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New report details educational disparities at Palo Alto Unified

Original post made on Mar 10, 2023

Disparities in student achievement have long plagued school districts throughout the country, and Palo Alto Unified is no exception. A new report card showed improvement in some areas but big gaps remain across nearly all indicators.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Friday, March 10, 2023, 7:00 AM

Comments (15)

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Mar 10, 2023 at 9:47 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

It sure would be useful to provide a definition of "equitable". Also, are known factors like having a two-parent family also considered?

Posted by cmarg
a resident of University South
on Mar 10, 2023 at 11:20 am

cmarg is a registered user.

I wonder if there is a statistic about the gender for the Swift Report. Ironically, today on the Ezra Klein Podcast the talk is with Richard Reeves and the topic is 'The Men and Boys are not Alright'. Quite an interesting podcast. Highly recommend it. It could shed light on some of the data.

Web Link

Cecilia Willer

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

Ugh is a registered user.

Equity = related to the dumbing down of the curriculum, increase in learning on the computer, and the illegal practice of holding kids back from the math classes they are qualified to be in. Equity is great but schools still need to teach and be excellent. They are not mutually exclusive.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Mar 11, 2023 at 7:06 am

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

Once upon a time a teacher had the lowest numbers of D’s and F’s in his “course alike” subject before he retired in 2022. Attribute it to dedication to furthering one’s education, putting full effort into lesson and unit design, getting to know students, showing a lot of empathy, and not trying to come off as the expert who will determine their future. All sincere viewpoints were validated, and students were given space to explore and debate multiple perspectives. Yet he was harassed by administration for not doing things their way.

By the way, grade scales had been radically adjusted recently to make D’s and F’s virtually impossible, at least at the middle school. Teachers with “too many” on the books are given “special attention” by administrators. In some cases, they are told point blank to change grades or subtly “reminded” of career options outside of PAUSD.

A recent newsletter authored by a middle school principal lamented the D and F data, and implied that the principal was so disgusted he wouldn’t send any child to the school he runs (do a public records search, it’s true). That begs the question, if he is not accountable for the situation, then who is responsible? At the end of the day, it is the teachers, which may explain why nearly half of them are not happy with school climate.

Never in all the “deep data dives” will 25 Churchill admit that they are a significant contributor to the problems they are trying to solve. Cavalier attitudes towards parents, students, staff, and teachers. The fudging of numbers and misleading statements in newsletters. The unwillingness to engage stakeholders in policy decisions face to face. Regularly violating education codes. Emphasizing things like Niche ratings, or bond ratings (PAUSD will always be solvent unless the economy crashes) are just a few areas of concern.

SWIFT is great. But so are the actual people that you need to engage. They have good data too. [Portion removed.]

Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Mar 11, 2023 at 1:27 pm

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

I'm hoping the statistics expert who often posts here will weigh in. This regime produces an avalanche of stats all of which shape a single narrative. Methodology is important - and it's not always transparent. Another classic move is to change methodology every year. Since this will be an annual report card, watch out for changing methods next year. It's important to always control the narrative and keep the Sup. in the limelight. Always be questioning, neighbors.

Posted by Parent of Two
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2023 at 2:16 pm

Parent of Two is a registered user.

The work of Lana Conway and the SWIFT plan is very important. Sad that it felt overshadowed by the performances of the board leadership in the Feb 28 board meeting. Austin oddly quoted a report from 1988, Jesse Ladamirak launched a grandstanding speech. Jennifer D Brienza wiped her tears. Then Shounak Dharap says we are a public school district and we support the floor. He even said - possibly aiming for the many parents who spoke up earlier - that parents who want acceleration should go to private school. It looked like orchestrated political theater out of 25 Churchill.

It’s also unfortunate that Austin sees this as some binary choice between school populations and cannot welcome and serve all the families in PAUSD. We have many families from other countries and cultures, who are afraid of speaking up at a board meeting for fear of being ridiculed the way the people who have been speaking up about math and special Ed have been. No one is against equity, but district leaders feel the need to push back against academic outliers on the upper end and anyone who advocates for them.

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 11, 2023 at 5:47 pm

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

PAUSD "equity" Theatre again. The reports and the comments by the board President demonstrate extreme misunderstanding of statistics and appropriate data. To improve, PAUSD must use evidence-based pedagogy and standardized assessment tools to measure progress.

The use of so many separate subgroups of interest is inappropriate. In particular, Black and PI, there are about 10 black students per grade level per year (!!). The relevant groups are economic status (disadvantaged or not), disadvantaged Latino (about 50-60 per grade level), and disabilities (about 100 per grade level). Other groups are too small or a meaningless mix.

Passing grades should not be used as a measure, especially in a district that applies pressure on teachers to not hand out D/F grades (regardless of student actual proficiency). Doesn't the first chart say that in all groups 90% of grades where C or above? And another says that 75%+ of all students in each group did not have any D/F grades? And some of the groups are tiny.

To see the flakiness: JLS states that only 44 out of its 1001 (4.4% of students) got any D/F grade (!!) But SBAC data shows that 20% of our middle school students are not meeting grade level math standards (but are placed in math courses that are a year ahead of grade level standards). If these grades where a true to proficiency, then we SHOULD expect JLS to have 200 D/F grades (20%) just in math. PAUSD is cheating its students and dead-ends them by handing meaningless passing grades for foundational content.

The report also uses subjective surveys as measures. What does matter (but not used) are objective academic achievement and growth measures, using tools such as iReady, NWEA MAP, and SBAC if necessary. What is telling is that comparing SBAC scores our students, non disadvantaged or disadvantaged are worse off (smaller fraction are meeting grade level standards) than peers in Los Altos (75% of the per students funds of PAUSD) and Cupertino (50%).

Posted by CoCo
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 11, 2023 at 6:47 pm

CoCo is a registered user.

I have been a classroom aide for 15 years in one of the district's elementary schools. Of course we need to look at how to help middle and high school kids meet their academic goals and close the performance gap. But often the patterns for learning/achievement have already been set in the kids' K-5 experience. (It goes without saying that pre-K also has a big impact). If a kid is struggling in the elementary years, and doesn't get the appropriate interventions, school becomes a place to endure, not a place to thrive. And too often kids are not getting the help they need for a variety of reasons. It takes a lot of time and effort to have a child evaluated. And often, as the article suggested, a child may have multiple challenges (learning differences, ELL, missed school, etc). And once a child is evaluated, it takes careful, patient support to help the child succeed. If I had a magic wand, I would ask the district to devote more resources to our youngest learners and help them at the earliest signs of a struggle. It is easy to "graduate" a child out of supportive services when they are ready. It is much harder to "rescue" a child in middle or high school when they are not just struggling, but failing.

Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 13, 2023 at 9:38 pm

Ferdinand is a registered user.

Mondoman, cmarg, Ugh, Retired PAUSD teacher, Anony mouse, Parent of Two, Greene & Paly Parents, and Coco--this is one of the best group of comments in awhile--thank you all. You've captured some of the many issues our district office chooses to ignore. I love the "Churchill Theater."

Posted by Down the yellow brick road
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 13, 2023 at 10:50 pm

Down the yellow brick road is a registered user.

Greene and Paly Parent, you are pooping on the parade. There is so much to celebrate! The clever strategy of moving the goal posts and cherry picking data to create equity has brought much to cheer about. Who doesn't like cherry compote? What matters is how people feel, rather than antiquated metrics based on "standards". D's and F's should indeed be forbidden because they make people feel bad and destroy equity. Think of how much money we could save by defining there to be no disabilities. They're all just systemically oppressive labels anyway.


Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 14, 2023 at 10:30 am

S. Underwood is a registered user.

Dear PAUSD -- It's a bad idea to gauge your progress by measures that are under your control. Nix any part of the analysis that asks yourself what grades you gave out, or variants thereof. It's sadly a trend that's all-too-common across the educational landscape today.

Focus on external, objective metrics. Goodhart's Law can still pop up its ugly head. Trust that our PAUSD teachers will be a bulwark against teaching toward any shallow metrics. Have the courage not to pressure teachers in any way that degrades the value of those external metrics, not to mention the kids' educational experience itself.

Posted by Kelli Hagen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2023 at 1:15 pm

Kelli Hagen is a registered user.

Equity in education begins with culturally responsive teaching. The equity changes PAUSD seeks starts with changing the culture of PAUSD.

As a veteran science teacher I spent my last stint at PAUSD. I was an active member of NARST (National Association of Research in Science Teaching) and spent my career and education focusing on equity in science education. Always the goal was to increase the accessibility of upper division sciences to ALL students; females and URMs (Under-Represented Minorities) especially. From day 1 in the district, I became aware of the “PALY way,” a rigid curricular structure designed to promote/excel the very brightest students in a highly accomplished, competitive community. The flaw of the “PALY way” as I saw it, was the amount of barriers put in place to separate our students into those who are able and worthy and those who are not. This creates a pathway into the highest science lanes that is incredibly narrow and exclusive. Teachers are resistant to changing the culture of PAUSD because it dares to shift the power structure innate in the sciences and our society as a whole.

Teaching the highest laned science and math classes is easy. Teaching AP Chemistry is easy. I was handed the best and the brightest (as evidenced by their prior science grades and math lanes). You, Palo Alto community handed me these amazing students, helped explain mass defect at dinner and got them tutors when needed. Our class earned a 4.9 average on my last year’s AP Chemistry exam. I came to understand that ANY class that earns a 4.9 average on the AP exam is front loaded and designed so for the ease and boasting opportunities for the teachers. We need to offer AP and honors access to those students who barely pass an AP exam and those who will earn C’s in the course (and then we face the problem with our community accepting C’s and B’s, but that’s another essay all together).

Posted by Kelli Hagen
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 14, 2023 at 1:16 pm

Kelli Hagen is a registered user.

Separating science students by math ability and prior science grades is lazing teaching.

It is my strong held belief that PAUSD should offer non-laned science courses and that all honors designation can be earned within these non-laned course. ALL students should have access to these courses and ALL students should have the opportunity to excel to an honors level if they chose. URMs especially need to know that they are indeed included in these classes and not separated because of past accomplishments/failures. It is also my belief that the number 1 reason we do not offer these options is because our teachers lack the skills, time and administrative support to do the hard stuff in pedagogy, differentiation. Differentiation should focus on a Universal Design for Learning so that ALL levels of instruction/assessment are available to ALL students. The teachers provide, the students choose.

I will add that the few years we offered a mixed ability chemistry class (chem/honors) at PALY, my biggest support was from the community, students and our then administration. The biggest resistance I received was from my colleagues in the science department, not all but many. The cultural change was inconsistent with the “PALY way” and the amount of work, time, effort required to differentiate the curriculum was mostly unavailable. And I am certain that the resistance of changing the culture of PAUSD and shifting the power structure was the underlying cause.

Posted by Ferdinand
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 14, 2023 at 2:26 pm

Ferdinand is a registered user.

Kelli Hagen: Responding to "It is my strong held belief that PAUSD should offer non-laned science courses and that all honors designation can be earned within these non-laned course. "

Thanks for your thoughts on the rigid culture you experienced. You'll be happy to know that some things have changed. It should be the same at Paly, but at Gunn the prior science grades and math lanes were removed in recent years (not sure when). So students are able to sign up for challenging courses despite not having a specific course grade and the prerequisite classes are not uber-high lanes (eg, for AP Physics 1 or AP Physics the prereq is "Successful completion of any Biology course. Chemistry course recommended.").

Your recommendation for embedding H level within regular courses is a good one, and Gunn did have that in their American Studies class--everyone is in the same class but students could opt to take the regular or H version. It is a good structure, and could be encouraged far more. I love the flexibility of that.

Every department has its own culture, but some of the resistance to change can also come from the district in terms of what they will fund/finance. There is a lack of district leadership and energy in having the type of vision you've described. Perhaps you could offer your thoughts to them directly? I don't think most of them read the online comments. Thanks for adding your voice.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 17, 2023 at 5:17 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

Culturally responsive teaching. Just wow.
How about personal responsibility and accountability for oneself.

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