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Judge rules high school math policy violates state law

Original post made on Mar 3, 2023

A judge ruled that the Palo Alto school district's method of placing students in high school math classes violates state law and ordered the district to submit a math placement policy for the court to review.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 3, 2023, 8:11 AM

Comments (48)

Posted by Ugh
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2023 at 10:37 am

Ugh is a registered user.

Pausd is shameful, non transparent, and does not care to truly listen to pausd voices in our community. I bet that Jennifer D and Jessie L will never put this math issue or the special Ed consolidating issue on the board agenda so that the staff at Churchill can take the heat, while the board brushes off their shoulders. There is something truly broken about our system when the two most progressive board members decide to pursue their own agendas instead of upholding the law, both on this math issue, and on the recent special Ed consolidation. This is why things only change when parents sue— where is the accountability and collaboration?! Thank you to Shauna and Shounak for providing reasonable voices on the board.

Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2023 at 11:25 am

Down the yellow brick road is a registered user.

"Proponents of de-laning middle school math note that the old system meant that sixth-graders had to pick a math pathway that would impact them throughout the rest of middle and high school."

This doesn't make any sense. It is bad rhetoric if the very same argument can be used against your point. De-laning forces kids to remain in a rigid pathway through senior year. Other school districts allow freedom of movement up or down, depending on merit and interest.

"Board President Jennifer DiBrienza added that middle school can be a difficult time for students and that the de-laned system allows students to be in classes with peers of the same age, who are in a similar place developmentally."

This totally doesn't make any sense. Especially in PAUSD, kids are spread across a very wide range of abilities, ranging from 3 years below grade level and up to 5 years above. In an overwhelming compendium of research using real scientific methods, experts agree that it is best to teach kids to their level. The top performers are bored out of their minds -- one kid who got an almost perfect math SAT score at the beginning of 6th grade was forced to sit in 6th grade. Kids at the opposite end are reminded every day that the gulf between them and the top or even middle of the class is impossibly big for them to bridge. Teachers have privately said that it doesn't work and that it is impossible to teach such a wide range of ability and that there are behavioral problems on both ends.

The low performing kids have fallen off the floor in Algebra, with record numbers of D's and F's. The district's solution? Ban D's and F's. Now kids get a NM (no mark). Let's fix the problem by defining it away.

Let's see the demographic data that is required by the math placement act. PAUSD won't show the data and won't put it on the agenda. What are they afraid of? The truth, that declaring all kids to be equal does not result in it being true?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 3, 2023 at 11:27 am

Resident is a registered user.

DiBrienza and Ladomirak fail to understand the connection between being engaged in school and student mental health. They cannot fathom that some children learn math faster and crave engagement and challenge in math. [Portion removed.] My own children are quite different and needed different things in middle school. They should NOT have been forced to work at the same pace. Likewise for all their wide range of friends.

How can this district celebrate diversity and our wonderful international melting pot while treating math as completely homogeneous and insulting families for whom it is a value?

Other than Shana Segal and possibly Todd Collins, this board is insultingly dismissive of a large portion of the PAUSD community. In the recent board meeting Dharap said "if you want acceleration, you should go to private school." He said PAUSD should be focused on the floor/foundation. Ladomirak and DiBrienza have echoed similar sentiments. They cannot fathom that maybe the same children who are quick at math are less mature socially or athletically and math is their rare strong suit and way to gain confidence or develop resilience.

Posted by cmarg
a resident of University South
on Mar 3, 2023 at 12:25 pm

cmarg is a registered user.

So sad to see this. This is why it is not as easy to get and retain math teachers. In my opinion, it is sad to see parents pushing their children with classes outside the PAUSD system and then expecting PAUSD to accommodate their children.
Don Austin said it well:
"We believe that the PAUSD program provides a solid foundation for all students at an age-appropriate pace," Austin said.

Age appropriate pace. In my opinion, not all parents trust the math teachers. I feel that the math teachers within PAUSD are well educated, trained and are quite adept at seeing the abilities of students.
Just my $0.02.
Cecilia Willer

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 3, 2023 at 12:52 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Someone asked whether a law suit was necessary. It indeed seems puzzling that a district would go as far as this just to break laws that are intended to protect the interests of students and society.

So the answer is that this lawsuit was a last resort after all else failed. The district was not caught on a "technicality" -- board members and the Supt were made aware of the issues for years.

Don't our students and community deserve an honest discussion and practices that follow the law, evidence, and data?
This also applies to the middle school math practices. Will the board president, out of respect to our community, agendize the issue?

The article quotes two board members, DiBrienza and Ladomirak (the board president and vice president that have the power to agendize). Their words are a deflection (correct placement actually goes hand-in-hand with wellness and support). Two other board members, Dharap and Collins, made campaign-time promises to calibrate middle school placement. Will they act on their words? Our newest board member, Shana Segal, was elected in an overwhelming majority from all parts of our diverse community. Segal is data driven and pro-evidence and students and teachers and asks excellent questions at board meetings that clearly some others don't want asked.

More details on the lawsuit and its significance across the state:
Web Link

Fact checking the district's letter to parents from February 24 (the letter had multiple misrepresentations and also still reflected confusion about the laws):
Web Link

Nextdoor thread: Web Link

San Francisco Examiner Article:
Web Link

Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 3, 2023 at 1:01 pm

S. Underwood is a registered user.

I read Dr. Austin's Weekly Update about "confusion" on their website and a "pending lawsuit."

It turns out:
(1) A judge had ruled (NOT in the process of deciding) about the issue.
(2) That judge found PAUSD's practice not "confusing", but illegal.
(3) PAUSD is under a court order (and court supervision) to change.

Sometimes, spin is so severe it threatens to cross the line into "that other thing." After reading that Update, and then the truth shared in this news story, I am really at a loss for words. I have lost whatever faith and trust I had in PAUSD's Leadership Team.

Reading Austin, DiBrienza, and Landomirak's quotes defending their preferred practices just after they have been judged illegal is kind of mind-blowing. It appears the middle school stuff isn't illegal because the law doesn't apply.

The judge is not a PAUSD parent, not a ed-reform activist. She wrote:

"The adopted math placement policy presented to the court by PAUSD has NONE of the objective academic measures required by the statute ... " (emphasis mine)

Just astonishing.

Posted by Mom in Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2023 at 1:13 pm

Mom in Palo Alto is a registered user.

@Cmarg: Thank you for your comment — not because I agree, but because it highlights a substantial misunderstanding of children.

Children have different passions. Some kids love dance. Some love soccer. Some love art. And some kids love math. Why shouldn’t we support kids in their passions? Does the mental health of mathy kids not matter?

Not only that, but some kids are good at math. It comes easily to them. Forcing them to take what are effectively remedial classes leads them to disengage and be ill equipped to handle challenges down the road. Does their mental health not matter?

I have a young child who is advanced in reading. I wonder if you think I should block his access to more advanced chapter books, too. (That seems like a great way to get a child to hate reading.) Or is it somehow okay to support the strong readers, but not the strong math kids?

I’ll note that, as far as I’ve seen and heard, the math teachers are not advocating for holding kids back. This was a district decision. The math department generally opposes this.

Every kid should have “unobstructed access to rigorous education.” That is all we are asking for. If my kid wants to take Algebra 2 in 9th grade, and is ready for it, let them. Indeed, the PAUSD Promise mandates it: “unobstructed access to rigorous education.”

Posted by S Adams
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 3, 2023 at 3:07 pm

S Adams is a registered user.

Under the current administration, PAUSD is failing to serve ANY and ALL students.

*HUR * - their reading and math scores are at an all time low;

*Students who need challenge* - are being held back by unfair placement tests and PAUSD’s home made illegal rules.

*All other students” - are ill prepared for highschool and are often encouraged to drop lanes.

Since the school is not serving anyone, we should serve our own families according to our values and experiences.
If that means RSM, extracurricular math, out of school writing and English classes, AJ tutoring, Kumon - so be it!
Everyone should do what is right and works for one’s family!

Be vigilant, do your research, be on top of changes that KEEP happening.

Posted by Mom in Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2023 at 4:24 pm

Mom in Palo Alto is a registered user.

In his weekly email, Dr. Austin stated, "Last year, 174 students attempted to skip a middle school math course from fifth grade through the validation process. Approximately 44 percent successfully validated their ability to skip a course." He made either a typo or mathematical error here, which unfortunately leads to a substantially erroneous outcome. Essentially, he used the wrong denominator.

In actuality, 268 students attempted to skip a math course, which has two parts. In Part 1, 174 students passed PAUSD's cut off. This demonstrates that they know an entire extra year of math and are ready to skip that year.

Then, those 174 students were invited to take Part 2, of which 75 passed.

For unknown reasons, Dr. Austin calculated the pass rate as 75/174 (43%), rather than 75/268 (28%). His 44% figure actually reflects that, of those who had mastery of the following year of math, most (56%) were forced to take a math class that they had already mastered. This is not good -- unhealthy for them AND the other students.

I would like to believe this was a simple mistake. Dr. Austin, will you post a correction? I have no doubt you / your people are reading these comments :).

It's also worth noting that even a 28% pass rate is inflated. Because the skip test has a reputation of being so exceptionally difficult (there are actually many stories of teachers discouraging kids from trying), many kids who would otherwise be interested -- and ready, in any other district -- that just don't attempt the test(s). The denominator is lower than it should be.

Posted by Bystander
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 3, 2023 at 4:41 pm

Bystander is a registered user.

I was a poor math student. My BFF was a very strong math student - a math professor for a father. If we had been expected to be in the same math class, I would have struggled feeling totally inadequate and my friend would have been bored being held back. My friend ended up with math as a career, I did not.

We were not the same and it would have been wrong for both of us to have been treated the same.

Posted by Math is Fun
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Mar 3, 2023 at 4:44 pm

Math is Fun is a registered user.

I have witnessed many students who excel in math at PAUSD being bullied by their peers. These students are often criticized for taking math classes outside of the district, which is branded as "cheating." The parents of these students are also labeled as "tiger parents" and accused of pushing their children too hard. This bullying and discrimination disregards the math students' passion for their subject, while their parents are victimized for supporting their children's true passion.

Meanwhile, the bullies themselves are often given private, expensive coaches for their sports outside of the school PE curriculum. These bullies feel that their passion for sports is superior to the math students' passion for math, and that their private coaching is justified, while the math students' pursuit of math outside of school is not. This situation is so tragic and unfair. PAUSD needs to address the issue of bullying and discrimination faced by many math students and find ways to support their passion for learning.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 3, 2023 at 5:37 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

PAUSD middle school math sequence is a single inflexible pathway. The main change in 2019 was to eliminate the "grade level" option (lowest lane). Now there is a single organic pathway that is geared for the "middle band" (the median student).

But the majority of our students are outside the middle band. 20% struggle and are 1+ year below. 35%+ are advanced 1+ years above. This is gross misplacement that students have to mitigate. Mitigation takes a toll. Not mitigating has a different toll. Some of our students, those that are disadvantaged, do not even have an option to mitigate (up or down).

Is this working? Are our students objectively better?

Here are some numbers from SBAC 2022 assessments, comparing PAUSD with two districts, Los Altos and Cupertino, that offer flexible organic pathways with evidence-based placement. These districts offer grade-level and organic pathways to 8th grade algebra and geometry.

I looked at 6th and 7th graders (PAUSD was still laned last year for 8th grade). Fraction of students that are BELOW GRADE LEVEL STANDARDS (levels 1 or 2 on SBAC).

% DISADVANTAGED students below grade level standards

PAUSD: 70% (!!)
Los Altos: 61%
Cupertino: 40%

We can see that our disadvantaged students are objectively worse off.

% NON-DISADVANTAGED students below grade level standards

Loa Altos 13%
Cupertino 11%

We can see that our non-disadvantaged students (that can mitigate but at a cost) are also objectively worse off!


Our board president wants to wait for next year before looking at the data. 4th year of the experiment. SBAC not available for 9th graders, so there is an opportunity to re-invent measures (grades but not looking at the new NM??.). Is this honest? Is this fair to our students?

Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 3, 2023 at 11:26 pm

Down the yellow brick road is a registered user.

The PAUSD middle school placement tests are bogus. They are made of math competition problems, un-trialed, and uncalibrated. They contain materials not taught in class. The results from year to year are highly variable.

In the 2021 skip-7 test (taken at the end of 6th grade), the part 2 test was so hard that only 3 kids in the entire district passed with the minimum threshold of 80%. Perhaps part of the reason was that the test was advertised as being 3 hours long but was called at 2 hours with no warning that the test time was reduced by an hour. Kids trying to pace themselves were freaking out. Parents who complained were told there was no recourse.

An analysis of the test results obtained by a Public Records request showed not 3 but 18 kids passing - 15 kids who scored BELOW the non-negotiable rigid threshold of 80 were allowed to pass, despite parents being told the rules were absolute. It gets worse. It appears that the kids who passed were NOT ACCORDING TO RANKED ORDER. For example, a kid with a 72 percent failed, but a kid with 50% passed.

In PAUSD math, this means that 50 > 72.

There is indirect evidence from enrollment records obtained by CPRA that the cherry-picked students were majority girls! Gender discrimination against boys for balancing the ratios? Two wrongs don't make a right. Funny this should happen during a pending Title IX complaint regarding a highly imbalanced male female ratio in accelerated math, in some years as bad as 9 to 1. (Peer districts have a 1:1 ratio).

This is a bad-faith mockery of a process that determines a kid's future. Too bad the powers that be do not want to fix this. They refused to put it on the board agenda. PAUSD has, in my view, lost all credibility and goodwill in home-baking and administering these highly controversial skip tests. PAUSD needs to implement a fair, objective, transparent, and externally-sourced standardized math placement process for middle school.

Posted by Catherine Kirkman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 4, 2023 at 8:39 am

Catherine Kirkman is a registered user.

As someone with long-term experience with PAUSD, I commend the parents who took legal action to make the math pathways legally compliant and to create accountability. It is unfortunate that PAUSD could not have undertaken legal compliance on its own. Our schools are excellent, with excellent teachers, and with engaged and motivated students and families. PAUSD has been resisting for a long time and continues to resist any unbundling of how education is delivered. This is but one example. [Portion removed.] Our students work incredibly hard and it is unfortunate when families do not understand the factors at play in terms of selective college admissions, especially as they relate to Paly and Gunn. Math excellence is valuable in and of itself obviously, but for many families this is part of a larger educational effort with college admissions in view. Happily math excellence will shine forth and be incredibly valuable regardless of the future college, but many students have aspirations for top schools and we know how competitive it is in PAUSD.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 4, 2023 at 12:49 pm

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

If you haven't figured it out by now, Mr. Austin and his 25 Churchill minions think that they are above the law:

Judge: "The adopted math placement policy presented to the court by PAUSD has none of the objective academic measures required by the statute for proper math placement of ninth grade students. In practice, PAUSD does not use any objective academic measures to properly place incoming high school students in math classes."

Mr. Austin: "We believe that the PAUSD program provides a solid foundation for all students at an age-appropriate pace".

Mr. Austin is either delusional or dishonest. I'd go with both. Ed Code means nothing to him unless it supports his agenda. Case in point: A middle school principal violated Ed Code on several occasions regarding teacher evaluations and parent complaints. Mr. Austin and his cronies saw fit to give him an award. Why? Because of his competence? No, because of his loyalty and willingness to join Mr. Austin in disregarding the law to the detriment of others. The recent math debacle is not an isolated matter, it is a pattern, and staff who challenge it are singled out for harassment. When will the community realize that the leader of their schools is not fit to lead?

By the way, one of the first lessons I was taught in PAUSD was to never mention the "private school option" because the district would be on the hook for the tuition. I couldn't believe that a board member said in a recent board meeting, "if you want acceleration, you should go to private school." Have things changed, or is this board member part of the Austin "make your own rules" paradigm?

[Portion removed.]

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 4, 2023 at 3:13 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

Focusing now on our disadvataged students that can not mitigate gross misplacement in math courses (too high or too low).

Our disadvantaged students (prior post) are objectively worse off at PAUSD compared with neighboring districts that offer EVIDENCE-BASED placement into FLEXIBLE PATHWAYS (two pieces missing at PAUSD).

Prior to the middle-school experiment (2019 and earlier), there was slightly more flexibility. There was a grade-level pathway. But 40% of our disadvantaged students were meeting or exceeding grade level standards. They SHOULD HAVE been placed on the Algebra pathway, but PAUSD misplaced them DOWN. This because placement was based on a home-made rubric, disregarding available objective data from SBAC (and from NWEA MAP). This is unlawful for high school but unfortunately, just a really bad practice in middle school

Now there is only the Algebra pathway. But 70% of disadvantaged students (20% of all students) are grossly misplaced UP. They are at 6th grade level or below by objective measures but are placed in Algebra 1 in 8th grade (two years of standards ahead!)

What does it mean?

If PAUSD passes these students, it is mockery of education and of a California high school graduation requirement (Algebra). It also dead-ends students in that they are missing critical foundations needed for high school science or for math courses required for college readiness (Algebra 2).

If PAUSD fails these students, it is demoralizing and completely unnecessary as they should have been met where they are and could take Algebra when ready in high school.

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by Observer
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 4, 2023 at 5:22 pm

Observer is a registered user.

How much taxpayer money is being spent by PAUSD on this math experiment? Legal fees to defend against a lawsuit they brought on with their illegal processes. Not to mention the unaccounted for impact on a large number of students and teachers who have not been supported by the delaning. PAUSD leadership is out of touch with the reality of the families who they are supposed to serve. They seem to be counting on the fact that many families will not speak up either because they don’t have the language or they fear retaliation for their children or both.

Posted by S Adams
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 5, 2023 at 1:06 pm

S Adams is a registered user.

Please note that in “REDESIGNING THEIR WEBSITE” the school blatantly changed and added parts, which was a 180 degree turn!
1) Past two years no one could skip Algebra1. Suddenly students can take a skip test starting May 2023 according to the “redesigned” webpage!
2) The following was DISALLOWED IN THE PAST several years and it suddenly appeared in the “redesigned” webpage! The school has forced so many students to repeat high school courses as recently at year 2022/23!!!
Challenge by Examination
PAUSD Board Policy allows high school students to challenge courses by examination.

"We can see that we could have done a better job of explaining and ensuring that the information regarding our ninth grade math policies were clear and accessible on our website," Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Guillermo Lopez said.
The above was all NEW when they “redesigned the webpage”.

Please understand the trail of past documents don’t disappear just by changing / deleting the documents!

Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 5, 2023 at 7:37 pm

S. Underwood is a registered user.

@S Adams -- I agree the framing and spin are very insulting.

PAUSD's policies and practices were deemed illegal by a judge, after years of parents telling PAUSD that clear fact and PAUSD sticking their thumb up at it and just doing what they wanted anyway.

Now, we have an Update from Austin, these quotes from board members, and Lopez's quote dismissing the situation as them needing "to do a better job explaining" on a website -- No, it's not that the website was bad. What you were doing was/is illegal.

The judges comments were quite severe. PAUSD better be careful if their legal response to the court order resembles this "media spin" we are seeing, or they could end up in contempt of court.

Contrary to what Trump has gotten away with, complying with court orders in full-good-faith is necessary, and the consequences for not doing so are no joke.

Posted by Russ
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 5, 2023 at 8:13 pm

Russ is a registered user.

Just wondering why a district cannot create a middle and high school focused on math. I don't think they need to accelerate, just go more in-depth with the existing grade level material (the integrals will be studied in the university anyway). Spend more time on harder problems, call a student to the whiteboard to solve a problem in front of the class (that's the way job interviews are done anyway), while the rest of students in the class are solving it in their notebooks. Have a placement test to enter the school. Allow students from other districts to apply as well. Open new schools if things become popular.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 5, 2023 at 8:43 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

@Russ In the ancient days 40 years ago, there was a local and statewide math contest circuit. Interested students would meet after school with a faculty sponsor and cover exactly those more diffucult/competition-style problems. Competitions were held at schools in the region, and even as far away as Cal Poly SLO. There was also an NSF-funded summer math program at Santa Clara University for advanced high school students, exposing them to pure math topics such as group theory.

It's sad to see the PAUSD intentionally suppressing learning pathways for students. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 5, 2023 at 9:27 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

This post explains the issue of PAUSD middle school misplacement of high performing students.

Unlike neighboring districts, PAUSD does not offer an organic pathway to 8th grade Geometry. Instead, PAUSD students can accelerate only by "skipping" (learning the material on their own and taking a placement test in the Spring).

The placement tests, however, are uncalibrated and non-compliant with the spirit of the Ed Code (but the Ed Code does not stretch to middle school). The fraction of accelerated PAUSD students hovers around 10%. At neighboring districts (Los Altos, Saratoga, Cupertino), it is 45%+. At neighboring districts the accelerated groups is also more diverse.

This issue only requires good faith to address. It is simple to do, does not increase costs, and does not necessitate changes in course offerings.

The placement tests have two parts. Part 1 is a standardized assessment (the MDTP), but at PAUSD it is scored harshly as 7-8 different tests that all must be passed. Part 2 is home-made and not calibrated to the actual level of the course, with no examples given. Passing Part 1 means mastery of standards that is well beyond baselines. Part 2 is the gatekeeper. Students take Part 2 only after passing Part 1.

Outcomes of the Spring ‘22 placement:

Spring ‘22 “skip 6” 268 takers, 174 (65%) passed part 1, 75 (28%) passed part 2
Spring ‘22 “skip 7” 176 takers, 124 (70%) passed part 1, 31 (18%) passed part 2

The passing rate would have been 70%-90% with respect to each of the following baselines: Los Altos placement, top 2/3 of students in the skipped course where MDTP is used as formative assessment, PAUSD placement guidelines for HS, MDTP.

The placement can be easily calibrated by removing part 2 and aligning part 1 with baselines.

The 2/24 Supt update had wrong numbers. Data was obtained thru PRAs
Web Link

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Mar 5, 2023 at 9:39 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Whatever happened to just take a math class and passing? Unless you go into a math related career (and most boys and girls don't) all these advanced math classes are subjects you're never going to use. I've never used the advanced math class knowledge I gained by testing into a class, PAUSD style. I do use addition, subtraction, multiplying, and division which I learned in elementary school. Those subjects are more important than the classes some people are getting all worked up about, whether it's the "law" or not.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2023 at 12:58 pm

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

[Post removed.]

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2023 at 1:51 pm

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

You would think 25 Churchill is enamored with asynchronous learning. No need for a live forum of stakeholders whether it be Special Ed or Math. Nope, just go the website for all of your needs.

Posted by Mom in Palo Alto
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2023 at 2:51 pm

Mom in Palo Alto is a registered user.

Jennifer, some kids love math. Some kids are good at math. Some kids don't enjoy sitting in remedial math classes. In fact, some kids really hate that.

This isn't about college or careers. This is about allowing kids to pursue the things that they enjoy and allowing them to seek out challenge.

If a child loves soccer, should he not be able to do extra soccer classes? Should we limit what he does with soccer to keep him in line with his peers?

If a child loves reading, should we limit their access to advanced books? Why does she really NEED to access more advanced books anyway? All in good time; kids don't need to be reading big chapter books in elementary school, right?

If a child loves theatre, should they not be able to pursue this? Perhaps we should discourage kids from doing theatre camp or performing in Palo Alto Children Theatre productions until at least high school? I didn't perform in any productions until high school, and I turned out just fine!

As a community, we should really consider why it is that *math* is where this fight is. We don't try to hold kids back who love or excel in soccer, theatre, art, reading, writing, music and so on. For that matter, we don't bat an eye when *parents* are pushing music or sports as "valuable" things, even when the kids don't really want to do it. Why then is there so much drive from the district (and certain parents and board members) to hold kids back in math?

[Portion removed.]

Posted by CalAveLocal
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2023 at 2:59 pm

CalAveLocal is a registered user.

High secrecy surrounding the second part of the placement test was rather disturbing. Parents were not allowed to look at the tests or their kids results. Kids were not allowed to talk about the tests, and were required to eat the papers after taking the test (ok, this last part didn't happen). Then we find out that some kids were allowed to skip without actually taking the test! And some that have gotten 50% on the test. Etc, etc, etc. It's not just illegal, as it turns out, its is also highly unethical.

As to "why not just take the class and pass"... well, math, just like all the other disciplines, is something some children have more interest in than others, and some children do better than others. There is nothing wrong with this, it's just a statement of fact. Would you consider putting all kids into the same foreign language class, regardless of whenever or not they have any knowledge of the language? Of course not. Then why should we do it with math? Also - many, many professions require more than just basic arithmetics.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2023 at 3:20 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Simple math is very valuable. We all use it. Unless you're planning on becoming a civil engineer, or working for NASA or MIT, even a friend of mine who teaches advanced math says its "not something most of his students will ever use."

Unless you're going into a math related profession, do you really think you'll ever use calculus or any other advanced math class? Get real.

Posted by CalAveLocal
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2023 at 3:34 pm

CalAveLocal is a registered user.

Jennifer, this is simply false. One does not need to be an engineer or a theoretical mathematician to use calculus.
I use calculus regularly, and I am in finance. Medicine, architecture, business, and any kind of research use calculus. Also, statistics - which is an area of math - is something everyone should have working knowledge of.

Posted by Jennifer
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2023 at 4:32 pm

Jennifer is a registered user.

Finance IS a "math related profession." Mathematics is the language of architects, also a math related profession.

Higher-level math should an elective for kids with a keen interest on going into STEM fields. For students planning to major in a STEM field, push yourself by taking advanced math classes, at honors or AP level if offered by your school.

If you're not majoring in a STEM field, focus the majority of your time and energy on classes more closely related to the subject you plan to major in.


Posted by CalAveLocal
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 6, 2023 at 4:50 pm

CalAveLocal is a registered user.

Well, if you redefine "math related fields" to include finance and architecture and medicine, then sure.
However, you must not have read the article and/or followed the math situation in our schools. Kids that ARE interested in math and want to go into STEM (or other fields you just defined as "math related" - such as finance or medicine) are being held back for no good reason. They want to do advanced math and are ready to study it, but due to idiotic decision by the school district - and some unethical, and it turns out, illegal practices - a bunch of kids are not able to take the classes they should be taking.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 6, 2023 at 5:45 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

Re: "Higher-level math should an elective for kids with a keen interest on going into STEM fields."

Yes, that's what the District has apparently been blocking. This is not a mandatory thing, it's just an optional route to get placed in a math class at the correct level.

As to the quality of instruction in a single math class trying to combine learners of widely varying abilities, that's a different (if related) issue. Living in Silicon Valley, it doesn't seem unreasonable to allow students who like math to study it as their abilities allow.

Posted by district teacher
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2023 at 8:17 pm

district teacher is a registered user.

FWIW, a few observations from the classroom: I see students who take the outside classes often fall asleep in class. The only subject that seems to matter is math. There are jokes from the students how upset their parents will be with a grade lower than an A. Students express dismay that the electives they are allowed to take are the academic ones (i.e., not art or creative writing, etc.).

I don't know the answer to the math conundrum or whose side I am on among the adults (litigious parents or defensive and incompetent Austin) but I do know that I support the students and their well-being. Why rush childhood?

Posted by PAUSD Student
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 6, 2023 at 11:59 pm

PAUSD Student is a registered user.

@district teacher

Thank you for teaching middle school math!

Thank you for caring about your students --

Perhaps the student falling asleep in your class is bored out of their mind. They are doing math that is multiple grade levels ahead of the level of your class. In your class, they are misplaced due to artificial limits on acceleration set by a school district that refuses to meet students where they are at and even breaks the law not to do so.

Perhaps your student actually finds a STEM elective much more enjoyabble than creative writing?

Please stop assuming. Please stop projecting. I bet you don't enjoy STEM as much as I do and this is why you do not understand.

Perhaps many of the adults at school and administration share your biases and this is why so many students have to be in this situation.

Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 7, 2023 at 12:05 am

Down the yellow brick road is a registered user.

The people leading the lawsuit actually have nothing to gain from it. Their kids will not benefit. They're doing this as a community service, defending nerds from getting beaten up by the administration.

Those who defend the district and disparage the plaintiffs and victims should keep in mind that PAUSD's abusive policies were found to be ILLEGAL.

PAUSD does not believe in equality of opportunity, but rather "equality of outcome". They have been willing to break the law in the service of this idea. From the "Equity Definition and Desired Outcomes" document, page 4
Web Link

"Defining Equity: [...] The traditional definition of equity, “all students receive what they need to be successful,” did not fully capture the intent of the PAUSD Promise. The team reviewed a working definition and was asked to propose a definition to be presented to the Board. Team members expressed the need to remove focus from fixing students to addressing barriers and institutional factors that create systemic oppression.
“The educational policies, practices, and programs as well as attitudes, beliefs, and values that reflect explicit efforts to reduce disparities that flow along the lines of race/ethnicity, disability, and socioeconomic status such that demographics no longer predict outcomes.”
(where verb?)

While this is a laudable abstract goal, it is meant to be immediately actionable.
By smashing together kids from 3 years below and up to 5 years above grade level into the same classroom, PAUSD pretends that they will achieve equal outcomes. But emerging reports of record numbers of D's and F's in one-size-fits-all Algebra among kids who are struggling with fractions seem to disprove this panglossian notion. It's just intellectually dishonest pretend-play, with real casualties from "systemic oppression" at both ends.

Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 7, 2023 at 1:15 am

S. Underwood is a registered user.

“Who cares about history? I mean, the present is so different, what could dead Mayans teach us about anything?”

“What’s the point of eating and learning to cook foods from other cultures? It’s gross, and I’ve gotten by just fine without it.”

“Math beyond what I know is pointless. I mean, unless you want to be NASA engineer, you’re wasting your time.”

“I can’t believe folks are still teaching Shakespeare. Enough with this tired-old-canon already.”

It always saddens me when folks don’t realize how much beauty and depth flies right past our understanding every day. The joy of learning in all domains is opening your receptiveness to beauty and understanding. We denigrate what we don’t understand, partially because of insecurity, partially because curriculum denatures... but mostly just because we don’t know what we don’t know.

Our shared problems need more education, not less. More music. More history. More science. More Shakespeare. More mathematics. With passion, depth, joy, and rigor, if one can dare to dream.

Math is one domain. But my-o-my what an astonishingly central, beautiful, revelatory, and powerful one. This is attested to by anyone who has scaled even a few of its major summits. From music to astronomy, game theory to atomic geometry, from chaos to infinity, protein-folding to viral epidemiology.

"When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” The uncanny thing is how mathematics shows up at so many crucial twists and turns. That's what the ancient Mayans thought anyway... and the Chinese... and the Persians... and the Greeks...

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2023 at 5:45 am

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

Homeowners of Palo Alto,

If PAUSD Board members and Don Austin continues to go down the path of not seeking out academic excellence, this will ultimately lead to drop in real estate prices in Palo Alto.

Vote out the PAUSD Board members who oppose academic excellence. Shounak Dharap (who just got re-elected) is all about lowering academic standards.Don Austin's brain child was de-laning math at the middle school level. It's his pet project.

If you want to see real excellence in teaching consider this article:
When teachers and educators allow students to reach their full potential instead of putting up roadblocks, anything is possible for the student (see below article)

Web Link

Posted by Palo Alto Res
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 7, 2023 at 5:52 am

Palo Alto Res is a registered user.

[Post removed; successive comments by same poster are not permitted.]

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 7, 2023 at 8:58 am

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

When I was hired in 1994, I was told that "State Standards" were guidelines, and that I'd need to get creative and innovative in order to reach a wide range of students. I did so.

Enter Mr. Austin. His vision being that all students should have the same exact experience in a subject no matter the teacher, the classroom, or the make-up of students in the class. A McDonalds of education if you will. That meant that folks like me, who didn't swallow the Big Mac had to be encouraged to leave. With me, they tried a really bad early retirement deal that I did not take. That resulted in the new principal at Greene, an Austin disciple, doing his best to make my final year at Greene miserable, and it almost worked. I decided to give my students my usual best under duress, and then retire with dignity. Trust me, [portion removed] the environment of fear and intimidation does nothing to serve your children or further their love of learning. Austin will talk a lot about "agility and innovation", but that is not what is happening on the ground, at least at my former site.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 7, 2023 at 9:01 am

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

As for addressing the middle school misplacement of high schievers. We have 5 board members. 3 expressed willingness to address the issue. The remaining two are the president and vice-president of the board (rotation positions). I am concerned with the board president silencing other members (*and* community members).

In an email sent in October '22 to a parent group, Trustee Shounak Dharap stated:

“The two areas where I think there is room for improvement are (1) calibrating the skip test so it fairly allows students who are capable of higher level math to skip; and (2) additional professional development, co-teaching supports, and teacher aids to ensure that all students in a de-laned class are provided the needed teacher attention to thrive and be adequately challenged. Those are areas I’m committed to addressing in my next term.”

[Portion removed pending verification.]

The two areas identified by Dharap are actually very much to the point. It is what our teachers are very concerned with: The ability and knowledge spread in the de-laned classroom is too large and students can not be supported properly. Objective data (see comments) shows that our students are worse off across ability levels and socioeconomic status.

[Portion removed.]

Posted by AnonyMouse
a resident of Woodland Ave. area (East Palo Alto)
on Mar 7, 2023 at 7:31 pm

AnonyMouse is a registered user.

This is not a new pattern of management under this regime. Some of the common tropes:
-little to no transparency. Policy comes down from on high
- proliferation of certain narratives like “it’s just a few annoying parents, we don’t need to listen to them “ or “the teachers are lazy and/or complainers “
- questions are viewed as hostile, or they are suppressed
- use of phrases like “there’s been confusion” or “I’d like to offer context”. These are code for “I’ve been caught in obfuscation “
- use of statistics in misleading ways
-use of equity/inclusion language as a cudgel for dominance and to suppress dissent.
- false deadlines to suppress and ignore stakeholders.
-overemphasis on fiscal scarcity as a tool to dominate and suppress dissent

This article shows the results of this style. Embarrassing lawsuit loss. Loss of reputation. Most of all, we are failing our students. We need to serve ALL students and we can. This is a district with resources. We can do better. Contact the school board and let them know.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 9, 2023 at 2:02 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

See an excellent opinion piece by Rex Ridgeway, a Black grandfather of an SFUSD student that had to "climb a cactus tree:" take courses in summer and pay 2k in outside school math in order to take calculus by her junior year:

Web Link

Ironically, the student that climbed a cactus tree to avoid being derailed by SFUSD would help their equity statistics...

For reference, all our neighboring SV districts, Mountain View, Menlo Park, Los Altos, Cupertino, Saratoga offer flexible pathways that include an organic pathway through school to get to AP Calculus by junior year.

PAUSD is anomalous in the inflexibility of the middle school pathways and willingness to even break the law to limit student achievement. Moreover, our students are objectively worse off than those in Los Altos (that has 75% of the per student funds of PAUSD) and Cupertino (that has 50% of the per-student funds of PAUSD).

The relevance to us here is that while SFUSD and PAUSD are very different, they shared the same consultant and the programs are justified by the same debunked "research."

Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 20, 2023 at 11:16 pm

Down the yellow brick road is a registered user.

SFUSD just got sued on a similar basis as PAUSD for also violating the Math Placement Act and forcing students to repeat classes they have already completed.
Web Link

Posted by Catherine Kirkman
a resident of Southgate
on Mar 21, 2023 at 8:57 am

Catherine Kirkman is a registered user.

As an experienced PAUSD parent/alum, elite college admissions consultant with a national practice, retired lawyer and Harvard/Stanford alum, I want to share some thoughts to supplement my prior post. We have outstanding public schools and they are known by colleges to be highly competitive; however, elite colleges can only take so many students from all of the top high schools around the country/world etc. In general, the top public high schools like Paly and Gunn are most competitive due to AP curriculum, large class sizes, a few kids winning national STEM or other accolades, etc. Therefore, within this context of extreme competition, we suggest that students should focus on their own best academic path while pursuing their own true intellectual interests while ensuring a strong college prep curriculum. In that context, for those for whom math is that passion to go above and beyond, or who just want a very strong math college prep program, this lawsuit was important to help address the inflexibility of the district in trying to control something that is a many-headed hydra (in the best sense) that is really beyond their control. Hence I will offer some practical suggestions of a few options for families who need to navigate this now, and this applies not just to math but to other subjects. 1) Take outside courses from accredited online schools if you can afford. You will have a separate transcript to report on college applications. 2) Familiarize yourself with the Ed Code/BP/AR re alternative credits for graduation, e.g., for foreign language. 3) During summer or semesters, leave PAUSD, enroll in outside school, get transcript; re-enroll and have them accept your transfer transcript (but in re-enrolling you risk getting enrolled in different school). For elite college admissions, realize that to be impressive in math there is a whole other world out there of prestigious math programs, competitions, math excellence to undertake. Likewise for STEM, arts, etc.

Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 2, 2023 at 7:35 pm

Ferdinand is a registered user.

Catherine Kirkman, thank you for sharing your wisdom.

Almost everything has been said, but below are a few responses to Ms Ladomirak's statement:

"We were basically deciding where a kid was going to end up as a senior in high school when they were 11," Ladomirak said. "The new system gives those kids a chance to live that three year lifetime that happens at their own pace to not be effectively penalized for taking a little bit longer to transition from early childhood."

1. Personally, I want choices for my own students, even if some seem out of reach. Any system by de facto determines where a kid will end up (in HS) by the choices it offers, and in our diverse culture we should strike a balance for high and low. achievers. The students and their parents have choices too. I can say "No" to an AP class if our student is filled up with ECs.

There is something offensive (and objectifying) about our district trying to force not equal opportunity for all, but rather, equal outcomes for all. We are all on a path of enlightenment and development, with some coming sooner or later. Many of our children will not be at the top in MS or HS, and there will be some benefits to that.

2. I remember some Hispanic students giving feedback [paraphrasing]: "Stop watching us." There are some negative consequences to assuming some underachieving students are victims and forcing them to take a path they've yet embraced.

3. "When the student is ready the teacher appears": there are abundant free resources (including free online tutoring) for self-acceleration. Our HS teachers are supportive and welcoming of students taking summer bridge courses and our district used to offer bridging classes as well.

4. Motivation to learn has to be nurtured and responded to. It takes both the teacher and the student to engage. We can always do a better job helping students find meaning/purpose in their learning. Developing more peer academic leaders could be very effective.

Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 2, 2023 at 9:01 pm

Me 2 is a registered user.

"Our HS teachers are supportive and welcoming of students taking summer bridge courses and our district used to offer bridging classes as well. "

That's not our experience at Paly.

Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 2, 2023 at 10:11 pm

Ferdinand is a registered user.

Sorry to hear that. Maybe we've had good luck at Gunn, not only in math but in science too..

Posted by GreatPumpkin
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 3, 2023 at 11:04 pm

GreatPumpkin is a registered user.

Why do the current Superintendant and Board hate math and science so much? That is the impression they make in recent years.

Trustee Shounak Dharap comments are erratic. At times he attacks disabled kids who fail in PAUSD schools and have to attend special needs schools, demanding they can all be served in a PAUSD schools. The next minute he says the district can never serve all kids and some should go elsewhere. Then he is virtue signalling claiming to help the poor with free legal work, yet he creates huge legal fees for some disabled children stating 100% of them must attend PAUSD schools, or must not attend, depending on his feelings at the moment.

Many of the Board members are attorney's. Sorry to say but it is a field often chosen for large earnings potential without math or science. I am not a math or science person myself. I wonder if the Board member's privileged ability to earn high incomes without math and science could prejudice them against these subjects. But not everyone can be good at words and legal concepts. Being a lawyer does not mean you are more or less intelligent than a scientist. Every student should be given a chance to succeed in their gifted subjects, be it with words, math, sports...

I often wondered how Administrators allow such flimsly non-scientific based data through, and how they could be in their jobs when they seem to know so little about data. The Superintendant has the title "Dr." for an EdD. Do EdD's study statistics? Is an EdD is equivilant to a PhD? Do EdD's study the same amount of subjects such as research methodology, calculus, and statistics? If not, they should not be commenting on them and consult experts in these subjects before making decisions to ensure they are truly informed and non-biased.

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