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School district grapples with high opt-out rates on state exam

Original post made on Jun 13, 2017

High school juniors in the Palo Alto Unified School District opted out of the state's new standardized test this spring at what appear to be abnormally high rates compared to other local school districts.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, June 13, 2017, 2:30 PM

Comments (50)

Posted by resident
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 13, 2017 at 4:25 pm

Try "honoring" the Title IX law, and the promises you sold to get parcel tax (Measure A) passed.

Posted by JSD
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 13, 2017 at 4:46 pm

The State could not have picked a worse year in high school for this test. Junior year already has standardized testing (at least the PSAT as a default for our juniors, with many others also trying the SAT and/or ACT, and one or more AP exams, and potentially an SAT-II or two). And Junior spring (when the SBAC is given) is particularly busy.

What can we do, as PAUSD parents who want to support both our individual kids and the district, to lobby to state to either change the year this is given in high school (sophomore year would be best in my opinion, but totally open to other perspectives) OR change this (as happens in other states) to the ACT for high school students (keep SBAC for elementary and middle schools)?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 13, 2017 at 4:46 pm

My thoughts are that there are just too many exams for a system that calls itself not teaching to the exam. We have two lots of finals each year, AP test, ACTs, SATs, PSATs, these tests, etc. When you boil it down, each test is very stressful for most students and even though they do not all do all of these each year, there are just too many tests. Can't some of these be merged?

Other countries that do teach to the exam have far fewer exams each year. Perhaps they are doing it right.

Posted by for Healthier High Schools
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 13, 2017 at 5:15 pm

It's impossible to blame the students for laying claim to one of the only areas of breathing room, one of the only chances for relief, that our high schools still allow them.

This isn't a failure "capture the imagination and spirit of the parents and students," as the administrator stated. It's a failure to run schools that kids are proud of and feel a sense of belonging to.

It's a failure to run schools where teenagers' time is treated as valuable and where they have adequate latitude to make free choices of their own.

Students and teachers at Gunn have become sick to death of all the schedule constraints and changes imposed on them now for three years--not only changes to the master schedule but one-day "special schedules" of all kinds.

At Gunn, changing tutorial attendance from optional to required further shackled our youngsters, depriving them of time that could be spent much more healthily with their chosen best friends and study partners.

Now Gunn will be forcing on students, in the coming school year, another entirely revised schedule for the sake of classes in "social-emotional" curriculum that a great many kids already feel is a waste of their time.

On some schooldays Gunn's schedule actually prevents kids--growing, restless teenagers!--from breaking for lunch until one pm.

Not until it's demonstrated to our kids that Gunn and Paly genuinely value their time and their daily school conditions will kids return the favor by valuing the district's time.

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)

P.S. To help bring six, simple, nuts-and-bolts changes to conditions in our high schools, you're invited to join with the 564 parents, teachers, PAMF physicians, therapists, authors, CEOs, realtors, faith leaders, Stanford professors, and more who have signed their support to the Palo Alto alliance Save the 2,008--for Healthier High Schools.

We're at

Posted by try food
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 13, 2017 at 5:23 pm

Totally serious - serve free pizza and ice cream to the Juniors on test days and I bet the attendance goes up. My kids remember in elementary school that STAR testing meant fun snacks when they were done. That made the testing almost fun!

Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 13, 2017 at 5:27 pm

"...high school juniors in the Palo Alto Unified School District opted out of the state's new standardized test this spring at what appear to be abnormally high rates compared to other local school districts."

Evidently Palo Alto's high school juniors have a keener sense of self-preservation than high school juniors in other local school districts.

Posted by A Parent
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 13, 2017 at 7:35 pm

"Only 13 percent of Palo Alto High School juniors and 21 percent of Gunn High School juniors took the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam, according to the district."

This is probably the lowest participation rate of any district in the state. I think it tells us something about what the students think of their administrators.

Posted by Been There, Done That
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 13, 2017 at 9:01 pm

Although she had heard in Junior year that many students would opt-out on the exam, my daughter wanted to do the right thing and lost sleep (studying late) but woke up early to take the exam. There were so few students that they moved students from another classroom and combined it with hers. With such few students, they should have allowed the students to go home instead of waste their time on the exam when the results are too few for accurate results. And since she took the exam the first day, she didn't want to disqualify her results and attended the second day too.

So this past year as a Senior, I opted her out of the exam so it wouldn't be a repeat of wasted time again.

Our school academics are rigorous, so two days of sleeping-in, relaxation, or time to work on academics is preferred. Perhaps the school could offer 50 hours of community service to entice students. Otherwise, spending time on the exams is no benefit to our students.

McGee: "may be used to assess the quality of our school and its programs, determine statewide and national rankings, impact state accountability reports" and provide data for the schools' accreditation processes." Ha, we all know that our teachers will not allow administration to tell them how to teach. Gunn teachers threw a fit when their principal, Denise Hermann, asked them to reduce student stress by utilizing Schoology (posting homework assignments, grades, handouts, slide shows, links, etc.). And we all know that there are too many teachers who jerk our students around in various ways: changing deadlines, incorrect test review sheets, ambiguity, tests questions which weren't covered by the teacher, failure to stay after school to help students, homework overload, poor teaching, failure to answer emails, college level curriculum, college level grading.

Plus, we don't care about national rankings; it's McGee who cares about national rankings because it's helps him. We would prefer that parents don't choose Palo Alto for it's school rankings and withdraw from the annual rankings. The colleges read the School Profile during admission reviews which reflects that they are reputable schools. There are students in PAUSD who live with nannies while their parents stay overseas. Students attending PAUSD solely for the rankings have made our academics more rigorous and stressful because teachers refuse to dole out all A's so they make the curriculum more difficult to keep a curve.

So why take an exam when it only serves to waste their time and make their classes more difficult? Our students do not have enough time. My daughter is so happy to be done with Paly. It was four miserable years, and she's not the only one; I think the majority do not enjoy their time at Paly.

Posted by gunn '16
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 14, 2017 at 8:06 am

My year (Gunn class of '16) was the first class to take the Smarter Balanced tests, and slightly under half of my closer friends took the test (probably slightly above the overall ~40% participation rate that year).

Their general opinion was that the test was a waste of time and needed adjustments before it could reasonably be used for anything. Complaints included shoddy software, ambiguous directions, and otherwise convoluted testing procedure. The timing of the SBAC added another level of irritation; the test was held a week prior to AP tests--exams which tangibly affect students on an individual level--leading to anger at losing several days of class during such a critical point in the year.

@Been There Done That: I appreciate the anecdote at the beginning of your post--it echoes many of my friends' experiences--but I believe you are being unfair to the school's teachers. In my four years at Gunn (taking a reasonably difficult courseload) I never once had a teacher "grade on a [true] curve" with a predetermined number of "A" grades, never had a teacher push a significant deadline forward without consensus approval from the class, and never had a teacher who made him or herself unavailable to help students outside of class.

Did students have to take initiative in these situations? Absolutely. I've never met a Gunn teacher who wouldn't clarify an ambiguous question, but the student has to be willing to ask for that clarification. I've never met a Gunn teacher who would outright refuse to meet with a student, but if the student can't be available during normal tutorial hours, it's the student who needs to to make alternative arrangements. I've never met a Gunn teacher who wouldn't extend a homework deadline given a request is made reasonably in advance, but the student has to make that request. Grades are another area where students must take initiative; teachers are under no obligation to "dole out A's" as you seem to think they should.

Schoology's a whole separate issue. I saw the district go through a half-dozen similar programs from middle school to my senior year, and these programs (including Schoology) all shared the fact that they were glitchy, obtuse, and more difficult to navigate than teachers' personal sites. If the school truly wanted to make things easier for the students, they'd drop Schoology altogether and mandate the use of some simple and easily accessible web platform--Google Sites comes to mind--for all homework/lecture slides, but I assume the district shelled out an obscene amount for the Schoology license, so everyone's unfortunately stuck with it.

Finally, administrative screw-ups over the last couple years have dulled students' respect for the school's leadership. After the condescension towards students and lack of accountability from the administration following last year's AP fiasco, I'm genuinely surprised over 20% of Gunn upperclassmen showed up for the SBAC. When students consider themselves the primary victims of bureaucratic error, they're not going to spend time on a test they see as benefitting that bureaucracy.

Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 14, 2017 at 9:02 am

@gunn '16 - I'm glad you had teachers at Gunn that were reasonable and available to students. Both my kids experienced what "Been There, Done That" experienced as a Paly student, "changing deadlines, incorrect test review sheets, ambiguity, tests questions which weren't covered by the teacher, failure to stay after school to help students, homework overload, poor teaching, failure to answer emails, college level curriculum, college level grading". One teacher, when asked a very specific question, told my son to "read his book". Another refused to meet with my daughter. Lots of teachers gave tests that contained significant amounts of material not covered in class or on review sheets. That said, there were also a lot of caring, talented teachers.

Posted by Reduction
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 14, 2017 at 9:22 am

Under pre-SBAC (CST) testing, high schoolers took tests (including other subject areas) in 9th, 10th, and 11th grades. The new SBAC is a REDUCTION in testing time.

It's also more aligned with Common Core, linking more closely to classroom learning, and providing feedback to teachers, parents, and students on how Palo Alto is doing teaching those new state standards.

Any of the reasoning used for opting out is WAY less valid than in the past. Sit for the test.

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 14, 2017 at 10:45 am

I'm wondering whether the obvious answer for those students who don't like this test, is to convince all the protesters to take it and shoot for the worst score possible. Imagine 60% of the school scoring close to zero. Would there be personal repercussions, or would it be noted as students going on strike against unfair practices? Opting-out is probably the safer alternative (classic prisoner's dilemma situation), but doesn't make much of a statement. A ranking of PAUSD somewhere with Mississippi could be interpreted as a gesture of solidarity, actually increasing the stature of our district.

Posted by Mom of Tired Teen
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 14, 2017 at 4:49 pm

My child and our family love the Palo Alto schools, including our high school Paly. We didn't opt our child out of the test for spite or any disrespect. It was merely out of exhaustion, utterly and completely. My child had some major time commitments for school activities, multiple AP tests, SAT subject matter tests, finals (before the AP tests) and just regular keeping up with a ridiculously hard schedule (albeit self-inflicted). It was self-preservation, as the one posted mentioned. We could justify it to ourselves by 1) everyone is doing it (which isn't a good reason but it does result in the test not being able to be used) and 2) there are just too many tests.

Posted by Paly resident
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 14, 2017 at 9:02 pm

I don't think most parents realized that by having their students opt out of the test that they were causing the district to lose funding for programs that serve low-income students in the district. I was one of the minority of parents who insisted that my daughter, a junior at Paly, take the exam, and I did so not only because of the potential loss of funding but also because this is the one standardized test that counts as a measurement of a school's progress with every student. We already know that Palo Alto has a significant achievement gap, and this test is one way to measure how effectively the school is serving all its learners. I get that junior year is already overloaded with exams, but it's unlikely the SBAC is going to be moved to a different grade level. The very low participation rates at Paly and Gunn compared to similar demographically situated schools such as Los Altos and Mountain View shed light on the utter disrepair and lack of trust between the administration and parent/student community. I also disagree with the article that the district tried to communicate the importance of the exam; McGee might have sent a message, but there was radio silence from the administration at Paly. We heard nothing about why our students should take the exam and why it matters for funding for a subsection of our population or why it matters for the school to be assessed for its progress with students from all socioeconomic backgrounds. I was frankly disappointed in the lack of communication or rationale for why families should not opt out and believe that most families did opt out because of the absence of leadership from Diorio et al. I can't speak for what happened at Gunn, but to me, this incredibly low attendance rate in comparison to other high schools is yet another indication (along with departure of so many principals in district and sexual assault cases) that this district is in significant crisis. I am personally no longer proud to say that my student attends PAUSD schools because the values demonstrated are not values I share. As an educator for over twenty years, I am saddened to say this as I believe in public schools in principle and value education above all other public institutions.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 14, 2017 at 10:56 pm

Students and parents value sleep and rest over whatever McGee is selling. The school district has a history of spending on lawyers, more administrators and not spending funds where they said they would. Why believe them now?

Posted by Mama
a resident of Walter Hays School
on Jun 15, 2017 at 1:00 am

Unfortunately, achievement gap and low income funding is not a priority, as the students are just trying to keep their heads above water and must worry about themselves. We have had some really bad teachers at Paly, as per Been There, Done That's posting. Too bad for tenure. There are some reasonable teachers at Paly so they aren't all terrors, but just pray that the terrors aren't on your schedule because having 2-3 of them (they teach regular lanes too) on the schedule will definitely lead to bad thoughts about living, severe sleep deprivation, high stress, and cheating. This is unacceptable but McGee, Paly administration and the School Board don't care.

Posted by SchoolsArentBuiltForStudents
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 15, 2017 at 9:01 am

Let's see...student surveys for about a decade have repeatedly, consistently, and with high numbers point to the largest source of student stress: test stacking and project stacking.

That the schools continue to ignore this on a large scale is beyond disgusting.

So let's see, how would this map onto a typical Junior schedule around the end of the year: 1 English Paper, 1 history paper, 1-2 AP exams, studying for finals for 6 classes, throw in a few labs for science, and jam it all within 1-2 weeks.

If that isn't bad enough, ADD a pointless state test which is poorly designed, has no relevance to the student, and just adds to the stress and subtracts from the little time they have to deal with THE GIANT MOUNTAIN OF WORK the school is already dumping on them.

Frankly, I'm surprised the turnout isn't lower. Any sane student would tell the school to shove it.

Posted by Moral Monster of a Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 15, 2017 at 10:40 am

I think the high opt out rate is an indication of the awareness level Palo Alto parents have. We know you may opt out. I bet in other school districts, people are not aware of it. Sorry, at this point, parents have to do what they have to do and I do not think there is any turning back.

Posted by Moral Monster of a Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 15, 2017 at 11:12 am

I would be interested to see if kids of high school teachers in the district opt out?

Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 15, 2017 at 11:52 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

From the article:
"Students are allowed to opt out of the new Common Core State Standards testing *with permission from their parents.*"

"Neighboring school districts are not seeing similarly high opt-out rates."

This, to me, is the intriguing question: Why are Palo Alto parents so much more willing to excuse their students from taking the SBAC tests than parents in neighboring schools, whose students face the same academic pressures and desires for down time toward the end of the school year.

Posted by Obvious
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 15, 2017 at 12:27 pm

The root of the PAUSD problem is sleep deprivation. The Paly Bell Committee revised the bell schedule for this fall but all they did was force students to stay in school longer on Thursdays (formerly, students could leave early if they had no Advisory that week). So they added instead of decreasing stress. Most students would prefer more sleep since the teen body is on a later clock than adult bodies. Administration continues to prioritize teachers rather than students.

Posted by stupid State testing
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:47 pm

The timing of this test reflects ignorance at the STATE level. Late spring of the junior year is a ridiculous time to cram in a test that has NO INDIVIDUAL RELEVANCE to the student. The high opt-out rate is actually a valid reflection of how savvy and astute the students and their families are by this point in their public education careers.

Honestly, the State should opt to use the nationally available ACT (which would be useful to the individual students) for Junior year testing. [A less desirable alternative would be to move the test to February of Junior year. Better still would be to have it during Sophomore year, but other schools in the state will not want to be evaluated based on younger students.]

The State will get skewed results when many of the smartest and most ambitious students don't take the tests, leaving the students who don't think to question anything they are told to do as the ones taking the test.

When this story gets out that the MAJORITY of Palo Alto families have figured out that Opting-Out is a perfectly legal (although not desired option), just watch high-achieving families in other districts will also Opt-out in order to give their busy juniors a small break in the spring. This is a district problem and a state problem, NOT a student problem.

Posted by Reduction
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 15, 2017 at 5:57 pm

Just an add for people who don't really know about SBAC testing. The test does not require studying. It's based on cumulative knowledge. You come to school and take the test. Many other districts back off work in other courses, especially when juniors make up the majority of students in a class.

Unfortunately, it appears parents and students are choosing the SBAC as a mechanism to vent about other topics. Unless you're using the time to cut school and study for AP, the two are unrelated. And yes, there really are benefits for the individual student (can pass out of some CSU courses), and for future district sounds like the district could do a better job of communicating those...but it's also possible it would fall on deaf ears.

Posted by Parent of Paly
a resident of Old Palo Alto

on Jun 16, 2017 at 1:44 pm

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Posted by Self-interested PAUSD families
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 16, 2017 at 2:56 pm

I am so concerned about the rampant self-interest in this city and school district. I am particularly offended by this comment: "The State will get skewed results when many of the smartest and most ambitious students don't take the tests, leaving the students who don't think to question anything they are told to do as the ones taking the test."

Why do we assume that only smart and ambitious students will opt out? If it's a question of time and lack of sleep, wouldn't that apply across the board? Or even less so to smart kids? My kid is very smart, and I am going to make him take this test. It's a few hours, with no study needed, and it will benefit the district that has benefited him for so many years. I wish other people thought the same way. We shouldn't be doing only what's right for us. We should be doing what's right, period.

Posted by For Healtheir High Schools
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jun 18, 2017 at 12:05 am

Backatya, "Obvious,"

I too, am deeply worried about our kids' sleep-deprivation. You've put your finger on a key problem--one we can solve.

In 2015, in a letter to the Weekly from all of PAMF's pediatricians, they estimated that the average high-schooler in this town gets 6.5 hours of sleep per night--whereas a healthy night's sleep for a teen is 9 hours.

Do the math on this, and that means the average teen in our town is losing the equivalent of seventy (yes, 70!) full nights of sleep per school year.

All six proposals of Save the 2,008--for Healthier High Schools have a component to help kids get more sleep--but especially the proposals regarding student workload and giving our kids a voice in their nightly homework minutes assigned.

I hope you'll join our 566-member grassroots alliance--with just the keystrokes of your name, at

Marc Vincenti
Gunn English Dept. (1995-2010)
Chairman, Save the 2,008--for Healthier High Schools

Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 18, 2017 at 1:22 pm

@reduction - a lot of kids actually do use the time to study. And sleep. While the test do have some advantages if you are attending a CSU, only 15 kids or so from this years graduating class are attending CSU's next year.

Posted by Perspective
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 18, 2017 at 2:02 pm

Our teachers are fortunate to earn six figures. They should want to help our students' college admissions by teaching well, yet not incurring more stress. Some nearby school district fired all teachers and offered to hire back without the teachers union. PAUSD should consider this so we can clean house and teachers can be more accountable.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Barron Park

on Jun 18, 2017 at 3:54 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Posted by Mom
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 19, 2017 at 1:42 pm

Yes, the kids are "using the time to . . . study for AP" or to sleep so that they have the energy to study for the APs. This isn't about being pissed off a the school or anything.

Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 19, 2017 at 3:45 pm

@Perspective - what local school district fired all its teachers and offered to hire them back without a union?

Posted by Self-interested PAUSD families
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 19, 2017 at 4:08 pm

"While the test do have some advantages if you are attending a CSU, only 15 kids or so from this years graduating class are attending CSU's next year."

The test has many advantages, but they may not all accrue to the individual student directly. For example, the test is important to the district, which has supported the student (and many others) for years.

Why do we only look at this from the vantage point of "How does it benefit me (or my student)?" How is that the right thing to do?

I agree with the earlier poster who said the district didn't do a good enough job conveying why it is important *for the district* and the student population generally that students take this test. But if they do so, I would hope that opt-outs would be low, even if there is no direct benefit to the individual student.

I worry that we as a community have lost that, and the "smart and ambitious" students go all-out for themselves, and lose the focus on community benefit or benefit to anyone other than themselves, because it's not a school requirement or a benefit for their college submittals, and there is no one around to praise them and reward them for it. Ugh.

Posted by Deceived PAUSD Families
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 19, 2017 at 7:04 pm

When we were at Addison, every year we were pursued to sign forms agreeing our children could take these tests with accommodations, which are extra help for children with disabilities which typical students don't get.

We tried to say no because both Addison and the school district's Special Education department kept telling up the children had no academic problems and should not get academic help. Helping them would only hurt them, we were told. We took their word for it, but were worried by the many school reports of serious problems over many years.

District always responded that may have been a problem once, maybe there were medical experts warning the children were about to explode, maybe the children were physically and emotionally bullied daily at Addison, and maybe many other parents, other kids, principal records reported serious problems and school staff had tried to get the children protection. The real problem, according to Special Education, was that parents just think children have disabilities, and so did all medical and psychological experts, doctors, therapists, special education teachers, resource room teachers, and experts who evaluated them and came to observe them for many years. Afterall, even though a child may have talked and tried self injury and of suicide, but they were not committing suicide at this exact second during the school day, so the school district was not responsible. And they were experts, and parents just don't support teachers. Prove you support teachers.

When we responded that was okay, then no testing accommodations, and especially no more testing accommodations without our written approval.

The school and district was quite upset, saying they did not know what we meant by 'without our written approval.' They said they gave accommodations anyway because they were common without parent approval (then why did you ask us to sign forms?), or the school was concerned we were bad parents (they were welcome to call child protection services), the reason our children became extreme and hurt themselves was they did not get testing and accommodations (which they did not need)...

Many parents told us they were never informed by Addison and Special Education their children were given accommodations on standardized tests and that they were given in a pull out Resource Room with a 1:1 teacher helping them. We checked, and found our kids were tested this way, even when we said no. Even when we wrote e-mails to all of our kids teachers, principals, special education staff not to pull them out for 1:1 testing, the school did it anyway.

For District standardized tests (which admittedly are not the same as State standardized tests) we requested copies of the tests and saw almost none of them were in our kid's handwriting, only adults. We knew these kids were not capable of some of this work, and that no elementary child would write this way. The response was always one of these: maybe an adult wrote the kid's test once, the kids did much better once adults took their pencil away from them, District tests were not high stakes so it did not matter, you can't judge a child off one (or many) of the District's tests, or report cards, or tests given in the classroom, or tests given outside the classroom 1:1, or tests modified so kids passed without meeting the grade level standards, and maybe we did violated State or our Board of Education's policies and standards but where did you find a Board policy, you cannot have a copy of our policy because there are so many policies and as parents you cannot possibly understand what you are asking for or what you mean. We were always promised the final test scores and report cards would reflect the extra help the kids were given. They never did.

Ultimately, we were always told the District now has a policy of full inclusion, and that it was now District policy that disabled students are fully successful, so there was nothing they would do.

Now that the State's standardized tests are online, there is no way to tell who typed them: the disabled child or the adult.

We urge all parents to decline all school and Special Education requests for testing accommodations for disabled children. Otherwise, parents will never know how little their children have learned and how poorly they are doing.

Posted by Paly Alum '84
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 19, 2017 at 7:09 pm

@Self-interested PAUSD families: Apparently, you have not experienced Paly within the last decade. It's so easy for outsiders to judge, but until you have a child who has experienced the horrors of Paly (the sleep deprivation, academic rigor, stress, etc.), it would be wise for you to keep your thoughts to yourself. Perhaps you did have children who were geniuses and easily glided through, but I can assure you, the majority of students who are shooting higher than the CSUs (besides CalPoly and SJSU) are very stressed-out. Students even have tutors for regular lane classes. So when the opportunity arises for them to have two days off from school, you betchya they are going to take them. We cherish our extra days off during the school year. They can't think of others when they are just trying to get through the days in one piece. Perhaps you should speak to the School Board and influence them to tone it down. There's a reason why parents say "College is easy after PAUSD." These students are being treated like college students who are already adults, not teens.

I frankly think that students should opt-out of all standardized testing, even in elementary school, so our city will no longer have the high rankings and we can return to normal behavior.

Posted by Self-interested PAUSD families
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 19, 2017 at 10:36 pm

Absolutely, I have heard that many kids at Paly and Gunn are stressed out. And I also know that very many are not. There are plenty of options at both schools for kids to have a balanced experience at school, with plenty of time for sleep, family responsibilities, community service, etc. But if a kid (or kid's parents) plans their school life to get into the "best" school, by aiming as high as possible in academics, then of course they are going to be stressed, by definition. And often so stressed that they are going to forego important responsibilities. Things that don't go on a college app -- sleep, chores, family responsibilities, unreported tests or community service -- will fall by the wayside. All because their life is micro-optimized around their (or their parents') short-term goal to get into the "best" school possible. I think that is a recipe for long-term failure, and an exceedingly poor way to raise the next generation.

The "best" school in my opinion is the school that will meet your kid where they are in a balanced way, where they do not need to be an automoton or a robot or a self-interested person that is solely focused on their own achievement to the exclusion of all else. Gunn and Paly support a balanced school experience, and so will the right colleges (or trade schools). The kids who grow up at their own pace as themselves, and go to a "right fit" school, will be more confident, more well-rounded, better people, and will ultimately achieve more. The kids who grow up as their school-optimized selves to get into the "best" school possible will be more stressed, less confident, less well-rounded, and will achieve less. For example, see Web Link Kids should develop at their own pace, and grow up to be who they are, not some externalized view of who they "should be". That will ultimately serve them, and everyone around them, the best.

Our schools are good enough, with enough variety in classes and curriculum, that stress is a choice, not an unavoidable outcome.

Posted by Paly Alum '84
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 20, 2017 at 2:19 am

@Self-interested PAUSD families: So you obviously have no experience with the high schools, therefore it's all shameful speculation. There is assumption that everyone is shooting for elite universities; this is completely untrue. Sure, there are students who are not stressed-out, and they attend Foothill or lower CSUs, or out of state public schools. And if a student takes all regular lane classes, the workload can be easier. However, most name schools, such as these on Paly's College Map, 2017: Web Link require some AP classes, and those are stressful because many teachers expect students to do much more learning on their own with little guidance and a lot of complicated work. My college child said that his professors and college classes are much more structured than his Paly AP teachers were.

I think one of the main problems with the Paly teachers is that a majority of them are young, as in, 20s-30s, so they don't realize the stress they place upon their students, and they are overzealous about teaching, more concerned with their pride than the stress of the students. Most of the more balanced and reasonable teachers are the mature ones, although, there are some young ones who are fantastic. The teachers ought to look at the GPAs required for UCs these days. Even UC Santa Cruz requires 3.65 GPA minimum, and AP classes, admitting 58%: Web Link

Posted by Self-interested PAUSD families
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 20, 2017 at 9:33 am

"Sure, there are students who are not stressed-out, and they attend Foothill or lower CSUs, or out of state public schools."

Um. And what is so wrong with that? Foothill is a terrific school with some wonderful teachers. It is low-cost, and a great on-ramp to CA's state or other schools if you work hard. It gives kids a chance to figure out what they like/want before going to a higher-cost or more focused school. We are incredibly fortunate to have it in our area.

And there are plenty of students who are not stressed out who go to "elite" schools. It is about choosing classes and other activities that are the right fit, and being comfortable with that. But that is not the Palo Alto way. I think it is a mistake.

Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 20, 2017 at 9:51 am

@Paly Alum, Both of my kids are in college and they have told me multiple times that one of the best things about their college classes are how organized the professors/teachers are. They publish a syllabus with clear deadlines and rubrics, a clear guide to how the class will be graded, what is required for an "A" etc. While the material is harder, the clear expectations and sticking to the schedule has reduced their stress.

@Self-interested, I agree that Foothill is a terrific school, unfortunately it takes a lot of courage to admit that is where you want to go if you're a Paly student. Although many kids end up "back" at Foothill after their first year away at school for a number of reasons.

Posted by Foothill Alum
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 20, 2017 at 10:24 am

Foothill? Yes, the easier, less stressed route: no extracurriculars, no SAT scores, and the GPA can be all C grades. Pragmatic approach, yes, but not ideal for self-esteem. The other alums are posting fun photos in college while Foothill students are still living at home, feeling left behind. I attended Foothill for two years, as I had no direction, and yes, there were good instructors, most who were better than university professors. They were clearer and straightforward, with more guided teaching, low workload. The question is, does it prepare a student academically for success at top UC schools since it's not the competitive students of PAUSD? I don't think so, as I proceeded to a university and flunked out, finally graduating from SJSU.

Posted by Ze'ev Wurman
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 20, 2017 at 2:03 pm

A few clarifying comments, I believe all are factual.

First, regarding the financial consequences for large number of opting out to PAUSD that someone mentioned, there are NONE. Opting out is anchored in California law, and as much as CDE may not like it, they can only grumble, threaten, and complain. Which they do.

Then there is the question of how useful is the SBAC test to PAUSD. In reality, not very much. For most PAUSD students the test is below level and quite meaningless -- for ALL grades, not only for our high school students. And even where it could provide some information -- on weak and disadvantaged students -- we hear about irregularities in administration and about pressuring students to declare a need for accommodations to make the district look better.

But, perhaps, is the SBAC test important for California? Well, even here the answer is "not really." While the previous test (STAR) focused on what students know and can do, SBAC focuses largely on the process, on *how* children answer, rather than on whether the answer is necessarily right. In fact, the testing consortia declared long ago that in math they will focus on the 3 pages about the 8 content-less "math practices" rather than on the 75 pages of the actual math content, which they indicated will be 1-2 years behind the grade. That seems to align well with what a Gunn students reported here, that "the test was a waste of time and needed adjustments before it could reasonably be used for anything. Complaints included shoddy software, ambiguous directions, and otherwise convoluted testing procedure."

To add insult to injury, California replaced its meaningful and effective college-readiness test (the EAP) with the 11th grade SBAC. The results show that SBAC declared 20% MORE students "college-ready" in English in its first year, and 40% more in its second year. And about 3 times as meany "conditionally ready." In math SBAC found more than twice(!) "college-ready" overnight -- from 22 thousands in 2014 (under the old EAP) to 46 thousands in 2015 and 56 thousands in 2016. If someone believes these phenomenal numbers, I can sell him the Brooklyn Bridge too.

In other words, the SBAC is psychometrically meaningless and unvalidated tests only misleading everybody. There is a lot of other evidence on that. So, no. California is not harmed by opting out. If at all, just the reverse.

Finally, the argument that SBAC is "shorter" because it is administered (in HS) only in grade 11 rather than -- like the old STAR -- in grades 9, 10, and 11, is disingenuous. Tell it to the 11th grader taking it, that he should be grateful for not been tested a year before, so now he should suffer quietly. SBAC is easily longer by half than the old STAR -- 7 to 8.5 hours instead of 5-6 for STAR. And it is administered in every grade from 3-8, exactly like STAR. But in high school the STAR at least was useful as an end-of-course test (in math) while the SBAC is useless and long.

Posted by Paly Alum Too
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 20, 2017 at 3:03 pm

Off topic, but frankly, parents who can afford rent or mortgages in Palo Alto are more intelligent than others in the nation, thus their children are more intelligent. I moved from a blue collar town in the East Bay in 1975, where I was in gifted programs and Teacher's Pet, only to find I was of normal Palo Alto intelligence in Palo Alto. Back then prices were lower so now it's even more extreme.

Our students should not have to settle on Foothill or other lower level colleges since most of them are smart enough for more. It's the teachers who expect too much because they know the students are capable or will turn to tutors. I know for sure that much less is expected of students in the Midwest, as we were there prior to moving here (at supposedly "good" schools). We vacationed so much because nothing was being taught in elementary school. And their students are failing their state exams.

Posted by Self-interested PAUSD families
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 20, 2017 at 10:46 pm

Thanks for the thoughtful and respectful discussion. A few comments below.

@Former Paly Parent
"I agree that Foothill is a terrific school, unfortunately it takes a lot of courage to admit that is where you want to go if you're a Paly student."

Whoa, that is a depressing statement. It is deeply unfortunate if kids here are so intolerant of diverse paths to post-high-school life that you need *courage* to "admit" you are going to Foothill. I hope we can encourage all our kids to open their minds and hearts to more people and choices; and to have the strength of their own convictions when they diverge from "the norm", which I hope they all do.

@Foothill Alum
Glad to hear that you think well of the instructors at Foothill -- I have heard similar. I don't know specifics about your case, but congrats on working through the challenges you faced and coming out with a degree. Impressive.

@Ze'ev Wurman
It's hard for me to know which parts of your comment are fact and which are opinion. The style reads more as opinion, which makes it hard to evaluate. Pointers to references would be helpful. I do agree on a broader point that PAUSD can do a better job of explaining how the test results are used, why they matter, and why it's important to have high participation.

@Paly Alum Too
"parents who can afford rent or mortgages in Palo Alto are more intelligent than others in the nation"
I don't agree that wealth (being able to live here) is particularly correlated with intelligence. I expect it's more correlated with wealth (being raised in a more wealthy family/environment). I do think Palo Alto has smarter-than-average people, but because Stanford and some large companies around here specifically recruit and hire very smart people. Then as a secondary effect, families who put a high premium on academics move here, so they can be in a high-academic environment. That adds an element of pressure (e.g., the tutoring, etc) to what might otherwise be a low-key (but smarter-than-average) place.

"Our students should not have to settle on Foothill or other lower level colleges"
I'd reiterate that we shouldn't consider this to be settling. We don't stack-rank people. Why do we think we can stack-rank colleges? When we talk about schools, imo, it shouldn't be about "high" or "low", but about fit. Boy, would that solve a lot of problems here.

It is going to take all kinds to build and maintain a successful global community. "success" does and will come in many different flavors. Only a tiny fraction of that will look like the Palo Alto "success" ideal. We'd all do better to have the humility to recognize that sooner than later.

Posted by Been There, Done That
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2017 at 12:20 am

@ Self-interested PAUSD families,

Re the feelings of failure in "settling" on Foothill, do you think you are going to change the subculture of an entire city by stating we shouldn't think this way? This thinking has gone on for decades and decades. Parents move to Palo Alto for the schools, so naturally, the expectations are going to be for higher level colleges, and as someone stated, parents are not looking to the Ivy League and elite schools. There are 500 students per class level, and only 80-100 are accepted into elite schools. Many parents have dreams of their children following their footsteps to their Ivy alma maters but realize that the game has changed and admissions aren't as easy as back in the day. The competition is fierce, and in PAUSD, even more fierce.

Posted by Gunn Alum 2016
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:35 am

Hi--I am also a graduate of the Class of 2016, so my classmates and I were the first group to take the Smarter Balance. Many of my friends opted out of the test. I felt like I was the only one who didn't--but when I arrived at my assigned testing classroom I found that only about half of the people assigned to the room were missing. I begged my parents to opt me out because I didn't want to deal with another standardized test. Of course, they are unpleasant. Neither day was challenging for me but nonetheless I would've rather been elsewhere. I know some students have testing anxiety but there is honestly very little pressure to do well on this exam. I was under the impression that it helped gauge how our district compares so I begrudgingly gave into taking it. I did not realize until later that it affects funding; if I had known I would've sucked it up and not even bothered trying to get permission to opt out.

I do not like the fact that the test exists necessarily but that is a statewide issue, not a Palo Alto specific issue. At the end of the day some of my friends were able to go do fun things like visit museums or hike and I was in the classroom, but we ended early each day anyway. I gained several extra hours on both days to work on my homework, relax, etc. The test did not make me more stressed--it actually was a welcome break from classes.

In the long run I don't think it affects students. Quite frankly, I forgot about it until senior year when the juniors had to take it, and I haven't thought about it since.

And it case it somehow helps you qualify your opinion of my post, I have a competitive internship this summer related to my field of study and attend a top 10 university. I apologize for any typos. I didn't bother to proofread.

Posted by Reduction
a resident of Los Altos
on Jun 21, 2017 at 10:50 am

That this strand, probably led largely by district parents, is so long and empassioned over a simple no-study-required test speaks to an underlying cause of why the kids are so stressed out in Palo Alto. Same holds for other topics of relatively minor significance. Back off a bit folks. Too much drama on every topic.

Tens of thousands of kids from other school districts strive for and are admitted to "top" colleges. The AP curriculum is a national's not harder in Palo Alto.

For better or worse (seemingly more frequently), it's the parent vocalism, micromanagement (everyone's an expert), and hard-driving expectations (for their kids and schools) that makes PAUSD unique, not the students.

The students start off much like students anywhere...look inward for what happens after that...the schools and their decisions are not the root of all problems.

Posted by Been There, Done That
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2017 at 11:04 am

@Reduction: I find it interesting that people with no experience speak as if they know the truth. You have not experienced PAUSD, nor do you live in Palo Alto, so you are wrong. And why are you on our city's threads instead of Los Altos' forum? Palo Alto has ascended to the top city in Silicon Valley. I know a Stanford graduate who is angry that he could "only" afford Menlo Park and upset that his wife decided to stay home and raise the child so they will "never get to Palo Alto." I am thinking of moving my third child to Los Altos School District because I have heard from way too many people that the academics are easier and more balanced there. I know many who have been moved there for the academics and their children were admitted into elite and Ivy colleges. Plus, although students all take the same AP exams, doesn't mean the classes are alike everywhere. For instance, there are many teachers at Paly who make the classes so difficult that the students get a "C" grade while they score 4-5 on the AP exam, which means that they know the material, yet the class is too difficult.

Posted by Gunn Alum 2016
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 21, 2017 at 11:28 am

@Been There, Done That

Actually, a lot of students tend to cram for APs and therefore don't really know the material. We forget soon after the AP test. I had 4s and 5s on all 9 of my APs but if you asked me today about many of those subjects I probably wouldn't be able to tell you much. Semester or year long AP classes aren't the same as a test on a single day of the year. Teachers expect students to do their best--including asking them to complete homework, put in the proper amount of effort, etc. If a student finds a class to be too hard there are often easier alternatives. And they are still welcome to take the AP tests. If someone is inclined to take the AP US History test, for example, they could probably do it if they are well engaged in the less rigorous US History class then properly prepare for the test.

Of course there are some teachers who grade more harshly together. I think it's important to have more consistency within grading--I found my bio teachers and all my math teachers tended to give out the same tests whereas in economics and chemistry it varied greatly. So perhaps we should push for standardization of teaching across the same subject? In any case that isn't really relevant a conversation about Smarter Balance.

Posted by Anither Paly parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 21, 2017 at 12:59 pm

To Paly Alum Too/Southgate,

There are plenty of gifted, highly academic accomplished students in the Midwest.

Your comments about where you came from in the East Bay and how basic or whatever it was back in 1975, likely bear zero comparison to the circumstances there OR here today.

Places and people do change, populations shift, funding and the economy also change.

Blanket pronouncements and judgements shed very little accurate light on current circumstances.

Re: AP tests, while they are the "same" everywhere, the courses,, grading, number of students per course, are NOT. I know kids who have been fortunate to have small classes, well-taught, personalized support. Then there are other situations that are much more challenging for a student, much less hand-holding. Then there are Tiger Parents who pay for costly soecial tutoring for their supposedly gifted AP students outside of school.

Re: Los Altos, IMO they have a kinder, gentler supportive approach to education at all levels. Small elementary classes.

Posted by Agree
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 21, 2017 at 4:11 pm

I, too, moved from the Midwest and find Palo Alto students much smarter than at my last schools. Sure, there are smart people everywhere, but the student here are like all the top students in my other state. I think 85% of the residents here have undergraduate degrees.

Posted by Gunn Alum 2016
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 21, 2017 at 6:00 pm


You're correct--"Close to 79.9 percent have obtained a bachelor’s degree and nearly 51.8 percent have earned a post-graduate or profes- sional degree."

Source:Web Link

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