direct their questions to you. They have to seek out answers from this large mass of "organically drive process" of a group of unknown teachers.

Clever. Tactical clever.

Annoyingly unaccountable.

At what point will YOU step up Don Austin and take responsibility for any of the massive changes happening here since you arrived? Only when accolades are in? Till then, you assume the guise of facilitator and supporter?


12 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 4, 2020 at 5:49 pm

"take responsibility for any of the massive changes happening here"

What exactly are these "massive changes"? It sounds like standards-based grading has been the norm in elementary and increasing in middle and high schools for a few years. If it continues to increase, it is because teachers and principals think it is effective. They seem like reasonable people to make the call on that.

What are the other big changes? Other than the school board meetings ending at 9:30 instead of midnight, and much less drama in the papers, it seems pretty steady.


15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 4, 2020 at 6:39 pm

@ Parent of 2

Have you not been to the Board meeting that talked about changes to Middle School Math?
That was back in December of 2019, where they said they are revamping middle school math completely. It's to be implemented starting next year with the incoming grade 6 students. Exactly what grades are your kids in for you to not be aware of this?
I would say that is pretty massive in terms of changes. All children of all levels and abilities now being in one math classroom.

If you are aware the board meetings end at 9:30 pm then you should be aware of that particular board meeting where they informed us that PAUSD would be doing massive overhaul to middle school math program.


15 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 4, 2020 at 6:46 pm

@ Parent of 2

I'm surprised for someone who knows Board meetings are ending at 9:30 pm that you don't know of the massive changes that are also happening elsewhere.
Likely ending at 9:30 pm because there is a lack of transparency and open communication with the PAUSD parents and it is a one way, top down, Superintendent to PAUSD families, telling us what we must put our children through. There was no parental input at all.

Did you go to the board meetings and leave at 9:30 and not pay attention to the massive changes being told top down from Superintendent to PAUSD families and parents of these massive changes happening? Or are you in the camp that believe we can affect the math program of middle school kids for several years, try out this experiment, fail fast, and oopsie, no big deal, no loss, just a few years of a few grades of students whose math has been completely and massively mishandled.

Superintendent is likely not touching high school 11 or 12 grades because all PAUSD high school parents would be protesting. But middle school is so transient, it's under the radar.

Again, tactically clever. No big blame.

Web Link

Web Link


9 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 4, 2020 at 7:16 pm

So the only "massive" change you know of is the middle school math revision? The principal discussed at a PTA meeting in January, and the differences seemed to be that math teachers would get more training, that sixth grade math would be more new material vs. review (good, my younger was bored), and that most or all students would get to algebra by 8th grade. Sixth grade is still going to be one "lane" (all students together), so that's not changing. Same books, same curriculum as today.

What other "massive changes" are there?


11 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 5, 2020 at 11:16 pm

Well @ Parent of 2, there are no more lanes in middle school math. That's a HUGE change. After all, why would any children or their parent want their children NOT to be in a class with those who might not be at the same level, and may need some remedial assistance? Sounds great. Take a look at the CAASPP results for math for different student groups ---- and then Web Link --- only 29% of economically disadvantaged kids in 8th grade at Greene are proficient in math. Why isn't PAUSD helping these students be proficient? And why are they not providing math lanes so that all might learn at the appropriate pace?

And now they are trying to keep all (advanced) students down in their grade level in math --- which they've been trying to do for years, but now they are REALLY dedicated to it. So, now the teachers have a wider range of math level in one class with one teacher. AND no one is allowed to advance. Due to the 6th grade math teachers have a limited certification and not being able to teach math beyond certain topics. So....let's keep all students back in math in 6th grade, to benefit the teachers and their job certification and job security.

Guess that's not really a big change --- choosing staff over students.


7 people like this
Posted by Parent of 2
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 6, 2020 at 12:10 am

I don't know where you get your information, but it seems 100% wrong according to what I read and heard from the middle school principal.

There have never been lanes in sixth grade (at least for many years) and there are lanes today in 7th and 8th - I know, we have a 7th grader. The principal said that for next year, the only changes were in 6th grade, where they all will have harder curriculum; after next year, nothing was decided.

"Keeping all advanced students down in grade level" - again, don't understand what you mean. They have always made it unreasonably hard to accelerate (you had to skip 2 grades, my oldest did not make it, that was years ago). The new plan is that kids can test out of 6th or 7th grade math (but not both for some reason). That sounds like the opposite of what you are saying.


10 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 6, 2020 at 10:48 am

@ Parent of 2 -- the plan is to eliminate math lanes in the middle schools in PAUSD. They will have to finish out this year, yes, and then implement next year.

They have kept everyone down in 6th grade math in the past, as much as possible, yes. To benefit 6th grade math teachers, whose certifications don't permit them to teach the topics in 7th grade math. This is because they don't have a single subject certification. And an artifact of elementary schools going through 6th grade in the past.


7 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Feb 6, 2020 at 10:53 am

@ Parent of 2:Web Link
"Moving away from grades, eliminating laning, accelerating the pace of instruction and promoting the expectation that all students, regardless of ethnic or socioeconomic background, can learn math at high levels are among the "bold" changes the Palo Alto school district has proposed for its middle school mathematics program."

"The district plans to focus first on changes to sixth grade math in the 2020-21 school year, and then in the seventh and eighth grades in the following two years. The high schools will then have several years to prepare for any revisions or new courses."

So, no more math laning in middle school.


7 people like this
Posted by Anonymous1
a resident of another community
on Feb 6, 2020 at 8:11 pm

Most kids need to pass Alf 2 by 8th to keep up for any stem major.

They are responding to changes from decades ago and new changes will place them in the eighties u guess instead of the fifties. Sad decline . Sad to see no girls or minorities in the top math classes. They let non credentialed teachers teach theses classes . About 5 girls and 40 boys. Sad.


7 people like this
Posted by member1
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 10, 2020 at 1:39 pm

Plan should include k-6 with expectations that teachers will teach and be responsible for not flunking students. How about that instead of watching them fail from year to year and not preparing them for the next class up. Of course kids will fail if they are not prepared.


11 people like this
Posted by member1
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Feb 10, 2020 at 1:43 pm

Every year this is some picture of the HS math teachers or admin. at Paly with about 6 kids who won something. They make sure they take a picture with these kids. They do not take pictures with the kids that they know flunked or need help or do not have what they needed from the school to get into college. You do not see the counselors anywhere near either group hence taking away the F and the A grades. They love the middle. There is no work for the middle or anything above their pay grade.


2 people like this
Posted by Lemming
a resident of Gunn High School
on Feb 11, 2020 at 7:56 am

@Sally
You think the teachers want standards based grading? This order comes from the top down...even includes creating new district positions.


8 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Feb 12, 2020 at 2:31 pm

@ lemming. new positions for the same people that are against kids who are smart and love to learn at their own level and kids who are smart who need some different help in a dignified manner. They just do not listen to their families, most of whom are wanting to work safely at whatever level they are at with forward motion. The staff that has been promoted is also responsible for allowing teachers to actually put in print that to take an honors or ap class, they have to do it at their own risk all on their own. This means, "get a tutor" to rich kids and it means "do not attempt they want you to fail" as a minority or a poorer student. Go to any other district and enjoy your kids and hope for staff that wants kids to succeed, not fill in tiny boxes for them to turn in in thier own tiny rubrics. Look to schools with big ideas and admin. that wants to broaden, not tighten.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Email:


Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields


Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Los Altos's State of Mind opening NYC-inspired pizza shop in Palo Alto
By Elena Kadvany | 16 comments | 8,678 views

Wait, wait – we’re working on it
By Diana Diamond | 20 comments | 2,829 views

Premarital and Couples: Here Be Dragons!
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,725 views

Flying: How to lower your impact
By Sherry Listgarten | 6 comments | 1,647 views

Goodbye toy stores
By Cheryl Bac | 12 comments | 1,513 views

 

Short story writers wanted!

The 34th Annual Palo Alto Weekly Short Story Contest is now accepting entries for Adult, Young Adult and Teen categories. Send us your short story (2,500 words or less) and entry form by March 27, 2020. First, Second and Third Place prizes awarded in each category. Sponsored by Kepler's Books, Linden Tree Books and Bell's Books.

Contest Details