In absence of state test, Palo Alto wants to give one anyway | October 25, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - October 25, 2013

In absence of state test, Palo Alto wants to give one anyway

School board members ask for 'continuity' in transition to new standards

by Chris Kenrick

Worried about a loss of continuity in standardized testing, members of the Palo Alto school board say they want local students to take some kind of test that counts next spring despite recent state legislation that suspends the California Standards Test (CST).

They asked Superintendent Kevin Skelly on Tuesday to look into purchasing the CST or some other kind of district-wide assessment for Palo Alto students.

A bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown this month ends CST testing in California and orders school districts next spring to give practice tests based on the new Common Core State Standards, which are being phased in, in 45 states including California. The practice tests would not record results of individual students or schools.

California Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, who strongly pushed for the legislation, has advocated a quick shift from the old testing regime and an embrace of the new.

But Palo Alto school board members said they want to have a standardized measure of student progress during the transition period.

"We as a district have to make sure we have the CST continue until such time as we find a new assessment," member Camille Townsend said.

"We're early in the process of even writing these Common Core assessment tools, so when they say, 'This isn't rolled out' — well, it's really early, folks, and I hate our district to jump too far ahead without having the appropriate tools to evaluate our current excellence, maintain our current excellence and then work to adopt the Common Core in an appropriate fashion."

Board member Melissa Baten Caswell said the board should not dictate that the test necessarily be the CST but ask for a recommendation from educators.

"The easy answer might be to just buy the CST because that's the easiest way to go, but I just want to make sure you have room to make other recommendations," she told Skelly.

With confusion rampant on the implication of the new standards, Caswell also asked for future board discussion on how the transition is going.

"There seems to be such variance depending on who you talk to as to how different this (Common Core) is from how we're teaching today, what we're teaching today and what our kids need to do today versus when this rolls out," she said.

"Some people say it's hardly different but the principals (in a meeting) today couldn't say what percentage we are away from it. It would be nice to have some kind of range, like 'We're 75 percent there.'

"What I'm hearing from parents is, 'We want to know how far away we are from the new stuff. We want to know if our kids are going to be tested this year, and if they're not going to be tested, we want to know how we'll know how they're doing,'" Caswell said.

In recent years, school district statistician Diana Wilmot has extensively used CST data to track the progress of various subgroups, including underrepresented minorities, against goals set by the district.

Skelly said he would come back with suggestions about testing for next spring.

Board President Dana Tom warned against overtesting.

"If we do decide to do something with CSTs I don't think we should overcommit for multiple years at the get-go because we don't want to do double-testing of students if it takes instructional days out," he said.

Staff Writer Chris Kenrick can be emailed at


Posted by 35 year resident, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 25, 2013 at 10:46 am

Eliminating standardized testing is a perfect example of liberalism gone amok. We have one of the lowest state rankings in the country, but teachers unions don't want to face up to that fact. We have kids graduating high school that can't spell, write or solve basic math problems. Nationally, the way to cover up the union failures is by eliminating ways to gauge their effectiveness. What a mess this state and country is in. Kudos to Palo Alto School Board for taking an opposing position on this.

Posted by educator, a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 25, 2013 at 11:29 am

I think "35 year (sic) resident" jumped the gun and should read the article again. Standardized testing is not going away. And teachers unions have little to do with Mr. Torlakson's and Gov. Brown's legislative action to swiftly switch from CST to CCSS.

Posted by BPParent, a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 25, 2013 at 11:42 am

It will not hurt anyone to miss one year of testing. We will opt our children out of any testing that the School Board selects for this year. How will I know how my kids are doing? I am involved in their lives. I am involved with their school and schoolwork. I talk to their teachers. I see that my kids LOVE school and are excited and enthusiastic about what they are learning. I read their "report cards" and I can see that my kids are thriving and enjoy learning. That is all the information I need this year. Standardized tests measure ONE thing -- how well a kid does on a multiple choice test on one day/week. It doesn't tell me anything else. I will wait for the new assessments to come out and these assessments will be much more challenging and give us much more meaningful information. People around here need to relax just a bit!

Posted by scot, a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Oct 25, 2013 at 11:50 am

Is it really worth $$$ (guessing $50k+ plus student and teacher/admin time)for a one-off test that will likely not be comparable to those taken in the past and certainly won't be useful for telling how PAUSD students are doing compared to the rest of the state?

Posted by Too many tests, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 25, 2013 at 11:52 am

If we have to buy a test anyway, why not purchase the SAT or ACT for the junior classes instead of CST. Most take them anyway, it would give a good measure of performance vs the rest of the state and it would keep juniors from burning out on testing. Would also be a financial help to some unrepresented minorities we are trying to aid.

Posted by New in Town, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 25, 2013 at 12:06 pm

If we don't have testing, how will we all collectively pat ourselves and our administrators on the back for how high PAUSD students score?

Posted by Not surprised , a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 25, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Board members do not get it. They are putting their teachers into a lot of stress to teach students how to take the text. It takes so much of their time, which should be used to teach thinking, not memorizing. Even some teachers have to tell the answers to their students, as it has happened on the past, so the district will think that the teacher was not good. We are waisting our time with the standardize testing. The results are not real, because teacher's help students too much. Also our kids are graduating, and they they are trying to kill themselves. We have had at least three young PAUSD students who have attempted to take their lives, and one of them was brought back back to live by miracle. We have to look at how our students are doing socially and emotionally not just academically. We need to look at these three components. This is how we should evaluate how good are we doing. Are we creating healthy and successful human beings.? If they are so tired at the end of graduation, and all they want to do is die, we should think twice about the testing. One of these students actually spoke up on line about the education system that is turning them into robots. I wish he would post here. But probably is not physically strong enough to do it yet. I think he was right. We are creating robots, not thinkers.

Posted by District Teacher, a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2013 at 8:16 pm

Thank you, Not Surprised. This is one of the more ridiculous things I've heard come down from the Board... and there have been a lot. Please... let me teach!!!

Posted by high school is for building a college resume, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 26, 2013 at 9:14 pm

Elementary school is for learning to read. write, etc. It is about learning to learn and hopefully loving school. Past that, school stinks.

Middle school is about surviving and taking classes that will allow you to get into the HS lanes you want/need. And surviving puberty.

High school is about grade and building a resume for college. Period. If you are not someone that aspire to a 4 year college, PAUSD is not the place to be.

Posted by Devil's advocate, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2013 at 12:30 am

CST results can be informative for parents and teachers of low-performing students and can impact IEP/504 plan decisions. I can see why the district would like to have some gauge of achievement for such students.

Posted by Paly Parent, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 27, 2013 at 12:42 am

Perhaps this is the real reason the state cancelled the test - to keep scores from falling two years in a row:

"Results of the last California standards tests that most students will ever take were also the most disappointing.

The percentage of students scoring proficient or better on the 2013 Standardized Testing and Reporting assessment fell for the first time in more than a decade in results released Thursday." - EdSource, August 8, 2013.

The cuts to education have consequences, which can be obfuscated by eliminating the tests for this year. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan tried unsucessfully to get the CA Legislature to stop this ill thought out action. There is no reason that Palo Alto has to make the same mistake.

Posted by Please teach, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2013 at 7:24 am

I want PAUSD teachers to just be able to teach, and then I would like some objective assessment that all students are learning. Teachers are more than happy to give out quizzes and tests, so having one more year of the CST should not be an issue with them. They should welcome the opportunity to have multiple measures.

Posted by Stupid questions, a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2013 at 7:37 am

Do Palo Alto CST scores vary much from year to year?
Do students actually try their best on the test, knowing it won't impact their grades (and is it therefore accurate and objective to begin with)?
Do Palo Alto parents want their kids spending two and a half weeks testing this year so that they can take the CST (1 week), practice for the CCSS test (it's totally different, so 2 days of practice perhaps?) and then spend another week on the actual CCSS test for which they'll receive no scores?
The math standards for CST and CCSS are different. Which ones do you want teachers to teach to?
Does more testing result in more learning?

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2013 at 9:22 am

> Do Palo Alto CST scores vary much from year to year?

No, not really. There is some interest in test results of the students on the low end of the performance scale, periodically.

From a results point-of-view, the District could skip a year with few implications. There are other metrics which could be used, such as GPAs, and actual grades in specific courses. It's a shame that the District doesn't make this information available as a part of its education delivery model.

With the Common Core being different from the current California tests, there will be a discontinuity between the test results of the past decade, and the new CC results. It probably would be in our best interests if the District were to spend some time preparing us as to what to expect when these test results are available.

Posted by Why why why, a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2013 at 5:15 pm

The STAR test has stressed out millions of kids over the years. It goes on for hours at a time over a four day period. The stress and monotony probably affected the scores negatively.

[Portion removed.]

I say good riddance!

Posted by Please teach, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2013 at 8:15 pm

[Portion removed.] I thought no one takes it seriously. This is getting confusing. Could it be that we are just making up excuses?

Posted by StopAndThink, a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 28, 2013 at 9:22 am

The District should not waste time or taxpayer money on a year of testing that will NOT affect the state API scores, which is what schools fall all over themselves for. Teachers conduct quizzes, tests, and other assessments throughout the year precisely to show deficiencies/progress in subject matter. The standardized tests are given to appease bureaucrats and continue what can easily be called the education industrialization complex.

More teachers and parents should research controversies about Common Core. There is no data that proves switching to CC will benefit any student over current practices -- just the education material suppliers that will fulfill the orders for all the new books, workbooks, tests, etc., and the consulting and government agencies that work the data. There is a huge cost to any state that moves toward CC -- and not all states are doing this. It is NOT mandatory. More personal and family data will be linked to students' scores and that a company called inBloom will operate the storage database in order to share data among different contractors, consultants, volunteers, government agencies, etc., jeopardizing our children's privacy.

We should press the school district to provide clear answers as to why they are moving to Common Core, what the hard costs are, how they plan to protect our children's privacy, and what is the risk of maintaining the status quo.

Also, parents have the right to opt out of any standardized testing and should do if they believe it's in their child(ren)'s best interest.

Posted by Wayne Martin, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 28, 2013 at 11:42 am

> The standardized tests are given to appease bureaucrats and
> continue what can easily be called the education industrialization complex.

Perhaps, but these test results also offer the taxpayers some idea of what they are getting for their money. Since the CA CST tests have been given, it turns out that about 2/3rds (historically) of the schools have posted API scores less than 800, which is "Proficient". There has been some movement towards 50% over the last decade, but by-and-large, the Calfornia Schools have not demonstrated that they are doing as good a job as the billions upon billons of dollars given to them should have given parents, and taxpayers, reason to expect better.

We would not have known that fact if there were not some sort of standardized tests to help us know what is going on in our schools.

Posted by Not Suprised, a resident of JLS Middle School
on Oct 28, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Our district and special ed. administrators should take a standardize testing to see how well are they respecting students, parents and special education law. I bet they would get very low scores, unless they memorize the answers a lot or someone helps them by pointing to the right answers.

Posted by Middle Schools, a resident of another community
on Nov 2, 2013 at 6:04 pm

It was not reported at Palo Alto Online, a report on how PAUSD middle schools did in multiple tests and goals to improve was presented at the October 22 Special Meeting at the Board of Education on the Single Plan for Student Achievement:

Web Link

The meeting was taped and is archived on the Midpenninsula Media Center:
Web Link

It was way better than Special Education's report to the Board. Wish they would take the middle school principals as an example of how to do it. Uses data, honest, presents the good and the bad, the successes but also where they need to improve, all the numbers in one place.

@ Not Surprised on Special Education - the State of California is conducting a Special Education Compliance Review of PAUSD, called 'Special Education Verification Review'. There is a survey out and a parent input meeting November 12. Hope some data comes out of it. PAUSD hasn't provided results of the last review.

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