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Gunn High School algebra pilot shows mixed results

Original post made on Jan 29, 2019

A Palo Alto school district report shows grades have remained steady and low-income, minority and special-education students still get lower grades than their peers in a pilot Algebra 1A course at Gunn High School.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Tuesday, January 29, 2019, 9:08 AM

Comments (91)

31 people like this
Posted by Independent learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 10:04 am

I do wish there would be more soul searching about whether we are trying to create a system of standardized measurement of people, or if we are trying to help young people learn math and become lifelong learners. There is an analog to the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in education: the more you try to measure the student for the benefit of the observer, the more you interfere with the student's learning trajectory.

Why is this about grade improvement anyway? That's only productive if the educational program is working well to begin with. Daphne Kohler at Stanford has shown you can eliminate the bell curve by teaching to mastery. Individualizing students' math education is just not that difficult today.

There is a huge disconnect between math at elementary and middle school levels. The problems, in my experience, start with uneven and unfair practices in kindergarten and first grade. In an attempt to standardize things, some teachers actually discourage many kids' natural affinity for math, but not all do. As time passes, the school program only amplifies early disadvantages and supports those with early advantages, including "redshirting" (the practice of holding kids back to start older and at a developmental advantage) which was pretty rampant among the now high-school crowd when they were younger.

A lot of these problems go away if you individualize/customize math education. Students have a chance to overcome past disadvantages, to learn at their own pace whether faster or slower, and to use scoring as a way to shore up knowledge rather than feeling constantly judged. The grade should be a destination, not a gauntlet.

There are many voices today, such as Neil de Grasse Tyson, who say that any grade less than an A represent the failure of teaching and school, not the student. Sal Khan uses a house-building analogy: why go to the trouble of identifying problems, only to move on according to a schedule to the next stage of building without fixing the problems? Customized/individualized learning solves those problems, and the tools have never been better to do this. Why are we sticking with old pedagogy?

Students focused on getting the grade don't learn as much, don't retain as much, don't derive the same joy from learning (to become lifelong learners), and they develop highly negative learning habits such as being averse to making, identifying, and learning from mistakes.

Giving kids the chance to learn at their own pace, and to mastery, also improves the affinity for math. When students can learn in whatever way best allows them to succeed, the confidence helps them in future learning. Undoing the damage of the negative learning practices, even if students begin a customized program tomorrow, can take years, though.

I think this district suffers in a whole host of ways from being education control freaks. The last thing they can imagine doing is figuring out how to allow every child to be a master of their own learning and time, because it would mean affording families a level of respect and dignity that would require a whole different paradigm of existence.

I really, really resent reading that the kids are guinea pigs for another standardized approach, the way they were with Everyday Math. The school district should make an independent learning path available for anyone who chooses it. Let those who would endeavor to deserve it have a chance to focus on learning and be free of the relentless judging gauntlet. High school should be a chance to get a broad education and learn how to learn.

There aren't many studies of homeschooler test scores, but the largest to date showed that there is no achievement or gender gap, even when the parents aren't well educated themselves. The moral of the story is not that everyone should homeschool, but that schools should think about customizing education, too -- which is now eminently possible because of technology.



13 people like this
Posted by Concerned
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 12:36 pm

One of the biggest take-aways I got from being a parent is that the schools can't please everyone. It seemed that every 10th parent had their own unique view on how schools should educate: Technology, no technology, computation-based math, conceptual problem-solving math without a computation emphasis, textbook, no textbook, tests, no tests....
Many, if not most parents don't want their young children using devices. They prefer the whole group-small group approach which builds a strong conceptual foundation while promoting sharing of mathematical approaches and differentiation. Many young children dislike being attached to a device (regardless of the app/program) and would prefer the adult-child or child-child interaction. Homeschooling is an excellent option for parents who want to design their own program. My kids' schools did not swing with political trends, parental trends, or the current educational fad. They looked at both short and longterm progress and goals, and used educational methods and tools that were research-based and showed their efficacy. By the way, Everyday Mathematics was developed years ago by the University of Chicago, which puts out some of the very best educational tools that exist. It may have it's problems, as does any math program (which is why the teacher is there), but for my children, it build such an incredible problem-solving skills, mental math, and mathematical flexibility. My children were young when they used the program, and I only wish it had continued while they were in elementary school. Regardless, their teachers did a great job and I'm so grateful for the education my children received. As the years go by and my children get older, I'm increasingly grateful to these hard-working, unsung heroes.


15 people like this
Posted by To What End?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2019 at 12:43 pm

To What End? is a registered user.

How can a school system, already known for high stress, think it's necessary to get nearly all students into Calculus in 11th grade? Even then, only after taking a summer school class. What is wrong with Calculus as a senior? Or, heaven forbid, not taking Calculus in high school?

The Paly math department already thinks they are God's gift to math. The math department doesn't offer weighted grades if you take an AP class off-campus (at Lydian, Fusion, or even Foothill). So, a Paly student can actually take a college Calculus class, and not get a weighted grade. But, if that same student took Calc AB at Paly (only one semester worth of Calc), they'd receive a weighted grade.

My kids have had math teachers as sophomores that told the class that they make the work intentionally difficult to get them ready for AP Calc, even though many of those students won't take that class.

Outside of STEM majors, most colleges don't even require Calculus, you can fulfill your math with Statistics.


4 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2019 at 1:12 pm

kids is a registered user.

So, put low income kids and keep them at a lower level and keep the expectation low to just algebra while others get an honors type course. Ignore the fact that the kids in the higher lane at the same class offering have help at home and money for tutors. Do not help them after school. Act surprised that they did not do as well.

Their achievement reflects the teaching and expectations for them exactly. The others that "laned up" reflect the higher expectations and help from the outside. How is putting kids in a class and expecting less of them helping them. maybe I just do not understand. I also do not understand why so few girls are in the top math classes and why there is no support for girls. This district is so far behind in math education. The parents and tutors have been teaching the kids. In looking at which kids end up in the top math classes as freshmen, almost all of them came from outside the district or had other math programs. If you depend on pausd to teach your kids math and do nothing else, your kids will go deep, but not in a good way. All along the way, there are low expectations and that is the problem and the cause of the achievement gap and having parents that pick up and teach their kids makes it seem real. It is not real. All kids should be able to have the same education and be on the same playing field not just kids with tutors who get laned early. Putting them in a divided class just seems mean.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 1:23 pm

What I get from this is that the probability of low income, minority and special ed students are not getting extra tutoring for financial or whatever reasons while the others are quite possibly getting extra tutoring from paid tutors or tutoring services.

Nothing too surprising here. There has always been a large number of Palo Alto students getting extra tutoring paid for by parents who want them to do better at math, whether it being after school or summer camp. The stigma of getting a poor math grade makes it automatic that a family with the means will pay to get the grade improved. A family that doesn't have the means will let the poor grade continue as there is no real alternative to letting the school do the teaching.

Wake up.


12 people like this
Posted by Independent learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 1:26 pm

@concerned,

You have just pointed out how different the needs are for different students and families, and in the same breath say the schools can’t address differences, as if that’s somehow just too complicated. Not only is that wrong, other schools (not just homeschooling) are proving you wrong. In a public program every child deserves to have as positive an experience as yours did, and as you rightly point out, there are learning differences — that is a fact of life — the program should adapt to that reality rather than basically being designed to always fail a large segment of students.

I do not know if you intended to come across as so defeatist and passive aggressive, but customizing education is not a “fad” nor does it have to involve “trends” or non “research-based” programs. There is no implied dismissal of teachers, either, only of rigid one-size-fits-all mindsets.

My child customized high school math through a public school program. The teacher, experienced in independent study, allowed the kids to choose from among several evidence-based, already vetted and used curricula, and then work through them self-paced. If one didn’t fit the child’s learning style, another could be chosen. If none of the existing curricula worked, then the hunt for well-established other resources (of which there are many) was allowed, although in our case, not necessary. If a test showed a child needed more work, then the child did more work and then retested on the material. There is absolutely no reason every child has to work through the same exact curriculum at the same speed, and be judged for it at every step and given no chance to show mastery. Just allowing for self-directed learning allowed my child to considerably accelerate in math, get more depth and breadth, and be more confident and successful. The CONSIDERABLY higher standardized test scores that resulted were an unplanned side effect.

By the way, that can be done with homeschooling or in brick and mortar school. Homeschoolers don’t usually make up things from scratch either, or go with “fads”, they usually go with established tools, they just get to customize them to a child’s learning style or needs, including to accelerate or slow as needed.

Everyday Math is a good case in point. It worked well for your children, for mine, it demonstrably set things back behind where they were before the program began. In contrast to how it taught your children flexibility, it taught mine (wrongly) that there is no consistency, no framework you can build on in math, that the answer to the same problem can change based on the method used. It absolutely destroyed my child’s innate love of math at that age. The wordy pedagogy and lack of math practice (not to be confused with word problems) couldn’t have been designed better to make someone with the same learning differences fail, when a different program allowed the same child to catch up and do calculus AB and BC at an honors level first semester of 10th grade (both). If the same child had stayed in the local school, it’s doubtful calculus would have been possible at all. (By the way, mine also hates using devices for math and does markedly less well on computerized tests - so chose to do everything text-book based. The point is, there was a low-drama, child-driven choice, rather than forcing one way and then assuming failure was the child’s fault, as we experienced here.)

Our local teacher who implemented Everyday Math was one of the best we had in the district (or ever) and she basically said she had to throw away a collection of math teaching materials she had curated over 30 years, including from teaching gifted children and much public school experience, and was highly frustrated by being told to only use EDM.

Why are you so threatened by the idea that other students could have as good an education and outcome as yours did? Why would you feel you have to disparage the idea that the hard-working teachers of this district could be capable of customizing math education? Especially since, in a customized situation, your children could still use EDM if that was deemed — by the education professional working with them and the child — to be the best fit? Are you just threatened by the idea that other children you think are beneath yours could succeed just as well?


31 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 29, 2019 at 3:35 pm

One of the great flaws in our public education system is that it forces most students along a similar path of achievement despite differences in interest, intelligence and capabilities.

During college, I had a coworker who struggled with his grades. He was a first-generation Hispanic student who was fairly average in high school. In college, he decided to major in an engineering field. Yet, he couldn't pass his math, science or engineering classes (all involving math).

We both had student jobs in the same department. One afternoon, we all took I.Q. tests from the school's psychology department. Whereas most of us were varying degrees above average, this student scored in the mid-80s.

Several of us tried to talk him into changing his major (at least temporarily) until he could bring up his grades and achieve satisfactory academic progress. He refused. He wanted to "prove" to others that he could "do it."

After failing to bring up his grades following a third academic progress waiver, he dropped out of school.

I asked some friends about him recently. He's working in a trade and doing well (although he has quite a bit of student loan debt). I just wish that he would have considered alternatives to his major or career. He equated "success" only with a degree in a particular field -- something that was largely outside of his intellectual capabilities.

Schools should not hold all students to the same types of career or educational road maps. My friend was capable of success -- just not the type of success that the high school was focused upon.

Palo Alto is blessed to be a bastion of intelligence and academic success. However, this doesn't mean that ALL of those students should be held to the same academic standards. Given the pool of students in this area, most wouldn't have a problem with such classes. However, some might feel the pressure of taking classes that might just be outside of their range.

Schools should exist to not lump students all together. There should always be a standard for graduation. However, average and, yes, below average intellects shouldn't be required to progress on that same academic or career road map.


12 people like this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 29, 2019 at 3:36 pm

It's not surprising that putting Alg 1 and 1A students in the same room doesn't do very much and may have negative consequences. Every child learns differently, has different developmental histories, different capabilities, different parental expectations, different peer expectations, and different goals. Maybe some (or most or all) of the grade differential between HUR students and the others has to do with that, and less to do with the classroom. That said, it may be emotionally difficult for many to be surrounded by high achieving students with lots of resources. While it may be inspiring for some it must be demoralizing for others.


6 people like this
Posted by Why So Many Fail
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 29, 2019 at 6:18 pm

[Post removed.]





6 people like this
Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 29, 2019 at 6:52 pm

What is making this worse is that due to change in placement policies many students that otherwise would be in 9th grade Geometry next year will instead find themselves repeating Algebra1 in 9th grade.

The district is starting to require a "B" to access 9th grade Geometry (essentially defining a "C+" in 8th grade Algebra as a "fail").

Because so many stronger students will now be forced to repeat Algebra, the merge will create a situation similar to 6th grade of placing a large range of abilities at level in the same course. Creating again a course that is not effective to most of its students. Those that actually need to learn Algebra (no middle school Algebra) or have a slower natural learning pace will be placed with students that already know most of the curriculum.


1 person likes this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 29, 2019 at 7:19 pm

To Green and Paly parent: What are you talking about re: repeating Algebra if you have less than a B? That is just plain not true.


2 people like this
Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 29, 2019 at 7:29 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

Here is what the school sent to 8A students at JLS (or at least to us):

Course Selection for 9th grade: Students who earn a B- or better in Algebra will be eligible for Geometry in 9th grade. Information about how to choose which course and the expectations for the courses will be given to students in the last week of January. High school counsellors will visit JLS in the first week of February to provide registration information. Students who earn a "C" grade in Algebra can either register and take the summer school course (Bridge to Geometry A) or repeat Algebra in 9th grade. Students who take the summer school course must earn a B- or better in the summer school course to continue to Geometry in the Fall. Students earning a D or F in Algebra will repeat Algebra in 9th grade.


6 people like this
Posted by What does being Chinese got to do with it?
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2019 at 7:57 pm

[Portion removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]

In all, be careful of how you phrase your observations about the children in our community. They're battling not only outside forces, but things inside them that may shout at them, "You can't do this! You'll never amount to anything your parents want you to be! You can forget about going to college - you're useless!" Those are thoughts they may battle every day.


2 people like this
Posted by Why So Many Fail
a resident of Stanford
on Jan 29, 2019 at 8:13 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced comment.]



13 people like this
Posted by Independent learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 29, 2019 at 10:59 pm

@Nayeli,
I do agree with you that education at this level should be broader and not so single track. I also wish there was better information and more respect for trades. (If you listen to Temple Grandin speak these days, that's one of her big peeves, the lack of support for people who want to go into the trades, and consequently, a big lack of skilled tradespeople.). But I think that kind of broad approach has to start early. It's a societal shift. My plumber makes a great living (more than we do), and is frankly a pretty smart guy. But at the end of the day, it's a hard job that people don't aspire to do from the getgo. (Which is too bad, because innovations in plumbing are a potential goldmine -- and people with the experience and problems to solve in the field are the innovators.)

That said, it's really important not to pigeonhole people. I went to one of the top and most selective universities in the country and one of the smartest people I knew (physicist, great student) told me he had never done well on an IQ test (he was below 100). He was told by his father his whole life that he was stupid and would never be able to do anything of worth. Talk about pulling up by one's own boot straps. Yet he was one of those students who was able to help others even outside his field. Another one of the smartest and most grounded people I have ever known was there after quitting in the middle of his undergrad years and spending 10 years as a carpenter in construction. He came back to get his engineering degree because he was ready, but he wasn't sorry for the years he spent in construction.

I also think that different people have different gifts (including for trades, which are an important part of our economy), and it's just tragic that the person you mentioned didn't have the opportunity of a broad education in order to find those gifts in a more positive way. But I think unfortunately our society is becoming more and more stratified by class again, and there is an aspect of people not wanting to be trapped in a certain class if they can avoid it, and the schools do not help.

I agree with you that everyone should not be tracked to go to college. In places like Switzerland, the training for things like trades is quite extensive, and consequently, their construction is way higher quality than ours. But they also have a much higher minimum salary.


2 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2019 at 8:18 am

kids is a registered user.

Were there two teachers in the class with two different levels and apparently two different population groups? If not, then who did the teacher spend time with each day. Was work just assigned and they all tried to do it without help? Each lecture per topic would have to be cut in half. Not sure how that helped kids that were advanced in math and those that were struggling. Were they trying to stop progress at the upper end and speed up the lower to bring them all closer? Too much is dependent on the skill of the teacher and to run a class like this takes training and research and support. I would commend a teacher for getting a class like this all to 70 percent. This is a hard task for the best teacher. Often, the top kids are left alone with the thinking that they cant teach themselves and do not need instruction . This works in pausd because parents or tutors teach them at home. Every math class my kids have ever taken at Paly have the teacher at a desk showing a power point, doing a few example problems and then sitting back down while the kids do the work. At outside higher quality math classes, the teacher actually walks around and looks at worked solutions and knows each student. This would be so difficult in a class that had two distinct levels. Paly parents do not know this, but they are truly homeschooling parents and actually have to work harder because they have to follow another persons curriculum.

Also the notion that some kids will learn more with watered down curriculum is poor reasoning and the cause of low achievement. MIssing information and attempting easy problems does not put a kid forward. Kids that are financially and educationally supported are put through the ringer with the Paly math. If they could just follow one publisher and knock of their silly web and chain, students could help each other and have time to go forward or back. The math teachers at Paly still get chuffed up and excited when smart kids have difficulty.

I would recommend taking as many math classes elsewhere. Foothill College has Algebra, Business math with tutors and a clear curriculum without tricks or rigor and is free for any high schooler minus the books. West Valley has a very good summer program with math at all levels that lead up to one another nicely. UC scout is fair but online.BYU is UC approved and self paced so kids can go forward or backward. It is online, but there is a live teacher to contact whenever help is needed. These 3 are UC approved and you can place them on your UC college applications as stand alone transcripts. Take a prep and do the online math in a fun relaxed way. Seems hard, but would be worth it to avoid fake rigor. This bunch makes math difficult for its top kids who full support at home or with tutors. Is it surprising at all that this type of math class does not prepare every child


11 people like this
Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2019 at 8:34 am

The pilot of merging Algebra1A and Algebra1 has two very significant issues:

First, it was done before the recent change this year that would force all students that successfully completed 8th grade Algebra1 with a C+ to repeat the course in their 9th grade. This is happening next year and I expect it to significantly increase Algebra1 9th grade enrollment with many students that are much stronger. This will completely change the consistency of these classes.

Second, the only data that they seemed to have used are grades in the course. This is very highly biased data. First it can not be compared with middle school Algerba1 grades (where the student cohort is much stronger). Second it can change between years and teachers. What should be used to evaluate effectiveness are highly standardized and normed third party assessments. For example, MDTP or the NWEA MAP test. The district already uses these tools: MDTP to place students coming from outside the district and NWEA MAP as a pilot. But for some curious reason they chose instead to use this highly biased data for the Algebra1A/Algebra1 pilot. This is very poor scientific methodology.

More on the change of policy that defines "C = FAIL" for Algebra 8th students.

This is bordering being unlawful by SB359 (math placement act).

Second, parents please note that your students are being tripped here. Your students that might "fail" would otherwise (same demographic) do very well did they have a balanced pathway (similar to Saratoga or Sunnyvale). Our pathway is highly imbalanced: ineffective slow 6th grade and a large amount of new material introduced in the last second semester of Algebra8, where it is the FIRST time kids factor binomials and solve and analyze quadratics). MANY students start struggling for the first time in second semester of Algebra8. Also our Algebra8 class sizes are very large compared with other core classes. Students that can not afford tutors (or their parents are misled to believe that they should not support them) can very easily fail (get a C) even if they are highly capable to finish middle school ready for high school Geometry.


10 people like this
Posted by The Public Interest
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Jan 30, 2019 at 9:42 am

Where are the standardized test results of math assessments for these students ---- to actually see if they are learning the material? PAUSD's grades are not necessarily indicative, given that grade inflation is a concern within the district, and grades are not standardized across teachers.

If we really want to know and ensure that our students, and particularly these vulnerable students this article discusses, are being properly placed in math, and are making progress towards mastering math curricula, reveal the aggregate results of the normalized math assessments that the state requires for math placement decisions, broken down by race and socio economic factors, just as was done for this report to the board. (EDC 51224.7)

Then let's see how our district and its students are performing --- and what may need to be done.


7 people like this
Posted by Green Acres parent
a resident of Green Acres
on Jan 30, 2019 at 9:58 am

Green Acres parent is a registered user.

The board members who voted to leave decisions about curricula to the professionals are derelict in their duty as board members. It's their job. If they feel unqualified, they shouldn't have run for election in the first place.


2 people like this
Posted by more to the story
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jan 30, 2019 at 12:06 pm

Weekly,

I would not characterize a doubling of Ds and Fs in Gunn's Algebra 1 pilot as "remain[ing] relatively steady."

Nor would I report the HUR and disabled student passing rates as having "gone up" and "improved" without adding that the sample size is so small that it renders those percentages statistically insignificant.

Increase in # of disabled students earning As in the pilot's first year = 0.

Increase in # of HUR students earning As = 2.


4 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2019 at 12:31 pm

kids is a registered user.



The secret to a good math program is high expectations starting in Kindergarten and adults not sitting and watching kids fail while they collect data.


12 people like this
Posted by Concerned parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2019 at 10:36 pm

You wonder why many of the black students in the district are choosing the private school route for middle and high school and are excelling. The math experience in PAUSD is inflated. Kids are tutoring up and those who can’t afford to have a tutor on speed dial are being neglected by teachers as the class moves on. Thank you very much PAUSD, but I will keep my historical unrepresented daughter at Castilleja, where she has developed a passion for math and is loving every minute of it.


3 people like this
Posted by FutureJobs
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 30, 2019 at 10:55 pm

Instead of exercising social engineering with our kids, I suggests that the educators consider what skills are needed for jobs of future. To create, shape and organize jobs of future, we need a few highly skilled talented professionals. The solution to the tough problems of future can only be found by a few really top notch scientists, and not by an army of average graduates. The educators must not block those good talents.

Of course, the rest of us will have important roles in many needed supporting functions too where pooled team talents are needed. So, the best way to help all students, particularly the struggling students, is to help them function effectively in team projects where they can leverage from the diverse talent and skills of team members to advance the team goals, and therefore to advance individual goals.


3 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 1, 2019 at 10:04 am

kids is a registered user.

Future jobs. you are scary. Know one should be predicting 14-17 year olds futures at low level jobs with low expectations or even high level ones. Pausd is a PUBLIC school district and they owe every child the same education.


2 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 3, 2019 at 11:38 am

@Green and Paly parent: Isn't a C+ grade an indicator that there are serious gaps in the child's understanding of very rudimentary (and simple) topics in basic algebra? I would think that even a B+ or lower would indicate some trouble ahead in later courses. It would be in the child's interest to repeat the subject to get a real understanding of it rather than push the child ahead with a shallow facility in basic mathematics.


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Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 4, 2019 at 12:55 pm

kids is a registered user.

@ member.. even a b + ? I think there is enough technology now to have a more precise way to locate where there needs to be reteaching and more practice. Repeating an entire year course to avoid about 10 minutes per kid in writing up a plan of attack? really? There is a lack of care for student's time.


4 people like this
Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 4, 2019 at 5:03 pm

@kids: My kids taking Algebra 8 now. The kids are given second chances in all the tests and the homework assignments. There is no way a "10 minute plan" will fix a kid who is getting B's or less. There are fundamental gaps in their understanding of the material. It's possible they are unmotivated and don't want to put in the effort. Maybe repeating a year is not the answer, but neither is a "10 minute plan".


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 5, 2019 at 9:31 pm

@member
Yes, C+ in Algebra8 *might* mean that a kid has some gaps or it may mean they are in the process of adjustment to the accelerated pacing in the second semester of Algebra. A C+ definitely should not mean that they should be *forced* to repeat Algebra in 9th grade. In most cases, this will not be productive to them and will derail them from AP calculus. The student population in 9th grade Algebra is very different than the 8th grade population. In 8th grade Algebra, 40%+ of students should really be in a more accelerated pathway. The C+ students are probably those that truly belong. Most of the students in the 9th grade course see Algebra for the first time and adding the "C+" students there will be counter productive not only to them but also for the students that never took Algebra. The C+ students of Algebra8 probably only need a little reenforcement and extra support and can do fine in GeoA.


2 people like this
Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 6, 2019 at 9:37 am

@member some add-on to my response to your comment on what the course grade really means:


The way our honors math classes are structured, and the second semester of 8th grade Algebra mimics that, is that many new concepts are introduced for the first time shortly before a test that also requires applying them in more involved ways. For few kids this is fine. But many students only internalize these concepts AFTER the test, simply because some more time is needed for them to "sink in". So they are proficeint in the material, even though the course grades do not reflect that. The messages from that are that:

(i) This is one of the severe limitations of using a course grade alone for the purpose of placement. We should be using standards-based normed preferebaly untimed assessment tools (such as NWEA MAP) on a periodic basis for the purposes of better understanding each student learning patterns and more accurate placement. Holding a student back a year because of a C+ without looking more closely on their needs can be a grave derailing mistake.

(ii) Because of how our advanced courses are designed, students that already visited the material have a huge advantage. Spiraling and revisiting math concepts is *critical* in allowing concepts to "sink in." This is why external support is such a huge plus for students at PAUSD and the students that do not have access to it are highly disadvantaged.


6 people like this
Posted by Independent Learning
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 6, 2019 at 9:24 pm

"My kids taking Algebra 8 now. The kids are given second chances in all the tests and the homework assignments. There is no way a "10 minute plan" will fix a kid who is getting B's or less. There are fundamental gaps in their understanding of the material. It's possible they are unmotivated and don't want to put in the effort. "

Another possibility is an undiagnosed learning disability. Kids who are intellectually gifted can often compensate but not perform to their potential when it comes to grades. I have seen this kind of thing chalked up to lack of motivation by teachers because they can see the kids are smart.

Another major possibility is executive function issues. I have seen kids, especially boys, punished for lack of EF skills as if they aren't trying hard enough or are doing it on purpose, because the principal and teachers were mostly women who were organized themselves and just did not know anything about how the brains of teen boys develop. In this district, where there are always going to be enough kids who will handle whatever ridiculous non-learning-related busywork hoopjumping is thrown at them, many teachers just assume those who can't don't care or aren't working hard. It's very frustrating and demoralizing for students who COULD learn the material faster or better (or who did learn the material but don't know how to ask "how high" every time they're told to jump), to be make to redo the class.

In light of the essay by a gifted student who was made to feel stupid going through school here, I think soul searching about these math issues could help improve school for all kinds of students with learning differences.

It is really not hard to create more individualized learning paths for math now. No, you do not have to set kids in front of a computer. Again, learn from the homeschoolers -- it's what they do (create individualized instruction and vet resources), and no, homeschooling does not mean a parent is a dedicated teacher.


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Posted by Member
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 11:47 pm

Member

10 minutes to look at a test and know what was not taught well in a precise way. If you go on the AOPS website and search pre algebra videos , they are great and actually very fun to watch and work along with and are really algebra. Best explanations of algebra. It is only going to get worse . Take lowest lane alg 2 then take all math anywhere else. Russian school of math is expensive but totally worth knowing your kid will know math and be able to pass sat and college entrance exams. Paly math is lecture and then a test that may or may not have been covered. they should be teaching alg in 6grade with geometry to present ideas instead of hanging out with fractions and long division again and again. The elementary program is very weak. To apply to sci majors Calc is the lowest level by sr year and that is actually low now at larger colleges. Try not to get lost in the time sucking mean math web. Join SJSU math circle. Fun and welcoming!


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Posted by Member
a resident of Barron Park
on Feb 6, 2019 at 11:58 pm

Ps

Also BAMA has free fun lectures often at scu that are fun to go to to see that math is not just a power point and one test. Sometimes the lectures are difficult but still it is fun to see the math community and see how these really smart people think. One lecture was on colored grid puzzles and sequencing. Another was on new ideas with chaos. No work. No test, just some math fun. Everyone is invited free.


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Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 7, 2019 at 9:20 pm

@Greene and Paly parent:

I might agree with your points in theory, but in practice I have trouble accepting them. I have not seen an accelerated pace in the second semester. I asked my child and he said he did not notice a difference between first and second semester thus far. Also the problem sets for the homework are extremely pedestrian (online Big Ideas), and if they are reflective of the tests, then getting a B is a very low bar. As I have mentioned if silly mistakes are made on the tests, the students are given a chance to correct them (for full credit), so again getting a B should be really easy if you have understood the concepts. Yes there could be students who have command of the material, but do not show it on the tests, but these would be rare in my opinion.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 10, 2019 at 6:34 pm

@member

We need to step back and take a look at the breakdown of students at our 8th grade courses.

The top 35% of all our students (nature and nurture), which is approximately the top half of our 8th graders in Algebra8, belong in an accelrated higher level pathway (based on CAASPP data Don Austin shared and enrollment at a higher pathway offered at neighboring districts (Los Altos, Saratoga,....)). Your son seems to be in this group. These students have a fairly easy time at Algebra8 and had they been at other districts, they are likely to have taken Algebra already during 7th grade. Demographically, this cohort is overwhelmingly Asian (or 1st-2nd generation other). Most kids in this cohort will be at GeoH in 9th grade.

In this discussion we are focusing on 35%-75% of our students -- which are the bottom half of 8th graders in our Algebra8 classes. These students are struggling to get the B, but they are also the students that truly belong in this "8th grade Algebra1" pathway. These students do experience and are impacted by the accelerating pace. They are discouraged by (needlessly) being "bottom half" (the "eyerolls" effect). Many need tutors, and those that can not afford to will be derailed by the new "C+=FAIL". Demographically, this cohort is mostly high SES white Americans and they would be coasting to GeoA in a balanced pathway such as Saratoga.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 10, 2019 at 10:55 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

@member -- FWIW, my kid's teacher specifically told all the parents that Algebra8 was harder 2nd semester than 1st, and that kids would only be able to retake to something like 70%. So your experience is definitely not our experience (at JLS). Also, Green/Paly, my kid's Algebra8 class is at least 20% 7th graders. So seems like many kids are able to do the accelerated pathway. And, yes, my guess is that 100% of them are tutored and/or in after-school math. I don't see the point myself.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 11, 2019 at 10:25 pm

@criteria for Geometry

The 7th graders in Algebra are kids that already visited and have proficeincy in much of the Algebra1 curriculum. To "place" (placement is insanely harsh) they must have after school learning of 2 years ahead of the school curriculum. Many of the top 8th graders are also kids that visited the curriculum already.
At PAUSD only 5% of kids can get to Algebra in 7th whereas the fraction at similar districts is 35%-45%. So the remaining 30%+ simply sit in courses in which they are already mostly proficient or the pacing is too slow.

So your kid is sitting in this Algebra class, that accelerates the pacing, seeing quadratics and much new material for the first time, with "B" required to pass. In this class 50% of students already visited the material. Some were already proficient year start. If your kid has very high math aptitude, this is fine, but this is a very harsh setting for kids that otherwise would do well.

As to your comment on not "seeing the point" in "tutoring". I think I can have a pretty good guess on your demographic :-). A math course is developmentally appropriate if it is suitable in level and pacing. I find that there are cultural differences in how families respond to school math curriculum that is not suitable. Many of the foreign born parents value education very highly and got to where they are because they excelled and worked hard. When the school program is not suitable, they supplement after school. Our more typical Palo Alto white American families take a less proactive approach: They supplement only when the kid starts struggling.

The issue is that our wonderful demographic mix, our narrow and unevenly paced program, and widespread mislacement of already-proficeint kids in courses, makes our middle school math an ineffective and often derailing and demoralizing experience to the majority of our students. Those that compensate, lose their after school time. Those that flow with it, get derailed and demoralized. Experience of other districts shows that all kids can do better by balanced organic pathways in more homogenous grouping.


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Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 14, 2019 at 7:21 pm

kids is a registered user.

You did not just say "our more typical palo alto white American families." Using the word "our" also implies any others do not belong.

Most schools in Santa Clara county let kids take algebra in sixth grade. Your typical white kid might want to look at current college admissions.

The district should post their data on what race is in each math class.

The arrogant Paly math dept should not get to use out of print materials kids have not been exposed to for entrance exams into their maze of mixed publisher math. The elementary school does not give tests or skill based homework, yet that is all the high school does. So boring and results are that kids have to teach themselves, fail or get a tutor.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 15, 2019 at 12:35 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

@Paly/Greene -- I appreciate your thoughtful posts on this. I'm not sure what you are advocating for. It sounds like you want more/easier Algebra8 classes in middle school (for example)? If so, I can understand that. There are more lanes in high school than in middle school, so there are many kids in 8th grade who are feeling bad about math because there is no good lane for them. I've heard of kids who are much happier in 9th grade math as a result of that.

I'm not sure I'd draw inferences about my demographic, or interest or lack thereof in working hard. It's just that I'm a strong believer in letting kids figure out what they like to do. And if all their time is spent in after-school classes studying what their parents think is important, then how are the kids ever going to do that?

I also think that accelerated math is overrated. Often colleges will make you re-do it anyway. Or kids choose to, because they want to be sure they have it really solid. Everyone is in such a rush to ... what?


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 15, 2019 at 8:04 pm

@Criteria for Geometry

What I am advocating for is an improved middle school math program that better serves all our children, across the abilities/interest/financial spectrum.

I work in the tech industry, I see what the needs are. Math growth and building positive attitude to math during the middle school years is developmentally critical: A weak middle school preparation means that students can get much less out of high school, where unfortunately students optimize portfolio/graders instead of learning. Moreover, because the way our brains develop, and the way math is (think language or physical development) you can not really catch up as effectively as an adult on what is deprived in the formative years. I find your assertion that "you anyhow repeat the course in college" to be very inaccurate. In my experience, if the first time you see calculus is in your college years you are at a significant disadvantage for a tech job. In particular, your chances of working on the same floor as I do now are slim.

When advocating for improving our program, I am comparing us to nearby and less-funded public school districts (Saratoga and Los Altos for example). Because of the particular way our program is structured, students witout expensive after school support or with no desire for significant after school academics can easily be derailed from where they would be at our sister districts. Moreover, our 3-year program needlessly has multiple failure points for students to get demoralized and derailed: develop negative attitudes towards math and their own adequacy.

Below I will now elaborate, by cohort, on what we do and how we can do better.

First, our "average" math students (roughly, 35% to 75% percentiles). These students are in the top 20% in CA. The goal post for them is to emerge from middle school with strong Algebra1 foundations and perhaps aim tp AP AB calculus in high school. These students follow our "primary" pathway of math6, math 7A, and Algebra8. Here are the failure points:
(i) This pathway is highly imblaanced in terms of curriculum: Very slow 6th grade, somewhat higher pacing in 7A, leading to the highest pace is in the second semester of 8th grade Algebra where a lot of new material is introduced for the first time. The pace in the second semester is similar to the high school "H" lane, which derails the students that otherwise would go to the "A" line.
(ii) Our ineffective 6th grade. Our 6th grade math teahers are not math specialist (they do not have the qualification to teach prealgebra). Few are ineffective even for teaching "math 6". Student that happened to get a less effective teacher are automatically derailed from doing well in 7A (unless they get a tutor).
(iii) Because we are missing a "high" lane, the top 35% of students and the next 40% are essentially grouped together in Agebra8. Sitting with students that are already proficient in a new curriculum you are trying to learn is a highly demoralizing experience for the second cohort. The students that actually belong in 8th grade algebra pathway feel they are out of place. "Eye rolls" make it hard to ask questions. Sometimes teachers respond more to top students.
(iv) Our Algebra8 and 7A classes are on average larger (28-30) students than other core classes. This is because the district choses to keep math7/8 courses small.
(v) New this year: The district raised the bar for GeoA to match that of GeoH (!) a "B" is required to pass Algebra8. I expect very many students to be derailed by this.

How we can serve these students better:
Other districts (look at Sunnyvale and Saratoga) have a balanced pathway with specialist teachers starting 6th grade. So students learn CCSS M6 and most of CCSS M7 in 6th grade. Then learn CCSS M7/M8 in 7th grade. This allows them to focuse on Algebra1 curriculum in 8th, with much spiraling and lower pace (at Palo Alto, our Algebra8 course is Algebra1+most of CCSS M8). These balanced pathway provide all students an apportunity to build stronger Algebra foundations even without expensive tutors. BTW, the "C+=Fail' rule (must repeat Algebra) is a new Palo Alto only rule. Other districts consider C+ to be a passing grade.

Second: Our "top" 35% of math students. Don Austin shared data in October that shows that (on average) 35% of our 6th graders START 6th being proficient (exceed state standard (!)) of the *grade 7* CCSS M7 standards (!!). These students have little to nothing to gain from their school time math course ("math 6"). Moreover, courses are rigid with no appropriate differentiaiton (the very limited in-lesson differentiateion is not designed to support already-proficient students). Being sidelined by teachers that are focused on the needs of other students, being in a rigid inappropriate course, and being offered no path for productive use of time, induces social and behavioral problems on many of these students. Academially, their only path for growth is by taking a structure after-school course (at loss of after school time).

What other districts do: At Los Altos and Saratoga 35%-40% of 6th graders are placed in math courses that cover our "7A". These courses are taught by specialist teachers that are qualified to teach this curriculum.

What Palo Alto can do to serve these students is to open 7A placement to qualified 6th graders. There is a convoluted "justification" to this restriction in placement docs. The real issue is that most of our current 6th grade math teachers are not qualified to teach 7th grade math and providing the "right" program for 75% of our students would require specialist teachers.

Last but not least: "Bottom" 25% (many low SES). What usually works there is informed intervention in small homogenuous groups by specialists teachers, during school time. We are doing worse than other districts also for these students.

Also, in Palo Alto, our low SES students have an effectively hard "ceiling" of math8 at 8th grade. One stats that stands out compared to other districts is the much lower fraction of "exceeding standard" SES students.


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 15, 2019 at 8:58 pm

@Criteria for Geometry

You have an 8th grader in Algebra. Just see the difference: Please look at Saratoga's middle school math flex pathways:

Web Link

The Saratoga balanced pathway to Algebra in 8th grade allows many more students to do well in 8th grade Algebra without tutoring and be well prepared for high school GeoA. Here are key differences:

-- Saratoga's balanced pathway starting 6th grade allows their 8th graders to focus only on "Algebra1". In Palo Alto, our 8th graders (Algebra8) must cover both most of CCSS M8 AND Algebra1.

-- Saratoga has teachers that are math specialist for their 6th grade courses. At PAUSD the 6th grade teachers "chose" what to teach, they don't need to have the qualification.

-- At Saratoga: 70% grade is considered "passing' and allows students to flex into a higher lane. At PAUSD, a C+ in Algebra8 means that students must repeat the class. This is less stressful for students and allows them to focus on learning rather than grade and recover from a bad semester.

-- Placement at Saratoga is guided by normed standardized assessment tools and "flex" options for students. The guidelines are data driven with board oversight. PAUSD uses an ad hoc and out-of-norms placement process.

The spending per student/year at Saratoga is LOWER than Palo Alto. But the state assessments results for all cohorts are better.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 15, 2019 at 10:08 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

I think you nail the description of the problems, esp the very different pacing in 6 vs 7 vs 8. But I disagree on your proposed solution.

I don't like Saratoga's math:

(1) Saratoga has 3 lanes in each grade. That seems like it would be more expensive, more logistically difficult, and considerably more angst-inducing then what we already have. I'm not a fan.

(2) I strongly disagree with building a lane that skips content, as their third lane does. It essentially mandates tutoring, and I don't think a public school (or any school, really) should do that. If the district spends its own money to support get-ahead tutoring, it would only encourage more of it. I much prefer PAUSD's "skip a grade" solution, with a high bar so only the brightest kids can do it.

I think the root problems of our middle-school math program are:
(1) The Algebra8 class has to make up too much ground from the slow 6th grade, so second semester is very fast.
(2) The 7A and Algebra8 classes are filled with tutored kids, so the teachers often assume some level of tutoring, and the untutored kids aren't adequately taught and end up feeling slow and/or stupid.

My solution would be:

(1) Teachers should teach to the untutored kids, and recognize their efforts. If the tutored kids are bored, so be it. Teachers should teach as though kids have never seen the material before. (My kid says the teacher assumes kids have seen it before, so instead learns the material from the student helpers in class, who actually teach it.)

(2) Either cover more in 6th grade (probably requires a second lane), or cover less in Algebra8, with possibly some optional assignments for kids who want to do H.

I think the pausd math program isn't too far off. They are in a very tough position with so many kids going outside of the program and then expecting the program to accommodate them. They are trying to hold the line, while also supporting the truly talented and the slower kids.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 16, 2019 at 1:50 am

@Criteria for Geometry

I very much disagree on how the already-proficient kids in your child's Algebra class should be treated. I can see your frustration with their negative impact on your child. But you need to understand that it is not their fault. These kids are not bored because they learned it already. They learned it already because the school pacing was not right for them. They did not choose to be in your child's class. They are forced to sit there by systematic misplacement of a broken process. Just like your kid, these are 10-13 year olds and have similar emotional needs. Without drasticaly changing the instruction method, the only solution is to offer a broder program with more accurately placement. Other districts offer such programs at much lower cost and they and show better results for all students.


Saratoga's program is one compromise between the needs of the top 35-40% and the needs of the next 35-40%. Here the "middle" gets a perfectly balanced organic pathway but the "top" have to study some on their own. This is not ideal but adequate because their learning pace is much above the CCSS pacing in elementary and the elementary teachers are accomodating (can do independent work during school time) the burden placed on these kids was deemed adequate by Saratoga

It is interesting to look at Los Altos:
Web Link
Here the pathways look like ours except that there is an additional balanced accelerated *organic* higher lane that this time caters to the top 35%-40%. Here high aptitude kids can get to 7th grade algebra and 8th grade geometry without external study at all (no skipping). So here the needs of the top group are taken care of, but the second group, does not get a balanced pathway.

Sunnyvale has many more "middle group" kids than "first group" and cater to them: They offer a balanced pathway to Algebra.
Web Link

Cupertino seems to have many more "top group" students (45%) and does it the Los Altos way:
Web Link


Note that there aren't too many different courses at Saratoga. There is the CCSS paced lane math6, math7, math8. Then there is math 6/7A (here "7A" means first part of "math7"), math 7B/8, (balanced) Algebra1, and Geometry. But there are enough kids from each grade level to create (mostly) "same grade" sections of each course. I bet the 6th graders in 7B/8 are musch stronger than the 7th graders, so this grade-level separation of sections is healthier. (40% of Saratoga's students place in 7B/8 in 6th grade and a similar number does it in 7th).

So I don't think we should treat it as one group instead of another. We in Palo Alto can better serve all our students.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 16, 2019 at 2:30 am

@Criteria for Geometry

I really appreciate this discussion. Some comments on your proposal:

-- Our Algebra8 course must include the full CCSS Algebra1 content for compliance and math 6/7/8 must be covered in middle school. I don't think we can cut off content. The only option really is to balance the pathway byo (similarly to Saratoga) pushing content down to 6th grade so that our 8th graders can focus on Algebra1 for the entire year.

-- About your reference to PAUSD putting a "high bar" on so called "above grade" placement (Algebra in 7th grade). I am guessing your kids have not been subjected to that process. Mine were. I can elaborate if you wish, but the high level is that the process that is applied to kids is unprofessional, defies scientific and education norms, and harmful. Also, simply looking at numbers, does it make sense to you that carefully calibrated normed assessmenets at Los Altos, Saratoga, and Cupertino end up in 35%-45% of their students doing Algebra1 in 7th grade whereas we are at 5%?

-- You are making some nebulous distinction between "truly talented" and "tutored" kids while expressing frustration towards the kids that you call "tutored". I think you are not being fair. We have a program that holds 30% of our kids back a year from where they would be in Los Altos, Saratoga, or Cupertino. Are you surprised that many kids are compensating after school?

-- I think it is important to understand that the dis-serrvice of one group, no matter which way, and ending up with courses where many students do not belong, harms all students, including those that do belong.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 16, 2019 at 11:10 am

Actually take a look at CUSD middle school math program -- set by a nice transparent process with annual revisions and input from all stake holders and data and careful consideration of emotional and academic needs. They don't burry problems -- They expose them and address them. They have a "math advisory cancel" with public summaries that surface and discuss issues. We have a highly opaque "math steering committee" consists of only staff members with NO public notes and engagement in cover ups. Envious care for their students and a data driven scientific methodology.

CUSD middle school math:
Web Link

For next year, they seem to be considering another revision of their program that will have BOTH a balanced pathway to Algebra in 8th (a 4/3 pathway) AND a balanced 5/3 pathway (Geometery in 8th) with flexible move points. Note that they are working with a much lower per student budget than us!

Current proposal for CUSD next year pathways (all main cohorts are served!)
Web Link


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Posted by No longer on the map
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 17, 2019 at 9:44 pm

Our neighboring districts engage in continuous revision and improvement of their middle school math programs. They share experiences and analyze data and feedback from their stake holders. They showed us that it is possible to server well all students. That when underserving one segment we actually negatively impact other segments -- the math program is not a zero sum game. Our neighbors offer a broader program that support more students and everyone benefits. Data shows that they are obtaining much better results than us for comparable segments. Their students are more advanced. Their top students excel in math competitions and many more of their low SES students exceed standards. We are a much richer district, with a much larger budget per student, and manage to blow it off by a program that unnecessarily derails and demoralizes many.

Up to a decade ago, PAUSD used to be the district that our neighbors look up to and learn for. But now we are no longer on that map. We can see that the latest revision at CUSD was based on reviews of programs from around the county:

Web Link

They looked at Saratoga, Los Altos, Sunnyvale, and Hillview. Palo Alto was not even looked at...

This is not surprising for those that experience our program from within. Our program was in stagnation/deterioration for decades, oblivious to the needs of our changing demographics and the 21st century. Many families (including board members!) choose to bypass our middle schools. This open secret harms our children but may soon start impacting our property values

The failed and misconceived experiment of the 9th grade Algebra course only serves to demonstrate the severe issues with our processes. That experiment went against expert recommendations (the Hanover report). It demonstrates a failure not only in its results but also of methodology. Of significant concern is our education board decision (in departure from our neighbors) of not only not providing oversight on our math program, but also requesting to not be informed (!).


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Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 18, 2019 at 9:09 pm

kids is a registered user.

There is bragging about the kids taking calc 3, but they did not notice other districts have several sections and in earlier years because the other districts reward talent and teach kids math in middle school and prepare them for critical thinking early on. Kids that are good at math or want to work hard are discouraged and told to "go deep" and that is what this math program has done, gone deep. Kids that need help have help refused at all levels.


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Posted by No longer on the map
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 18, 2019 at 10:26 pm

I have something to say on the "going deeper" phrase. Please do not trust the district's (mis)representation of their program and their (ill informed and often derailing) recommendations for your kids.

The district math placement documents contain many misrepresentations, biased ill advice, and misleading claims about the program. The instructional ISs and teachers are trained to repeat these lines. When you ask for substative data, further explanation, or sense, it is not provided because it does not exist.

They use intimidation, stonewalling, and misrepresentation, year after year, on children and parents, until the concerns that are not addressed are no longer relevant. Then they repeat.

The "going deeper into the curriculum" is just one of their vacious favourite phrases. This propaganda is used to provide a "justification" for their inadequate program and widespread egregious misplacements of hundreds of students, in particular in 6h grade. The education world agrees that a year with no growth and math development, during middle school, can have long term negative impact. So they must have an answer for the very many 6th graders that are essentially proficient in CCSS M6 year start, but placed in "math 6", where all instruction time is used on the CCSS M6 curriculum and instructin is rigid (no alternative work outside the curriculum is permitted). The story is that these students are provided an opportunity to "go deeper" and they can grow this way. Another is that "it is important to be solid" (but they do not have a methodology to determine level and solidness....).

At least the teachers, when asked, must cover this. So "deeper" at pausd was work provided to kids to do independently without any meaningful feedback, discussion, instruction, or supervison in their own time. For example, the Einstein packets until last year and some SCCOE material this year (that they had the "hutspa" to announce in October as inovation...). They also not misrepresent the
very limited "in-lesson" variety of problems (sometimes know us the "either" and the "or" HW choices to those subjected to it). This variety is built into the "big ideas" curriculum. But even the "Big Ideas" (the text books) publishers and authors do not agree that this is adequate to support students that are already proficient(!)

Be careful interpreting the propaganda. Be very careful taking their recommendations. I know that it is hard for parents to override such forcefully expressed misguidance from "professionals". But please seek external input if in doubt. I saw so many kids get derailed with the 7/7A recommendations. I saw kids that overrod it and went to 7A and are doing very well (the 7A teachers are specialists and are generally better).


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 19, 2019 at 7:48 am


Lets take a comparative look of math program and results of our own middle school (say Greene middle school) and the Hillview (Menlo Park) middle school. Menlo Park operates with a fraction of our per-student budget. Their population is not as affluent (not many can afford the $100+/hour tutors that are used in Palo Alto).

But they do offer a very broad middle school math program where many of their students can be supported during their time at school.

Web Link

Their math pathways include
* two-period math intervention for students diagnosed to be a grade level or more below standards
* An additional math period option for students that need extra support to stay on grade level pathway (math6, math7, math8)
* Organic balanced path to 8th grade Algebra, starting in 6th grade
* Organic path to 7th grade Algebra and 8th grade Geometry (starting 5th grade)
They pathways have multiple points were kids can catch up and lane up (using bridges provided at school)

Link for information for parents introducing and explaining the program:
Web Link


We can now look at results per segment for their 6th graders using the CAASPP data (available for 2018). Hillview seems to be about the size of our larger middle schools, so we can look at Greene (our largest).

Lets look at fraction at Level4 (exceeding standards)

White students: Hillview: 71% exceed standards Greene: 53% exceed standard

Asian students: Hillview 91% exceed standards Greene 84% exceed standard

Latino/Hispanics: Hillview 33% exceed standards Greene: 26% exceed standards

Greene 2018 data:
Web Link

Hillview 2018 data:
Web Link


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Posted by Another
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 19, 2019 at 8:58 am

Another is a registered user.

Greene and Paly Parent,

To be fair, the 6th grade %s for Hillview seem to be a bit of an outlier.

Looking at the Asian students scoring at "Standard Exceeded" in 2018, the %s were 91%, 78%, 79% for 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, respectively. For Greene, the %s were 84%, 87%, and 88%. So Greene students actually scored higher than Hillview's in two out of the three grades.

For white students scoring at "Standard Exceeded" in 2018, the %s were 71%, 60%, and 70% for Hillview and 53%, 63%, 59% for Greene. So Greene 6th and 8th graders did score markedly worse than Hillview's--but Greene 7th graders scored better than Hillview's.






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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 19, 2019 at 9:36 am

@Another

Good points. Response:

We have a more educated and much more affluent population and spend perhaps 50% more per student than Menlo Park. We SHOULD have much better results, even with the same exact curriculum. What is shocking is that we do not. We blow it off.

We do better for 7th graders than for our 6th graders. Our 7th grade math is laned with specialist qualified teachers (we can get good teachers with more $$). So it is more effective than our 6th grade (non specialist teachers and one fixed limited curriculum).

My observation is that many (white) families get tutors in 7th and 8th to compensate for our 6th grade so kids stay on track to calculus in high school. Many (Asian) families compensate already in 6th grade by providing a suitable after school program. These resources may not be available for many more in Hillsview. But they still to very very well.

More about Asians: Since the numbers are already hovering on 80%+, and it is not very large populations (perhaps 100-150 Asian students per grade) the differences are less significant there. It would be more meaningful to follow same group of students across grades. Also, for Asians, we don't really have granularity as this available data shows only grade level performance. What would be meaningful there are adaptive tests such as NWEA MAP or at least the break down within the very large "exceeding standards" group. Other data indicates that most of our Asian student exceed the standards of the NEXT grade level.


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Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 20, 2019 at 10:49 am

kids is a registered user.

The scores you all see from low income,underserved students are the exact result of just the program and nothing else. It was advantageous even a few years ago to get ahead with tutors, but now they are necessary for simple a-g classes and Palo Alto kids have such a ridiculous maze of different publishers and mixed classes and are only lectured and tested, not really taught.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 20, 2019 at 2:13 pm




Here is a more detailed comparison of Hillview (Menlo Park) versus Greene (Palo Alto) middle school math results.
The upshot is that Hillview, which offers a very broad program, does at least as well on all segments, and the difference is clearly statistically significant (two standard deviations) for white students. Hillview shows us that we should not be thinking that the math program can support "my kid OR yours". What works best is a program that supports "my kid AND yours".


The vast majority of white students in Palo Alto are accomodated (in terms of suitability of the 3-year curriculum) by the narrow PAUSD pathways:
-- common core pacing math6, math7, math8
-- common core "acceleration" math7A, Algebra8

The imbalance (slow 6th grade, triple paced second semester of 8th grade) makes it harder than need be. But overall the goal posts are in the right place for the majority of this segment. But the program is grossly unsuitable for (low SES) Latinos (on average, well below standards, need targeted intervention) and Asian students (on average, exceed standards of the next grade level, not supported by grade-level curriculum). In our district, we have a program suitable for the "middle" minority but underserves others.


The argument I am hearing against broadening our program so that more are served better are that:
(i) this take resources away
(ii) demoralize the children on the Algebra8 pathway (because it will not be a higher lane)
(iii) believe in having "multi-abilities" classrooms.

The answer for (iii) is that we the rigid instruction methods in all our math secondary courses (starting 6th grade) is not compatible with supporting already-proficient or struggling students. And by having so many students for which the curriculum is not appropriate, we are also harming the students for which the curriculum is appropriate.

As for (i) and (ii), data from Hillview middle school (Menlo Park) shows that it is not a zero sum game: A broader program that supports more students can be implemented with lower cost and better serve everyone.

Hillview has (Menlo Park elementary) have a lower per-student budget they also have a less educated population than Palo Alto and parent education level is considered hugely advantageous for their children.

Education (Bachelor : Graduate school) Palo Alto: 88% : 55% Menlo Park City Elementary: 80% : 47%

Web Link
Web Link

So with all equal, we should be doing better with/for our students.

The demographics seems to be somewhat different than Palo Alto: Hillview has a similar fraction of latino students, a much smaller fraction of Asian students, and a white majority. Looking at CAASPP demographic data for 6th grade we have:

total (tested)
white : asian: latino/hispanics

Hillview (Menlo Park): 313 (311)
W 186 (184) : A 33 (33) : L 51 (51)

Greene (Palo Alto): 321 (316)

W 135 (132) : A 91 (89) : L 43 (43)

What is interesting is that Hillview adopted a very broad middle school math program. Their program includes (i) 2-period intervention and support for those below or just at CCSS standards level (ii) organic balanced pathways to 8th grade Algebra or to 7th grade Algebra/8th grade Geometry.

Web Link


As noted, the 6th grade results from Hillview look better for all these three segments.

White students: Hillview: 71% exceed standards Greene: 53% exceed standard
Asian students: Hillview 91% exceed standards Greene 84% exceed standard
Latino/Hispanics: Hillview 33% exceed standards Greene: 26% exceed standards

The segment where the gap is statistically significant is the white segment, where it is more than two standard deviations. Our white students seem to catch up in 7th grade (comparable) but loose ground again in a statistically significant way in 8th grade (Greene: 59% Hillview: 70% ). So the white graduates of Greene get to high school less solid and less prepared than the white graduates of Hillview.


There are some limitations to this data, but it clearly supports a broader program given the form of instruction that we currently use. Their population is more homogeneous ethnicity wise, but they still chose to be inclusive in their offerings. What is surprising perhaps is that our Asian students, that our program underserves (many would be on a more accelerated pathway in other districts), are not long-term harmed. My observation (from my kids and peers) are that most Asian students compensate -- so while they lose after school time and families have to shed out time and cash, the end results is that most go to high school prepared. The segments disadvantaged the most by our program in a way that may impact them in the longer term are those that are below grade level or struggling to remain at grade level (they can not catch up) and -- surprisingly -- our white segment. So the math program is not a zero sum game and we should stop thinking it is "my kid OR yours". Hillview shows us that it can be "my kid AND yours".



Greene 2018 data:
Web Link

Hillview 2018 data:
Web Link


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 20, 2019 at 3:40 pm




Lets look now at the 2018 data of another neighbor: Los Altos. How are their white students are doing in middle school math compared to ours?


Los Altos offers a middle school math program that supercedes ours in that they also offer a higher lane starting 6th grade that leads to 7th grade Algebra and 8th grade Geometry. From reports, I gather that the high lane (Geometry in 8th) is predominantly Asian. The middle lane (Algebra in 8th) is predominantly white.
Web Link



Lets think of the experience of the (mostly white) cohort that a combination of motivation/family/natural-learning-pace would take to Algebra in 8th grade. The PRO at Los Altos is that they can focus on learning without the potentially intimidating presence of 50% of alread-proficient students in their class. The CON at Los Altos is that in the back of their mind they know there is a high lane and that they are not in the high lane.

So where is the Los Altos white segment in terms of proficiency of standards compares to Palo Alto?

We can first look at 6th graders. Los Altos has a (laned) 6th grade in elementary school. So we need to look at each of the many elementary schools. Recall that at our Greene, 53% of white students exceed standards. Here is what is happening in Los Altos (the numbers speak for themselves):

Santa Rita: 64% of 6th graders exceed standard (45 students)
Web Link

Almond: 71% (out of 29)

Covington 73% (out of 33)

Gardner Bullis 71% (out of 24)

Loyola 51% (out of 37)

Oak Avenue 64% (out of 29)

Springer 68% (out of 44)



What is happening for white Los Altos 8th graders?

The 8th grade is important - right before high school. Recall that at Greene we have 59% of our white 8th graders exceeding standard. (Recall that the number was 70% at Hillview, Menlo Park).

Los Altos has two middle schools. At both, 70% of white students exceed standards (!) Again, a statistically very significant advantage over PAUSD white students. The white students out of Los Altos middle schools are more solid and more prepared for high school that out of our PAUSD middle schools. So this is another strong case for laning.


Egan Middle 8th graders 70% (139 white students) exceed standards
Web Link


Blach Middle 8th graders 71% (128 white students) exceed standards
Web Link

Again, we should not be thinking "my kid OR yours" we should go for a program that serves "my kid AND yours".


@Criteria-for-Geometry what do you say?


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Posted by Manny
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Feb 20, 2019 at 9:30 pm

Who needs Algebra? I fall into one of those underachieving 'minority report' math groups but I am not losing any sleep over it. Because...I will never need or use algebra for anything once I get my GED.

I am going into the trades like the rest of my family & believe it or not, two of my uncles who have only a 10th grade education make more than some of the workers at Google. We're talking well over $200,000 a year man.

Arithmetic is important but algebra & geometry? The only time I use geometry is when I'm shooting pool & I don't need no math teacher to teach me about angles.
It just comes naturally.

Algebra is OK is you're planning to go to college and want to major in the physical sciences. Not me...I'm gonna be a high-rise welder & make even more money than some of these braniacs.

My cousin Alejandro just got drafted to play major league baseball & he got a $75,000 signing bonus. Not bad for a guy who flunked algebra.


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Posted by member
a resident of Crescent Park
on Feb 21, 2019 at 1:54 am

@Manny: You should keep in mind that we are on the cusp of a revolution in technology. Many jobs of today will simply not exist in the not too distant future. With the advances we see today in AI you can expect they will be done by semi-intelligent robots. Wouldn't it be much better to have a robot do high rise welding? It would be safer, cheaper, and able to work night and day at breakneck speed. You should want to learn everything you can now while you have the chance to do so with little other obligations to insulate yourself from an uncertain future. BTW, don't feel bad, even primary care doctors will be replaced by AI.


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Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Feb 21, 2019 at 10:37 am

kids is a registered user.

seriously, if you are a parent of any young kid, go to art of problem solving and try to take the classes. They teach thinking, not just math and that is what is needed for kids as they grow up, not memorization. Also, it would seem easy to set up some math circles and stop acting so afraid of the power of math and thinking in groups. It should be fun. AOPS has online groups, fun contests and such. It is not as good as a group working together, but better than nothing which is what you will get if you do nothingl


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 21, 2019 at 10:24 pm

I completely agree with @kids that Art of Problem Solving (AoPS)
Web Link
has an amazing curriculum. To me, it is the bible of k12++ math. It is pure joy to go through. The Big Idea curriculum, in contrast, make me quizzy -- I can open the book anywhere and within few minutes of browsing see a significant error or an ill-formed example/question. But all that said, the AoPS curriculum (prealgebra and on) is not for everyone. There is not enough drilling and very quickly it goes to problems that need more complex application of concepts. Many kids need more drilling and even some kids that enjoy AoPS would benefit from first covering the curriculum in a more basic way such as Khan academy or aleks.com (but the AoPS elementary program "beast academy" has a very broad appeal).

I strongly recommend supporting your kid's growth in math outside of PAUSD regardless of their level and ability. Even 15-20 minutes a day can go a very long way, starting elementary school. And if the kid needs more challenge then AoPS is amazing.

AoPS academy (AoPS just now opened a new academy (live classes) in Fremont):
Web Link
AoPS online (prealgebra to calculus and more, online and books. Also Python):
Web Link
Beast Academy (elementary school curriculum, online and books):
Web Link

While we all wait for a broader program, think about supporting your kids outside of school.


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Posted by HS Math Student/Professional
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 22, 2019 at 10:31 am

Algebra is fun. One incentive my parents have initiated is a 'pay to play' rewards system.

Whenever my sister & I exceed class percentages, we get remunerated in CASH...anywhere from $200-$500 with added bonuses for AP placement & exceeding even their standards. Exceeding state & national educational rankings are worth even more.

If math students were paid to excel, I think the numbers among all ethnic groups would be even higher.

Money is the great motivator. You can get anyone to do just about anything for it.


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Posted by Gender imbalance
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 22, 2019 at 11:06 am

A comment made by @kids early on was with regard to how our middle school math program discourages girls even more than boys. PAUSD does not share data on gender and ethnic consistency in its different courses/grades, so my comments are based on observations and student-reports on enrollments balance over years.

One data point is our most challenging courses: Our middle school Geometry courses have much fewer girls than boys. Interestingly, middle school Geometry courses in neighboring districts seem balanced -- Reports from Los Altos say that their middle school Geometry courses (and 7th grade Algebra) have MOSTLY girls.

Eventually, our gender imbalance seems to carry over to our BC calculus courses.

How are we discouraging girls?

One significant difference between us and Los Altos is our pathway. The only way in Palo Alto to middle school GeoH is basically by an after school program that is 1-2 years of curriculum above grade and must be concurrent to misplacement at school. Then going through an insane and discouraging filtering process ("placement") that throws out most qualified kids. Even our pathway to (passing) Algebra8 in 8th grade discourages many. This is also because so many "already proficient" students are misplaced in the same courses and students that do belong feel like they do not belong. Moreover, the program accelerates so those without solid after school preparation ar disdvantaged (see early comments on this thread).

Here are two explanations to why our program discourages girls more than programs at neighboring districts. I wish we could look into this thouroughly and be able to do surveys and data analysis. But our district is very resistant to collecting and sharing aggregate data.

Girls, that tend to be broader and more social than boys are less likely to push their primary math education to an after school program even when the school program is not effective. Los Altos and Hillview (Menlo Park), with their broader and more effective 6-8 program, allows students to succeed based on the program at school.

Girls might also be more susceptible to discouragement, of which we have plenty (at least at Greene). One of my challenges as a middle school parent at Greene was to "reverse" the harmful impact of this discouragement on my children and retain their growth mindset. Kids are discouraged by being misplaced (and told they are not). They are discouraged by being sidelided by a teacher (that has to focus on other kids), by having a large group of already-proficient kids in their class, and by being told that our courses are "hard" when they are suitable.

I would encourage families with female students to be sensitive to all this and encourage their students to aim high. This of course is much easier said than done.


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Posted by Paly Math
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2019 at 6:52 pm

Paly Math is a registered user.

How do you know the math classes, at least in the high schools, have more boys than girls? My son, an Algebra 2/Trig H student, says that girls make up the majority in his class! And that many of them are scoring very well and receiving As! I seem to remember his Geometry class last year also had a lot of girls. I know many of the parents. I saw them at BTS nights and recognized them from elementary school. Furthermore my children also know quite a few girls who are at more advanced levels for their grades. One of the girls in my son’s class is a freshman. Girls at Paly are also well represented in honors and AP sciences and on Robotics.


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Posted by @gender imbalance
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 22, 2019 at 7:22 pm

@Paly Math
My data points are from the middle school Geometry H in some years that I talked to a student in the class. There are girls and they do very well in middle school GeoH, but it seems to be 30%-40% whereas elsewhere (Los Altos) people report it is 50%+ in middle school Geometry.

The imbalance might carry over also to AnalysisH/BC calc because about 1/3 of that course are kids that did middle school Geometry.

Yes, the high school Geometry and Algebra2 courses are balanced.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 22, 2019 at 9:02 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

@GAPP -- sorry, haven't had time to keep up. I think it's useful to look at the data by cohort, as you are starting to do. How has a cohort performed in math from 6, 7, and 8 within a school. So you look at 2015 6th grade results, 2016 7th grade results, and 2017 8th grade results. That shows the trajectory of a single class of students. Did they get stronger? And how does that trajectory compare with other schools. If the PAUSD trajectory is significantly worse than that of neighboring districts, then imo that indicates there is a curriculum issue, in which some kids aren't being supported. Or you might find a school issue, but not a district issue.

Fine to slice that by performance in 6, and by asian/non-asian, if you state explicitly that your assumption is that "asian", or perhaps just "high-performing asian" is an approximation for "tutored" (I don't know how accurate that is, if that is the case). I've read (quickly) through your emails, but don't see that.

For example, you might say that, at Greene, looking at the 2015 6th grade class, we see %40 advanced in math at 6, 30% in 7, and just 20% in 8. Similar at JLS and Fletcher. But no such trend exists at Los Altos schools, where we see xyz. Then you could do similar analysis for "meets" and "doesn't meet", or whatever the performance buckets are. I think that is a useful analysis, and all the info is there in the reported scores, though only the schools could do a true cohort analysis (there are some changes to the class as it moves up each year).


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 23, 2019 at 10:00 am

@criteria-for-geometry

I believe the CAASPP data (see the more elaborate Hillview post and the Los Altos posts that includes segment sizes) is highly indicative. I would love to get your thoughts.

Let me summarize the data/analysis:

The data from Greene (PAUSD), Menlo Park (Hillview), and Los Altos clearly shows in a statistically significant way that our Greene white students in the end of 6th grade and also just before high school (8th grade) are less solid and less proficient in math standards than their white peers at Hillview and Los Altos. This is from the most recent 2018 CAASPP data. These results are meaningful because our population is more educated and we spend much more per student, so with all else equal, our students should do better.

As for other segments (Asian and (SED) Latino students), our program is less suitable to start with. The breakdown I am using for white/Asian/Latino students is dictated by the published aggregate data (gross level (1-4) breakdown and average scores by segment). Comparison between districts broken down by segment is informative because these segments have very different patterns: On average, Asian students score significantly higher than white students which score significantly higher than Latinos. By comparing by segment we factor out effect of different segment sizes at different districts.

Now some analysis. PAUSD, LASD, and Menlo Park, all use the "Big Ideas" middle school math curriculum. The difference is in the program/pathways/placement: Our program is much narrower than Hillview or Los Altos. In particular, Hillview and Los Altos offer school-time intervention support for struggling students and compacted accelerated pathways that allow motivated/stronger students to be a year or more above their PAUSD peers.

Our narrower program underserves most of our Asian students. The Asian students average CAASPP scores already exceed the standards of the *next* grade level (5th grade average score already exceeds 7th grade standards). At Hillview or Los Alto most of these students would be placed in a compacted accelerated pathway to Algebra in 7th grade. Our program also underserved students, in particular SED students, that need more intervention. What is surprising here, given theses limitations of the program, is that we also do worse for our white segment, for which, on the surface, we do have pathways consistent with what most white students do in Los Altos or Hillview.

These are the issues that I suspect make our program less effective.

-- The primary pathway taken by white students is to Algebra in 8th grade. This pathway is not balanced (slow 6th grade and very high pace in the second semester of Algebra in which "B" is required to pass). Hillview offers a balanced pathway where more is done earlier on. Our Algebra courses compact Algebra with half of "CCSS M8". At Hillview, 8th graders can focus on "Algebra1".

-- Our classes include a large fraction of students that are well-above the curriculum (in math6/7A/algebra8) or well-below (in math6). But the instruction style is rigid and not suitable to support all of them. Teaching is much more of a challenge. This seems to demoralize and make the courses less effective also for the students for which the curriculum and pacing are right. The broader programs at Hillview and Los Altos result in more homogenous, and data indicates also more effective, classes.

-- This is based on my observations only (no data) - but due to various reasons (that include few less effective 6th grade teachers and inaccurate recommendations) many white students that are at "Exceeding standard" level seem to needlessly follow recommendations to "lane down" (go to math7/math8).

-- I suspect that the new placement rule (this year "B" is required to pass 8th grade Algebra) will further derail our white students, already less solid than peers in Los Altos and Hillview. Many more will be forced to repeat Algebra in 9th grade. This in turn, will percolate down, disadvantage the students that did not yet study algebra (completed math8) that will be placed in the same courses now with mostly proficient students.

My conclusion is that a broader and well designed program, similar to our neighbors, would better support all our students. We all focus on the needs of our own children, but the data shows that a program that underserves one segments results in worse performance also for the students that are supposedly supported.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 23, 2019 at 2:56 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

@GAPP -- I'm just asking if you have that data. It would look like:

[ALL THIS DATA IS MADE UP]

Greene 6th grade cohorts, percentage scoring "advanced" over their 3 years
Class starting 2013: 63%, 52%, 48%
Class starting 2014: 60%, 55%, 45%
Class starting 2015: 55%, 60%, 45%

So, for example, that first line is the percentage of kids scoring advanced in 6th grade in 2013 (63%), in 7th grade in 2014 (52%), and in 8th grade in 2015 (48%). The second line is the percentage of kids scoring advanced in 6th grade in 2014, in 7th grade in 2015, and in 8th grade in 2016. Etc.

Then you could do this:
- for other middle schools
- for the district of Santa Clara (if you want)
- for other performance categories (e.g., how are the "meets" and "doesn't meet" kids doing

This is all available public test data.

That will show if kids are getting better at math (or at least taking math tests) over the course
of their time in middle school. It's useful to look at. I don't have sufficient interest to put this
together, but I get the sense that you might.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2019 at 4:42 pm

@Greene and Paly parent, fwiw your description of some of the issues resonates here. Anecdotally, our (underrepresented minority) child took the 6-7A-Algebra 8 path in PAUSD, and did fine grade-wise but regularly reported back on feeling stupid and clearly understanding that other kids were “the smart ones.” Complained about hating math. Same child is now in private high school for a variety of reasons, and seems to have a much healthier perspective on math classes: doing well, still not the favorite class, but not a regular source of feeling stupid or out of place.


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 23, 2019 at 5:53 pm

@criteria-for-geometry

Don Austin shared some data back in November that is more precise than what you are suggesting. Following the exact same group of kids (from different cohorts) over 3 years.

Web Link
Web Link

We can see we are doing poorly for SED latinos (some years with no growth at all), and there is nice growth for Asian and Whites relative to where they were at the previous year. The scores for Asians are so high (average exceeds the standards of the *next* grade level) that it is clear that they are not served by our school math program.

This nuanced data is not available in this form form other district, but we can see aggregates of a school/years as I was uusing above for 2018 assessments also for other years. The results for 2017 exhibit the same patterns as 2018: The Hillview White and Latino 6th graders are doing much better than the Jordan (Greene) 6th graders:
Whites at level 4 (exceed standards)
Hillview 70% (out of 191 white students) Jordan 56% (170)
Latinos
Hillview 36% (out of 44) Jordan 28% (out of 61)

The point is not that we are doing poorly in any absolute sense. We have amazing kids and educated and affluent familites and with that even a worse program will show better results than the state baseline. But data shows that we are doing significantly worse than other districts that are less funded and with less educated population but offer broader programs.

Interestingly, we are doing worse for all segments. The two large segments that we are compromising in terms of the suitability of the offered pathways are the Asians and the SED (mostly Latino) ones. The Asians are too advanced (on average) for basic grade-level courses to be suitable and the SED need additional support. But compromising these kids does not even translate to better performance of the white segment (!) They also do worse at Greene that in Los Altos or Hillview.

The reason is that by placing students with years of curriculum spread in level and ability in the same rigid course makes the course much less effective for everyone, including the students for which the pacing and level are correct. This also makes the teacher's job really hard and introduced many challenges as students get disengaged, demoralized, develop behavior issues, feel sidelined, feel inadequate, and more. Kids need to build strong foundations and develop confidence in their own ability and this is best done in smaller homogeneuous groups.

@criteria-for-geometry

It seems that you are recognizing the issues with our program that may be impacting your own child(ren). This is also why I started looking at our math program -- there were things that seemed very wrong to my kids and peers. But after looking more carefully at the full picture, I believe (and I hope to convince you) that we can not fix just one part in isolation. We need a broader and more flexible program that can stretch to serve most of our students, similar to our neighboring districts.

You may or may not agree with the practice that you refer to as "tutoring" (allowing kids that are ready to learn after school well above grade level). But you can not change it. It is a choice of other families and students that even if different that our own, we should respect. And if the end result from our program is that 30-40% of our students are "tutored" while misplaced at school then the program needs to change so these students are served at school. The current situation of so many misplaced students in each course impacts not only the "tutored" kids but also harms (perhaps even more) everyone else.

Are you seeing the point?


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Posted by Green and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 23, 2019 at 6:30 pm

@Parent
I really appreciate you sharing! I heared similar stories from multiple people. Really happy your child is doing well now! BTW, an out-of-scale brilliant white boy at Greene told me few month ago that he feels "stupid". It seems that our students do not even need to be historically under represented to view themselves as inadequate and get demoralized. I wish we can change this so all our students are encouraged and supported and motivated.


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Posted by Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 23, 2019 at 9:10 pm

Alum is a registered user.

A few questions, since things seem to have changed a bit since I went through all of this.

1) How strict is this new rule that a B- is required for both Geo A and Geo H? I definitely recall there being some room for flexibility (especially if the parents or student really wanted to proceed down the advanced route). And the summer bridge from Algebra 8 to Geo A is still an option?

2) What is the negative to letting more students skip 7th grade math? That would result in a progression much more similar to what is offered at some of the other districts that have been mentioned. Between 6th grade test-out and the packet program, I honestly felt pretty well versed in 7th grade math curriculum by the end of 6th grade. I'm sure there's more optimal solutions, but bringing those back could probably get us 80-90% of the way there.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 23, 2019 at 10:53 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

Thanks for the link to the cohort studies. IMO the elementary school one indicates a problem, because our kids do worse relative to the standard as they progress from 3rd through 5th, and in particular from 4th to 5th. No ethnicity comes out well, though Asians come out better than others, perhaps an indication that they supplement, or maybe Hoover is doing something different. This study shows pretty clearly that we are not meeting our kids where they are and helping them improve. The PAUSD program is supporting our kids worse than the state average in elementary school. Our kids are regressing to the mean.

On the other hand, the middle school one is mixed. The distance above the "meets" standard accelerates with each grade for white and Asian students, indicating the program is working better than average. The rate of acceleration is faster for Asian students, perhaps indicating they supplement. But the distance does not accelerate for Latino students (pausd math is not especially good for them), and accelerates in a *negative* direction for the socio-economically disadvantaged kids (pausd math is terrible for them, they'd be better in almost any other district). That is eye opening.

The point you are making -- that whites (and Asians?) are not accelerating FAST ENOUGH in middle school relative to the standard -- is neither supported nor refuted by this cohort data, since the schools you are referring to are not shown here. You are taking some absolute value, but without the starting point, it's not at all clear what means. You need to see the cohort trajectories to understand how the school is or is not supporting the kids.

So -- the two problems I see are (a) elementary school math is not working well (pausd math is worse than state average wrt to meeting kids where they are), and (b) pausd's middle school math is not working at all (almost "hair on fire" not at all) for socio-economically disadvantaged kids, and is not particularly good for Latinos, who start average and stay average.

I do not believe PAUSD should provide special lanes for kids who do supplementary instruction outside of class. That is not a good use of resources, at least based on these results. If they are going to provide special instruction for anyone, it should be for socio-economically disadvantaged kids and perhaps Latinos, at least in middle school. And everyone else is going to have to learn to live with these kids who supplement but not enough to skip a grade. Maybe the teachers can help by teaching to the unsupplemented kids and encouraging them when they have to study but their classmates do not. As to the supplemented kids who are bored, they could have anticipated this, and instead chosen to do game design or logic puzzles or maze art or cryptology or almost anything else that is challenging and interesting but not skip-ahead tutoring like memorizing the quadratic formula. That's my 2c.

It would be interesting to see these cohort studies done for our neighboring districts, to see how the math programs compare. It's all there, in the public data, at least to a decent approximation, should you care to look. Maybe they ahve similar problems. Maybe PAUSD can learn from them. But I cannot tell that without comparing trajectories.


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 23, 2019 at 11:53 pm

@Alum

Interesting to have the perspectives from years ago. I was there also (as a parent).

1. As to flex options in placement. My experience was that indeed it used to be that while our placement protocols (assessments, combinations of rules) were uncallibrated/non-scientific and really harsh, in the end student/parents could ask for a pass and staff would look at students more holistically. More recently however this was shifted. The 2015 math placement act
Web Link
request/recommends accurate placement based on multiple data points and normed assessment tools, a uniform process for all, and a first month re-evaluation of placement (particaulltly in 6th and 9th grades). Our district seems to maintain and even augment its out-of-norms rules (for example, C+=FAIL in Algebra8 is new). Dodges the first-month placement re-evaluation. BUT now uniformly forces the decision. Moreover, the attitude had been shifting from "partnering" with parents to factoring out the family. My impression is that some of it at least is driven by personal/cultural biases from district staff (distrust from staff in the parenting skills of some parents). Our neighboring districts seem to use very carefully designed and calibrated placement processes, integrate flex options and "trial" placements to mitigate false negatives, and go overboard with respecting the spirit of the math placement act (for example, do a checkpoints on placement in the first months of all grades).

2.
About acceleration in 6th/7th grades (into 7th grade Algebra). Yes, up to 8+ years ago there were paper packets handed to interested 6th graders that allowed them to cover 7A equivalent on their own time and take a "skip" test at the end of the year. This was never perfect (if covering material on your own then it makes much more sense to "skip" 6th grade and take 7A, and the poorly printed multiple-photocopied packets were not the best material for self study.) But back then it made some sense. Then the program devolved further. The packets were no longer handed. Students could only cover the (unspecified) material (that did not even correspond to the curriculum at school) on their own time without any guidance or support. Then went to a "skip exam" with no example tests or customary review material. New to this year 2019 students will have to pass some "challenge problems" just to get access to the "placement test" They also have to collect all point (not even miss one) on the 6th grade rubric. Oh, and last year the test was *misconducted*: Artificially creating a huge time pressure on the already-stressed 11 year olds. This is insanely harsh, stressful, and unequitable (only kids with external resources can do this). You are lucky you did these old packets....

Meanwhile, the districts around us adopted modern accurate placement protocols and programs that allow students interested in acceleration to do this via organic compacted accelerated pathways at school.

You are right that short of new pathways, we can relief the misplacement situation by one of
-- allowing 6th graders that are ready to place directly in 7A or
-- allowing 6th graders to cover 7A on their own using the "Big Idea" curriculum semi-independently (now there is a full online tool kit so it is much easier to do than years ago), take unit test, and if all completed, place in Algebra the following year (now there is no final in 7A, only unit testt anyway). This would remove the stress factor and be more aligned with the actual 7A and more equitable.

But unfortunately we are going in reverse: Our district seems to make placement even harsher and more out of norms (new "elements/obstacles" introduced this year).

It is hard to glean the rational in all this. One reason seems to be that our 6th grade teachers are not "math specialist". That is, they are not qualified to teach beyond CCSS M6. So if 70% of students will be in accelerated courses that include some or all of math7 they will not be able to teach these courses.


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Posted by Green and paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 24, 2019 at 1:50 am

@criteria for geometry

First, the comparison data can not be easily dismissed. It is key to helping us understand where we are at and how to improve. I can see your point that "growth" with respect to year-start baseline is more meaningful data rather than the same-grade cross districts data that is avaialble and I was using. You are correct that in some perceived situations it is only meaningful to look at "growth" -- for example -- if each district each year was getting out of nowhere groups of students with different baselines. But this is not the case. The districts offer k-12 programs (or k-8) and feed from their own students. And if anything, we have an advantaged starting point in terms of education and funds. It also seems that our 3rd and 4th grade performance at Palo Alto is similar to the compared districts and we mostly lose ground later on. So here is a uniform starting point.

The comparison data, that should not be dismissed, does show that we are doing more poorly than neighbors that offer broader programs. These neighbors also operate on lower budgets.

Some additional comments on your post:

-- I agree that there is also an issue with students losing ground in 5th grade, not only in 6th. Some districts are also broadening their 5th grade programs. We may want to look at this.

-- You seem to assume that our placement works and that courses only include kids that are a "fraction" of a grade ahead. You are right that it is not clear what can be done with kids that are say half a grade ahead. These kids may need higher pacing, and perhaps the best solution is to allow them to independently progress and get appropraite placement the following year.

A point that you seem to be utterly missing -- and I don't blame you because one has to experience this to fully understand and believe -- is that our placement process is broken. PAUSD systematically misplaces kids that are more than full grade level, sometimes two grade levels ahead. For example, our 6th graders can place into Algebra, but not into 7A. This means that 6th grade is crowded with kids for which the most suitable course is 7A or that are already proficienty in most of 7A (!). Moreover, even kids ready to Algebra are egregiously misplaced in math 6. This harms everyone.

So if you carefully look over everything, you may see the point (which I think you are still missing). It is not that we have to choose between supporting the SED kids, or the white kids, or the Asian kids. A broad program with accurate placement can support everyone better and be implemented with lower cost.

We do not need that many different pathways to implement a broader program. It is not that complex or expensive. We need the additional support for those well below grade level. This is best done in the form of 2 math periods in a homogenous group. Other than that, we can do a lot with one additional course (as done in Los Alto or Saratoga) and better placement.


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Posted by Fact Checker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 24, 2019 at 10:09 pm

@Paly and Greene Parent,
If you are concerned about these math results and the curriculum (and I don't disagree), might you take time to look at the current proposal for the District's goals and KPI's?
Web Link
Thank you.


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 24, 2019 at 11:49 pm

@criteria-for-geometry

You say
".... and instead chosen to do game design or logic puzzles or maze art or cryptology or almost anything else that is challenging and interesting but not skip-ahead tutoring like memorizing the quadratic formula. That's my 2c."

I find your statement to be an under-informed, demeaning, and a mis-representation of a large group of our students. I suggest that you explore this by talking to the kids and families you are referring to here.

I do understand your frustartion with the presence of already-proficient students that impede your kids' learning. But the only fair solution is to place these kids correctly at school. At our and demographically similar district, the number of students that needs a higher lane is about the same as those for which the 7A-Algebra8 pathway is suitable. Neither pathway is required by the state. Why serve one group while completely sidelining another? Especially that all evidence is that a broader program that supports everyone better is easily within reach with lower cost.

Thes kids (30-40%of our students) you are refering to are grossly misplaced at school (the program is not adequate in level or pacing) and respond by compensating after school. This is not "memorizing the quadratic formula" -- most take solid programs (AoPS, Russian math, ....). Specifically for quadratics, AoPS builds it up beautifully. First gaining mastery of factoring, completing the square, complex arithmetic, and then guiding students to derive the quadratic formular themselves.

You suggest that these kids take instead courses that "bypass" the curriculum (cryptography, logic, advanced coding) but these courses are rare and more expensive than quality basic math courses and also make less sense in terms of sequencing than first covering (pre)algebra basic. Moreover, this will not resolve any issue, since it is not unsuitability of level alone but unsuitability in depth and pacing that makes kids "bored". Do you see the point?


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 25, 2019 at 12:14 am

@Fact Checker

Thank you for sharing! We all have very high hopes that our new super-intendant brings positive change. The promise is very much on target -- I just hope these are not just empty words. So much of what was introduced recently seemed like the exact reverse direction (strict passing score of "B" for Algebra8, additional obstacles that block qualified 7th graders from Algebra). But this seems to be the guidance we all need.

Here are some quotes:

" All students are challenged to reach high standards and are provided an experience capable of accelerating learning through pedagogical academic supports, unobstructed access to rigorous courses, and an unwavering belief that our schools can positively impact the trajectory of each child."

"All students shall experience an environment characterized by acceptance, respect, and support to become invested in the pursuit of learning and excellence without fear of threat, humiliation, danger or disregard. Excellence shall become the norm for all regardless of background or demographics. Our schools shall embrace uniqueness, strengths, and challenges with support, understanding, expectations, and encouragement to succeed."


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Posted by Fact Checker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 25, 2019 at 9:48 am

@Greene and Paly Parent

I hear your optimism, but when I look at the specifics, I only see goals tied to the state standards. I don't see anything to help ALL students. The meeting to discuss this is tomorrow.


The KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are:

Maintain standards aligned instructional materials for all subjects
Increased number of course-alike teams self-reporting progress on the alignment implementation rubric
Increase the percentage of teachers implementing standards/evidence-based grading
Increase the percentage of students performing at or above standard on CAASPP assessment
Increase the percentage of students meeting A-G eligibility requirements
Increase the CAASPP participation rate (target = 95%)

Curriculum Standards:

Develop a curriculum evaluation and renewal cycle to be used for all disciplines.
Review and revise elementary progress reports and secondary report cards to reflect new standards and provide meaningful feedback on academic and social-emotional growth.Identify and scale dyslexia instructional and assessment practices for early literacy.
Provide and build capacity for diverse pathway options for student success. Analyze computer science and digital citizenship implementation practices.
Adopt and implement Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) aligned curriculum.
Increase dual enrollment opportunities.

Instructional Practices:

Analyze formative and summative data to inform instructional next steps.
Identify and scale up impactful instructional practices for students who were once below benchmarks and have demonstrated significant growth in core subjects.
Ensure course-alike teams have common grading practices, with increased use of evidence-based grading; revision/retake opportunities; and scaled rubrics based on learning targets, homework load awareness, etc.Pilot alternative homework strategies that result in reduced homework load for students.
Ensure course-alike teams have common Learning Targets; common formative and summative assessments; and that teachers communicate Learning Targets to students, both orally and in writing.
Expand blended learning opportunities.
Teach students to self-assess progress and set goals for next steps.


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Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2019 at 11:07 am

member1 is a registered user.

Intereseting that only 20 units of sci and 20 units of math are required for graduation, but 40 units of history, Why? why not put in finite or business math and give it A_G cred?

Add to the list:

Inform the arrogant math teachers that actually say their program is better than any others that is not the case. They have less high performing students, the middle is very low, the low is very, very low.

Girls have NO support in math in this district. This data should be published. My son was at Paly and there were only 5 in a class of 40 for the top math math class. maybe all the girls went to Stanford. I hope so.

Stop limiting kids . Why the fear of kids doing different math? Has any kid hurt themselves doing an algorithm early? Is it dangerous? Has a kid that has gone ahead ever actually pulled one down lower? NO. they will actually pull them higher because kids love to go forward and love to help each other. Kids all know within minutes who is good at what and do not care. They often can explain their thinking in a better, faster way to their peers. Teachers that try to hide this are keeping kids that would help each other separated. Creating a classroom like this is fun for the kids and makes them feel important and valued and generally kids will work for a team more than they will for a resource mom that takes them out of the class.

Get rid of all out of print books the Paly math dept keeps using 20 years later to make tests harder. Geometry especially


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 25, 2019 at 3:00 pm

@fact checker

yes, I looked for substance in the promise and now I am much less positive. There are multiple issues taht quickly surface.

In particular, I saw no indication for performance indicators that will support the promise of "unobstructed access to rigorous courses." The current major "obstructions" to students reaching their potential at PAUSD are:
-- Limited and faulty "measurements" of where students are currently at that lead to wide spread misplacement
-- Unbalanced and limited pathways and obstacles that tripp students that do not have private after school support

The first might be easier to remedy and a good starting point as there are established normed third party tools. BUT the assessment tools and metrics specified in the "promise" are all focused on grade-level standards. This is not enough in our district with so many students exceeding grade level. We need to have granularity that is suitable to the distribution of our students.

One of our core challenges is prevalent misplacement. To address and measure misplacement, we need to accurately be able to measure the regime of 0-2 years above grade level standards. In particular, more than 80% of our Asian students exceed grade level standards and their average exceeds the standards of the *next* grade level. Many of these students are currently egregiously misplaced in their middle school math courses. Misplacement percolates down and harms (even more) everyone else placed in the same courses. Students compare themselves to others that don't belong in their class and feel demoralized and inadequate. It is important to identify the already-proficient students and place them correctly or at a minimum provide them with an option to do independent work elsewhere instead of demoralize everyone else.


The district was piloting for 3 years now a tool (NWEA MAP) that is computer adaptive and accurate also above grade level. Our 5th and 6th graders were taking these assessments at school three times a year. Many other districts use these well-established diagnostic assessments both for intervention and to support placement in compacted accelerated pathways. But our "promise" seems focus on performance indicators based on the grade level "smarter balanced" tools. These are not adaptive and only very few questions exceed grade level standards.

Why not
-- Share aggregate NWEA MAP test results with the community, so we understand where we are at now.
-- Share over-time results of individual student with parents, so they are informed on where their students are at, track their progress, and provide support when the program is not effective.
-- Construct a performance indicator for misplacement that is based on the gap between the student proficiency level and their school placement. That indicator can penalize gap that are more than a year of curriculum.


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Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2019 at 3:21 pm

member1 is a registered user.

Easier data. If your kid is not pretty good at algebra by the end of 6th grade, a stem major will be difficult to get into and compete in. Look beyond this weird bubble. You do not have time for 3 year data mining.


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Posted by Criteria for Geometry
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Feb 25, 2019 at 7:32 pm

Criteria for Geometry is a registered user.

A few quick comments. (I'm not trying to dissuade you, just providing a viewpoint, which has probably been conveyed at this point, so not much else to add.)

1. I only know of the placement test indirectly. My kid, who I trust, says that the kids who skipped are good -- they are in the right place. And the kids who didn't skip are also in the right place -- they are not superstars, and they don't know the material as well as others. So from that I deduce that the placement tests are about right. But it's based on limited observation, not on hard data.

2. My kid says that in 7th grade about 75% of kids ended up in 7A, while in 8th grade it's only about 60%. (This is obviously an estimate.) Impression is that it gets harder on purpose, because high school is even harder, and want to be sure kids are ready for it. I don't know if that actually works out. I know in high school kids continue to drop out (e.g., few get to Calc BC).

3. I am not suggesting that kids enroll in classes in cryptography, maze art (is there even such a class?), the strategy of nim games, formal logic, or whatever. I'm just saying that if a bright kid is bored, there are many, many ways to engage him or her that do not involve sitting in an after-school class that is going to replicate the class that is offered the next year in school. In my day, bright kids went to the library and learned stuff on their own. Or tinkered with random stuff in their garage or backyard. Or drew intricate patterns on graph paper. Or all of the above. Call me old-fashioned, but I am a fan of that approach -- kids pursuing their own interests at their own pace in their free time. There are so many reasons why I favor that, that I find it hard to enumerate, so I won't.

I agree with @member1 that kids know the other kids, and who knows what, and learn from the other kids. it's nice.


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Posted by Fact Checker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 25, 2019 at 10:44 pm

@Greene and Paly Parent and others,
If you are concerned about the Proposal, write the Board and show up to the meeting tomorrow. The community has to use its voice.


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Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2019 at 1:05 pm

member1 is a registered user.

@ criteria. Kids are not allowed to waste time because everything is graded and now only the answers are looked at not really the work. ( they post answers online) You get a very nicely organized set of data to send to administration, but not much else. Schools do not really allow floating poker games, but that is the math that many are missing.

My mother in law has taken her meatloaf recipe and typed it, laser printed it, put it on her computer, on her phone, in a power point. She enjoys doing this. After 50 years, it is still the same meatloaf. That is math in this district and things have taken off in the world around them. They are still trying to find ways to write the same recipe. Collecting 3 years of data while kids are waiting is... I don't know... just ... bleh.


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 27, 2019 at 1:36 am

@criteria

I appreciate you sharing your thoughts

1. About "that placement test": There are two "skip" pathways in our middle schools (no organic compacted accelerated pathways to 7th grade algebra as in other districts). At PAUSD, students may "skip" 7A or "skip" Algebra8. "Skipping" math 6 to place in math 7A (most suitable short of an organic pathway) is not allowed. I do know the process very well as my children navigated it. But I can say that it was very painful to me as a parent to watch my 10 and 11 year olds twisting to go through this. But there was simply no other choice -- the only way out of gross misplacement.

This "skip" process defies basic practices of education, data science, and testing and also the math placement act. First, there is controlled access to even taking these tests: In the beginning of 6th grade it is through a misconducted filter of 24 questions where you must do the last two (but kids are not even told that). These tets are timed, but kids were not told. My kid was working his way when a teacher pulled the test out of their hands. When they reported that to me, my first thought was that my kid (on their 3rd day of 6th grade) misunderstood the instructions. But after a dozen families across sections corroborated the same experience we understood that it is (probably intentional? how wouldn't it be?) misconduct aimed to disqualify kids. To be "eligible" to test for placement at the end of 6th grade you can not lose a single rubric point and also need to answer some set of "challenge problems". I know multiple qualified kids that were denied "access" to placement test.

Other districts have all students assessed -- this is more scientific and more equitable. In contrast, placement at PAUSD used to be invitational. When the state outlawed that they put instead these filters.

Now to the placement tests themselves. These are one-shot and very high stake, with a cut score of 85%. It is designed so that passing is much much harder than getting an "A" in the respective course. The district refuses to use course finals or normed standard-based calibrated tools that the placement act calls for and other districts use (MARS, MDTP, NWEA MAP). We were told they are "too easy." A district staff member wrote the tests -- one version of it. And there is no preparation or review material provided or any guidance and no example tets. Students go into this with no clue what to expect. Until May 2018, the same one version of same test was used for 8 years (one to pass 7A and one to pass Algebra). Needless to say this could not be compatible with common core and hence the school curriculum of those courses. The tests were re-written in May 2018. Again without any calibration and a cut score of 85%. These tests are time pressured, following an old practive that is not compatible with todays 6th graders. There was severe misconduct of the May administration of this "pass 7A" test resulting in kids having 2 minute instead of 4 minutes per question. A group of parents exposed the misconduct based on independent reports from students in the different middle schools. District response: cover up and not even an apology for putting our kids through this. But they did seem to let more kids slip through than they intended (all qualified). Was this misconduct intentional?

The placement process in other districts is scientifically designed using modern assessment tools and careful calibration to place students in the most appropriate math course.

What are the design goals of our process? We do not know. What I do know that when my kids place into courses it was at a point that they were so over qualified that they got very little academic value out of it. What we do know is that the author of the new placement tests told a parent that the goal is "to make it so hard to pass that families stop trying".


2. About drop out from our highest lane through grades. Someone gave me the data for section sizes of different courses. You are right that there is a drop, in particular between TrigAlg2H and AnalysisH. I will try to process it and share. There are also differences between our middle schools with many more students on the 7A/Algebra pathway say at Fletcher than at Greene.

3. I am with you here. Growing up I did not have a backyard or a garage :-) But I did enjoy tinkering with whatever I could find lying around outside and spending time reading whatever I could find in the public library. I certainly support unstructured after school time (that unfortunately, my kids chose to use attached to screens). But I disagree that it is a good practice to stay with the grade-level math pacing also for students for which it is inadequately low (for example those that with better use of school time would be 1+ years above). Academic engagement is a critical factor in emotional well being and satisfaction. And studies show that kids can be significantly disadvantaged in the long term from stunted math development during the formative years (noting that "stunted" is with respect to an individual potential). I do not think I can convince you here, but I do hope that you can respect the choices of other families just like we should respect yours. Many of those Palo Alto parents that grew up elsewhere, with no back yard and garages, got here because we had the opportunity as children to develop unobstructed in our areas of strength and aim high. Naturally we want the same opportunities for our children.


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 27, 2019 at 2:02 pm

As promised:
Enrollment numbers in A or H advaced courses (7th-12th grade) based on 2018-2019 data (14th days of school) and combined across our middle/high schools. Since we are not looking over multiple years, this assumes some steady state.

The numbers are as fraction of the total enrollment for the respective grade level, and do not take "skipping" into account.

The A(dvanced) sequence: Math 7A, Algebra8, GeoA, Alg2/TrigA, Intro. An, AP AB calculus
The H(onors) sequence: Math 7A, Algebra8, GeoH, Alg2/TrigH, AnalysisH, AP BC calculus


grade %in A lane %in H total
7 66% 66%
8 70% 70%
9 25% 38% 63%
10 22% 39% 61%
11 23% 32% 54%
12 20% 26% 46%



We can see that
-- the fractions are pretty steady 7-10th grades (the increase from 7A to AlgebraA due to skipping).
-- The 10% drop from 8th to 9th is accounted for by skipping students already taking GeoH in middle schools. The drop actually occurs 9th to 10th (Almost Algebra8 students currently continue to GeoA/H but this might change for next year with the new B=pass rule for Algebra8)
-- Into 11th grade: 10% drop in combined A/H enrollment and 20% drop in H lane.

Overall 69% of our students take Algebra8 and 2/3 of them continue to AP calculus. This suggest that Algebra8 is a critical step stone. I believe that more solid middle school pathways will give our students a better head start for high school: Balanced pathways to Algebra in 8th grade and no obstructions for those that need further acceleration can help all our student thrive.


This also bring as back to the questionable selection of performance indicators based on meeting grade level standards in the "PAUSD promise". Why not make proficiency in Algebra in middle school a performance indicator? This will encourage the staff to strengthen the middle school program.


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Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Feb 27, 2019 at 6:19 pm

I've said this before on this forum, but I found 6th grade math to be worthless. It focused almost exclusively on fractions, a topic throughly covered in 5th grade.

What little I learned I gained not through the standard curriculum or class, but instead through "Einstein" math packets that were handed out every unit or so. You were instructed to box your answers so that they could be graded easily; extensive feedback was not given (simply 'correct' or 'incorrect,' and no solutions were ever provided. You had to rely on friends in order to learn how to do the problems). You had to do them on your own time, as doing them in class was discouraged (if you finished an activity early you'd be told to check your work or help another student. Admittedly this varied class to class, some teachers didn't care if you did them instead of an activity). No one told me that Einstein problems would enable you to potentially skip a year of math -- if they had, I may have taken them more seriously. I assume this knowledge isn't widely available due to fear that parents will coerce their children into caring about the problems more?

There were probably many students like me -- ready for math 7A but not capable of directly testing into 8th grade. I was surprised to see only ~50% of students were exceeding state standards.


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Posted by Greene and Paly paren
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 28, 2019 at 10:25 am

@C thank you for sharing!

The Einstein packets (stopped from this year) were never meant to prepare students for the 7A curriculum. They were used for at least two decades to provide a "challenge" for the many students that already master the math6 curriculum. This, as you say, without instruction time, discussion, or meaningful feedback. Even errors pointed out were never corrected and after two decades some of the content became even less politically correct (references to relative body weight) and culturally biased.

What I was refering to was a *different* packet program (dated back to the 20th century) that was stopped about 8 years ago. If you are still in high school then you did not even have that chance. (Your only path to placing in 8th grade Algebra was by taking a course outside on your own time and your parents' expense). These packets were provided also for independent work but if you completed them you were more or less prepared for the "skip 7A" test. Again, these were stopped years ago without an equitable alternative. Instead of improving this (by providing more support and using modern tools that were already available 8 years ago) they stopped this altogether.

So when our then advanced math program was put into place in the 20th century, there were components that were put in place to support growth and opportunity to accelerate for students that needed it using material that was at least provided at school. These included the Einstein packets (challenge) and the "skip 7A" packets. These components are now all removed without modern (or any) replacements. This as the basic "math 6" curriculum (still two month on simple fraction) became even less adequate to more of our students and all districts around us offering stronger broader programs.

As to the number of students that are ready for "7A" (or a compacted accelerated pathway that covers 7A with no skipping). Your estimate was that among your peers there were many. But now we can obtain precise estimates, as these pathways are offered to 6th graders at neighboring districts with 30%-45% enrollment. Adjusting for demographics, it is safe to estimate that
-- about 30-35% of our students are ready for a compacted accelerated 6th grade course (as you were in 6th grade) that also covers our math7A.
-- That another 35% of our students would tremendously benefit from a 6th grade course that also includes *some* of "math 7" content. This will balance their pathway to Algebra in 8th grade (that currently compact many new common core math8 topics together with Algebra1 curriculum), allowing more to start high school with strong Algebra foundations.


I would be interesting to hear your perspectives as a current high schooler on the number of your friends that could have benefitted from stronger middle school pathways. For example, it seems that many students struggle in Alg2Trig in highschool which could have been addressed with stronger Algebra1 foundations in 8th grade (obtained in a balanced pathway).


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Posted by member1
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2019 at 8:51 am

member1 is a registered user.

stronger broader math is needed from K on for all kids. If you depend on the district to give your kid a foundation they can use in the world today, look at scores of children that had no tutors or parents that gave them their math educations. They do not even meet very low a-g math levels for UC graduation. I am not sure why this district will not just give kids all the math they want. Why does it have to be cut up and kept away in little box sets? Would you allow any other adult to tell your kid which book to read at what level. Why do people allow this in math.

Has there been some horrible accident where a kid that did different or more math than another child? THere is no data that going ahead or behind in the early years will hurt kids or make them understand the very basic a-g curriculum .

The trig curriculum is not difficult. Testing is unpredictable and not take from the approved texts which takes kids off their center and does nothing to help them get better in math. All lecture and then test does not make good math students.


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Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 1, 2019 at 4:03 pm

I graduated from Paly a few years ago, so I'm not all that invested in this. But I can say that it's a shame that we "waste" so much time in middle school. If suitable students could enroll in 7A in 6th grade, then they could cover linear algebra during the senior year of HS. This is advantageous not only because it allows students to be challenged at the level they are at (what a novel concept) but it could allow the top two lanes an extra year to space out the existing material covered, perhaps reducing attrition rates. Or it could allow linear algebra to be taught in HS.


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Posted by Fact Checker
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 2, 2019 at 8:54 am

@C Thank you for your bluntness.

I would like to add that we have the exact same issue in this District for middle school and 9th/10th in the humanities."[A]llow[ing] students to be challenged at the level they are at (what a novel concept)" [from C above]should not be limited to math.

If you are concerned about offering challenge math and/or writing (and other topics), please look at the KPIs for the District's current version of its plan for 2019-2020. There is still time to reach the Board.

Web Link

Without KPIs to benchmark, the District has no accountability for providing the challenge and/or excellence you are all talking about.


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 2, 2019 at 11:08 am

Thank you @C! You made a strong point as a recent graduate. We have amazing students here in Palo Alto and we need a broad program that meets them where they are and supports them in meeting their potential. Unfortunately, our district seems more focused insteady on fitting our students into very limited pathways (compared with neighboring districts). What we can see (comparing middle school math results with neighboring districts) is that this harms everyone, even the students for which our current pathways are suitable. Moreover, kids that do not have significant external means that allow them to compensate for anything from teacher mismatch, curriculum mismatch, or unsuitable pacing, are obstructed from getting to where they could be with a better program.

As @fact-checker pointed out, a key to improvements is to set up RPIs (performance indicators) that are compatible with our body of students: Meeting them where they are and supporting their growth. This will encourage district staff to improve our program. This is very important now as our new superintendent is working on a new vision for our district.

But... the current proposed RPIs are exclusively focused on meeting the minimum bar of state standards: Meeting common core standards and a-g UC graduation requirements. Having more students meet the minimum bar is important. But these RPIs mean continued lack of accountability for providing appropriate growth to 70% of our Palo Alto students that are well above the minimum bar. Additionally, data on middle school math shows that we should not think of it as a zero sum game. Better support for any cohort also HELPS other cohorts. Even if we focus on the struggling kids, but insist on placing them in the same standards-based classes with kids that are 0-2 years above the standard, it is ineffective for everyone.

The district does have in its disposable assessment tools that are compatible with measuring growth in the the top 70% of our students, but our current RPIs (intentionally?) are focused on the grade-level smarter balanced assessments. These assessments can only provide accurate feedback and data for the bottom 30% of our students. Surprisingly, despute very large spending we are failing to do well even for these kids.

Here are assessment tools from which we can derive performance metrics for the remaining 70%:

The MDTP tests, developed by the University of California, are very widely used to assess readiness and proficiency in CCSS standards of Algebra, Geometry, and more. They are available FREE to any California public school. Many schools use them at multiple points using the school year to assess student progress (in Algebra course) towards proficiency in a more accurate normed way than possible when only using course grades. PAUSD uses MDTP to place students that come to our high schools from outside the district but our students that stream from our middle schools are denied "fair and objective" placement checks and from this year will be failed with a course grade of "C+".
Web Link

An RPI that is based on growth of students in our pathway to Algebra and more students meeting Algebra and Geometry proficiency at start of high school will encourage improvement of our middle school programs and also promote accurate placement compatible with the Math Placement Act (2015), which PAUSD is currently dodging.

The NWEA MAP assessments are computer adaptive (able to assess a wide spread of levels in same sitting), standards-aligned and normed over tens of millions of students. They are adequate for measuring growth in a meaningful way for all students. PAUSD had been piloting them at PAUSD for three years, but data is being withheld for parents. RPIs based on MAP grwoth data will again bring more accountability where it is needed.
Web Link


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Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Mar 2, 2019 at 12:57 pm

Thanks for the resources.

While doing some research I encountered this article Web Link , which says

"In the past, students who were enrolled in Geometry, a prerequisite math lane to Trigonometry and Algebra 2, were prepared and expected to take AP Calculus AB, the lower of Paly’s two highest calculus math classes largely reserved for seniors. Now, they are exempt from trigonometry altogether after taking Geometry."

Here's the math flow chart: Web Link seems to show that Trig is still necessary?

Does anyone know what led to this decision, and how it has impacted student performance?


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Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 2, 2019 at 2:29 pm

@C the sentence is inaccurate (as you may have already observed from the chart). Trigonometry is still very much part of the curriculum also in common core. It is first introduced in the Geometry courses: At greater depth in our middle school GeoH courses and limited content (right triangles) at the high school GeoA/H courses. Then more (identities) in Alg2Trig A/H and also in following courses including AP calculus.

There were some changes with common core alignment in the high school sequence but they are not substantial. The article you point to also talks about the huge gap from the H lane to the A lane (we saw the drop in the H lane enrollment numbers from 10 to 11th grade) The H lane goes well above what is needed to know the AP BC calc curriculum (literally all students get a "5" in the exam). The A lane basically takes them to the AP AB calc curriculum. My opinion is that it is a shame that the emphasis on grades causes students to lane down and not be challenged, as the story in the article. One remedy could be weighted grades so that an H lane "B" can be equivalent to an A lane "A". So students can sit in H lane courses without harming their (w)GPA and learn adequately.


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