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Reading initiative is improving students' skills, tests show

Original post made on Jun 7, 2023

Palo Alto Unified is seeing double-digit increases in reading proficiency among K-5 students across all ethnic and racial groups thanks to its Every Student Reads Initiative, according to recent test results.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, June 7, 2023, 8:29 AM

Comments (16)

Posted by Ugh
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 7, 2023 at 11:03 am

Ugh is a registered user.

These tests are very skewed. I remember in the beginning of the year my elementary school kid said they had this iready assessment that they just clicked through as fast as they could to get to the fun games interspersed throughout. I am not surprised there is “drastic” improvement. Pausd is a sham and all about celebrating fake statistics.

Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 7, 2023 at 11:23 am

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

I'd love to have the social scientists and statisticians weigh in on this. The Iready assessment is online. PAUSD has been using it for one school year. Is it really valid to declare that everything is solved? It seems like you need more than one year of data to validate the conclusions. And, how exactly do you assess reading online?

Posted by Local news junkie
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Jun 7, 2023 at 1:09 pm

Local news junkie is a registered user.

It might be useful to check Nextdoor for a lively discussion of these statistics and a petition that is circulating against renewing Dr. Austin’s contract. I do not have children in the district, so I have no personal knowledge about anything that is going on. But it seems like a lot of parents are unhappy.

Posted by Peach Farmer
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 7, 2023 at 1:56 pm

Peach Farmer is a registered user.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, said the brilliant astronomer, Carl Sagan.

Don Austin and three highly paid staff presented extraordinary claims yesterday. They shared eye-popping results in historically under-served student groups. We all want to see these students succeed in every way possible. They deserve our focus, commitment and support.

Surprisingly, each PAUSD Board Member, with Pollyanna-ish child-like naivete, accepted these extraordinary claims with minimal examination. Board President Di Brienza really disappointed Carl Sagan’s ghost with “Outstanding gains, I never could have imagined…I don’t really care what it was…something is making a difference.” Board Member Collins: “...growth was 248%...I don’t even know how to process this…my hats off…” Board Member Ladomirak: “Look at how we’ve improved education for all students with this one initiative.”

Where is the due diligence? Board meeting video: Web Link

PAUSD did not present and the Board did not ask: how? How did PAUSD crack a nut that no one else in the country has so far? And in a single year?

It appears data points and slides presented by PAUSD were generated by i-Ready software: Web Link

See reviews of i-Ready online: Web Link

I-Ready sells assessment, diagnostic and instructional tools. Was I-Ready used to evaluate itself or was it bench marked against state standards? Are teachers, students and parents on board?

A first year graduate student would be more rigorous than this Board. The Board should start with seeking *confidential* feedback from teachers. Please.

The proof in the pudding will be fall CAASPP testing. Real improvement is hard. Vulnerable students deserve better than this self-congratulatory Board exercising superficial oversight.

Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 7, 2023 at 2:30 pm

Midlander is a registered user.

Umm, maybe I'm misunderstanding the timeline here, but these results seem to be comparing results in (a) a pandemic year and (b) a post-pandemic year.

I would tend to expect a very pronounced uptick in kids skills once normal school resumed. That is clearly Good News, but I'd be very cautious about attributing it a specific reading initiative.

It might be interesting to see a similar comparison for a different skill (perhaps math?) where there has been no change in teaching methods, so we can see whether that also saw a post-pandemic recovery uptick.

Posted by Resident10
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Jun 7, 2023 at 2:50 pm

Resident10 is a registered user.

So the results look great on the surface. But as one poster on Nextdoor noted, once you look at the data closely, the claims of success appear to be less than wonderful.

Kids that are the furthest behind in reading improved the most - but that is exactly what should be happening. Kids that were 3 grades behind had the most range to improve and they did.

However, closer examination of the data done by a community member shows that kids that were 2 grades behind did not have an increase in skills - so the program here did not work. This piece of data was cleverly masked in the summary data where it is lumped in with the kids 3 grades behind.

The biggest issue here is that the community can not trust the data published by Dr. Austin and the district staff. Once the data is closely analyzed, we often find results different from the talking points and charts. This complete lack of transparency is why the community has no trust in Dr. Austin and his staff and checks any data they present. Sadly, these checks often tell us that District staff are not being honest to the community. For anyone that would like to see an analysis of the data presented by the district - Web Link

Another important question is how many times did each student take these tests? After the reading data was presented in a Board meeting last night, some teachers are sounding the alarm this morning. They saying that certain students in target groups retook the tests to improve scores but not all kids retook the test. If true, that would be very disturbing data manipulation. These allegations by elementary school teachers should be taken seriously and investigated. Is this another Department of Education investigation waiting to happen?

Time and again, we see lack of transparency and honesty by Dr. Austin and his staff. And we also see complete lack of oversight by the PAUSD Board leadership.

Posted by Infuriating!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 7, 2023 at 3:04 pm

Infuriating! is a registered user.

1- first year with a test, or course they will show improvement.
2- some kids were forced to retake the test to increase their score.
Let’s see if these scores are sustained and continue to grow. Im guessing everything will stall out because the data is a manipulation of the truth.

Posted by Starry Night
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 7, 2023 at 4:08 pm

Starry Night is a registered user.

@Midlander: Oh, if only the issue was pandemic vs post pandemic comparison! It’s so much worse than that.

This data is showing growth on the SAME LEVEL test. It’s the same standard whether it’s the beginning, middle or end of the year — not adjusted by time of year.

So imagine a test that sees if a kid is a 1st grade level. More kids pass this test at the end of the year than at the start — obviously.

Another way to think about this is that if all kids were exactly on pace at all times, then we would expect a 100 point improvement. If all kids were ahead, we would see 0% improvement every year.

It’s ridiculous data.

Posted by Michele Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 7, 2023 at 4:21 pm

Michele Dauber is a registered user.

The massive mis-education of children in reading brought about by the Lucy Caulkins curriculum (on which many people and organizations made bazillions of dollars) is mercifully coming to an end around the country, including here in Palo Alto. And other districts that have dropped this blight have shown similar improvements. This was the subject, in fact, of yesterday's Daily podcast from the NYT: Web Link
Here is a longer podcast series about it: Web Link
These results show the impacts of class in a stark manner. Students who had families with the resources to teach phonics to their kids did so, and the devil took the hindmost. What about the 9 years or more of students who were mislabeled as learning disabled? What about those who tried to block the move away from the Caulkins' curriculum? What is the plan for accountability to those students and families? I am embarrassed that neither Ken nor I knew about the science of reading until Todd Collins brought it up. Sadly 2023 was too little too late for many students. In my view, Todd is a hero who took a lot of fire for advocating that the district implement an evidence based curriculum. If these results continue, you will have made an incredibly lasting positive impact for thousands of students. Thank you Todd.

Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 7, 2023 at 7:16 pm

S. Underwood is a registered user.

I agree with Michelle, which doesn't happen often! If you double-click on why this faddish literacy debacle plagued education schools and our schools, harming our children for years, one might learn lessons that apply to other dangerous and ineffective education fads...

Posted by Greene and Paly Parent
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 8, 2023 at 12:51 am

Greene and Paly Parent is a registered user.

It is *possible* that there was some improvement due to the long overdue curriculum adjustment (that unfortunately was implemented in a problematic way). But this report DOES NOT show that.

The district has a habit of abusing data and statistics. Producing poor reports and measuring progress via poorly constructed indicators, picking and chosing data, and disregarding minor issues like statistical significance. This is just another incident of that.

Here are some of the issues with the presented results:

-- PAUSD only started using i-Ready this year, we do not have a baseline.

-- The district-invented indicators of "percentage" gain from year start to year end is deeply flawed. If all students were typical-average, starting grade level below proficiency and ending it with proficiency, the gain would be 100%.... Repeated each year :-)

The i-ready levels of "grade level" (one year below, two years below, etc) are not with respect to the grade level standards but with respect to normed tables (based on all students that use i-Ready). Since most students are in much poorer districts and households, the "grade level" in -I-Ready is below proficiency of standards. The SBAC (CAASPP) assessments levels in contrast attempt to calibrate with respect to standards.

There are multiple other issues. An excellent summary by Gayle McDowell was shared on NextDoor:
Web Link

History repeats and this is a pattern. Current hype seemed staged for the Supt's review. Prior hype was staged for board election. See analysis here:
Web Link

Our students and community deserve better.

Posted by Retired PAUSD Teacher
a resident of another community
on Jun 8, 2023 at 8:14 am

Retired PAUSD Teacher is a registered user.

One hopes that the gains are real. The district is good at manipulating data and drawing rosy conclusions.

A few years back the principal at my site touted the drop in D's and F's and reported to the board and her staff that the results came from "more teacher meetings and collaboration".
She failed to mention the significantly altered grading scales and heavy pressure on teachers not to give D's or F's.

That same principal, when reporting CAASPP scores did not give the staff the African American students scores because "they were statistically insignificant" given the number of African American students tested. But now, apparently, the scores are significant. What a turnaround!

Again, I hope the gains are real, and would chalk it up to the ever adaptable and dedicated teachers of PAUSD who implemented the program. Yet, in all honesty, you must take anything that comes out of 25 Churchill with a grain of salt. Unfortunately, district leadership has established a reputation for artifice and thus even good news is subject to skepticism as multiple posts on this forum indicate.

Posted by AnonyMouse
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 8, 2023 at 8:37 am

AnonyMouse is a registered user.

@michelle and @underwood: “Because science of reading” doesn’t address the concerns raised in this thread. If anything, the science of reading crowd always boasts about scientific rigor. Credulity about outlandish claims made about reading gains at the board meeting should prompt more scrutiny. Use the science as a tool to continue to inquire, would be my best advice. Start with: would the data be replicated on a different assessment? Are there other factors contributing to these numbers such as the quality of the assessment? What statistical validity? This is a small data set. Can you make sweeping conclusions? Is the data open to outside analysts? These numbers are clearly massaged. A different take would be refreshing to see. And, finally, the slides presented on Tuesday were all produced by the assessment vendor who we pay. Is there even the slightest chance financial interest might influence this presentation? Be rigorous.

Posted by Anony Mouse
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2023 at 8:46 am

Anony Mouse is a registered user.

Oh excellent. Someone smarter than me did the analysis. Web Link

Posted by S. Underwood
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jun 8, 2023 at 8:51 am

S. Underwood is a registered user.

@Anony -- Yes, I should be more clear. I agree with you that the presented "evidence" as regards PAUSD's improvement is (let's be kind and call it) very shaky. Nonetheless I'm glad we're moving away from Lucy Caulkins, with that conviction coming from other research and my first-hand experience with different literacy approaches. I'll take it for our kids, and try to ignore the perpetually self-congratulatory rhetoric from our district leaders... as they brag about our top students and rankings and malign and work against the community that hands them that on a silver platter.

If Austin and this Board were to move to a random District in, say, Sacramento, it's worth wondering whether it would be the Niche rankings or the culture of dismissiveness and division that would follow. [I don't care about Niche rankings, but the point is clear.]

Posted by Emily H
a resident of Professorville
on Jun 8, 2023 at 4:38 pm

Emily H is a registered user.

@ Michelle
It’s surprising that there are so many people jumping on the reading bandwagon with little to no experience. These reading wars are nothing new, but you act as if you invented them. For those of you who are curious to learn more about reading instruction, literacy, and the debate about philosophies, you should check out the work of Dr. Rachel Gabriel. She is an actual expert with a PhD in literacy, who has done a tremendous amount of work, some would call it her life’s work. She is fair and measured. She is not a reporter. She is not a disillusioned parent. She is an academic researcher and an expert in this field, and I highly recommend you look at her work. She also consulted for Benchmark, the current PAUSD curriculum (which is also not a magic bullet)There you’ll learn that the reading wars have been going on since the 1800s, and are often motivated by politicians looking for votes, and not by educators.You will also learn that reading scores have dropped nationally, but mostly with small ups and downs. This does not mean we cannot improve our practice. We absolutely can and should, and do. However, we need to stop insisting that there is one right way to teach readers versus the wrong way to teach readers. Stop looking for a magic bullet. You will not find a magic bullet, and if you ask literacy teachers, the experts in this field, they will tell you that you need to do more than one thing. There is no one curriculum or ideology that can do it all. And if you’re wondering why so many young readers were not diagnosed with dyslexia prior to the last few years it’s because teachers were trained and told not to use the word dyslexia. It was only a little more than 6 years ago that laws were changed and require school districts to identify young readers with dyslexia. Todd Collins did not invent this. He’s not a superhero. In fact, he’s kryptonite. With a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of cherry picked data, he claims to be an expert.

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