Mountain View Voice

News - September 18, 2009

'No Child' law finally catches up with local schools

Mountain View Whisman's steady gains not enough to avoid 'Program Improvement' status

by Kelsey Mesher

Schools in Mountain View have cause to both celebrate academic achievement and take action for improvement after the release of this year's progress report by the state Department of Education on Tuesday morning.

The annual report contains two important scoring mechanisms related to school performance — one for schools as a whole and one for subgroups within the schools. These Academic Performance Index, or API, scores are measured on a scale of 200 to 1,000 points, with 800 or higher the aim for all of California's schools.

In the Mountain View Whisman School District, every school but Huff — the highest-scoring school in the district with an API of 918 — made some gains in the formula-based score. Landels Elementary gained 31 points, nudging itself above the target API with 825. Castro, Monta Loma and Crittenden Middle School also each made API gains of over 20 points.

Bubb Elementary and Graham Middle School continue to pass the California API target with 873 and 835 API scores, respectively.

District-wide, English language learners saw a 16-point gain in their API scores, and Hispanic students saw a 17-point gain for their subgroup with an API of 717. Still, an average score of 918 for white students suggests that a significant achievement gap persists.

Federal targets

Also included in the report released Tuesday are the federal government's Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, targets, which indicate whether schools or districts will be labeled "Program Improvement" under the No Child Left Behind Act. Only schools and districts which receive Title I funds — funds from the federal government given to schools with a high percentage of low-income students — may be labeled Program Improvement, or PI.

In addition to receiving this special funding, schools and districts that go into PI have had one or more "significant subgroup" of students fail to meet federal AYP standards for two years in a row. If, for example, a group of more than 50 English language learners fails to meet federal standards in two consecutive years, the entire school is labeled PI.

In the Mountain View Whisman School District, Monta Loma, Theuerkauf, Castro, Landels and Crittenden receive Title I funds. Of those schools, Monta Loma and Theuerkauf are, despite gains in their API scores, now in their first year of PI.

They join 23 other schools in Santa Clara County entering their first year of PI. Of all 168 schools receiving Title I funding in the county, 37 percent are in some stage of PI.

Though Landels, Castro and Crittenden are not currently Program Improvement schools, they face the same challenge that schools around the country face: sharply rising benchmarks set by the federal government. When No Child Left Behind was first introduced nearly a decade ago, AYP targets increased only a few percentage points a year. Starting last year, however, AYP targets have jumped by approximately 11 percent every year, with the end goal of 100 percent proficiency in schools by 2014.

It is widely agreed by educators that this is an impossible goal to meet.

"The original intent of the legislation ... was to set the bar high so we could work hard to make it," said Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent of the Mountain View Whisman School District. "The bottom line is we have a ways to go and we're working on it."

Districts may also be labeled as PI if a certain percentage of their students fail to meet AYP criteria district-wide. As of Tuesday, the Mountain View Whisman School District is a PI district.

Within the county, the local district is among 29 receiving Title I funds. Of those, 12, or 41 percent, are now PI. Other districts in the county entering their first year of PI are Campbell Union Elementary, Moreland Elementary, Morgan Hill Unified and San Jose Unified.

The implications

For now, administrators say, PI status will not disrupt everyday instruction or programming. Under PI stipulations, the district and PI schools must contact parents to notify them of the new status. One possible outcome is that parents could request to move their children out of PI schools — though with rising enrollment, administrators say, transfers could be difficult to obtain.

The very worst outcome of PI for a school or district is that it could be reconstituted by the state or federal government, though this would not happen until several years into PI status.

Administrators will work with the county in coming weeks to determine the options for Monta Loma and Theuerkauff students should their parents try to obtain transfers. Still, rising enrollment indicates that "people are choosing our schools and staying," said Superintendent Maurice Ghysels.

In general, Ghysels said, API scores and other testing indicate that the district is improving, despite its new PI status. The label did not come as a surprise to the district, he added.

"While we knew some of our schools were going into PI, we could not be more proud of what our teachers, principals and administrators are doing," he said.

E-mail Kelsey Mesher at


Posted by Drew Seutter, a resident of Old Mountain View
on Sep 21, 2009 at 11:15 am

This is a tough story to comment on, but I generally see it as very good news. Good schools are important to me and hopefully are important to many in the community.

I want to recognize the teachers, staff, monetary donors, and volunteers for helping the Mountain View students in achieving these gains in test scores. I am confident that there will be more.

The fear and negative on my end is that resources that could be expended in a way to help all students somewhat equally seem to be slanted towards students on the lower end of the test scoring scale. From an administrative standpoint, this makes sense; there is more ground to make up on the low end, and it is probably easier to recognize a larger score improvement in that area, and thus help the total score. However, beyond the scores improving, the resources do help each and every student, and therefore, a more equitable distribution should be targeted as a goal. I am sure many donors, taxpayers, etc. see this as their goal.

Posted by Elaine, a resident of another community
on Sep 24, 2009 at 10:42 am

I agree with Drew regarding funding resources. The part that bothers me the most is that the district's administration doesn't have any great plan to use resources to improve curriculum for all the students or assist teaching. Here is one example - look at the "GOAL" Program that is offered at Graham M.S. (it is on their website). The principal took away the concept of honor roll. Now it is a program that rewards all the students that make 4, 3 and even a 2 GPA. It also rewards those that raise their GPA .5 above their previous GPA so in essence, a student can earn an F and raise it to a D+ and receive rewards!

The rewards are in the form of a free tshirt, privileges, prizes, food events and fun field trips (non academic kinds like ice skating, bowling, playing at Shoreline, etc.) There are so many things wrong with this on so many levels!

First, they have now lowered the bar on honors - almost anyone in the school can obtain this recognition with little effort. In fact, I heard that many parents said their kids were demotivated to obtain straight As now since you can get as low as Cs with minimal effort and still qualify for "fun".

There are only a handful of students left at the school when all the students that qualify for the field trip leave - does the humiliation of not qualifying for this program really provide incentive to those kids to improve their grades or does it just cause further resentment?

Secondly, they are rewarding students by taking them out of school for these events. How many times have you heard the district tell us that there aren't enough teaching hours to improve scores?

Can the money be better spent? You bet it could. Last year I heard over 20K was spent on these rewards for the students. How do our tax dollars of this $20K really help our students and improve learning?

And the worst thing is that the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent bless this program. We hear about budget cuts and needing more money and this is what they are using valuable funds for last year. This year the principal is asking the PTA to help fund this program. It is time for parents to question just how the money is being spent for our students and how it really benefits them - in the long run, not just for fun.

Posted by James, a resident of Whisman Station
on Sep 24, 2009 at 4:03 pm

At Landels they rotate kids part of the day, so kids that need help improving from below basic get help, and kids that are advanced get pushed with more advanced instruction.

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