Test scores don't tell the whole story
As parents who send our kids to public school in Mountain View, my wife and I appreciated the two recent articles in the Voice about the Mountain View Whisman school district.
The profile of our new district superintendent, Craig Goldman, made clear that he is a capable administrator and passionate about his work. But the front page article about Monta Loma and Theuerkauf schools ("Federal funding at risk as schools miss test targets") was misleading. That article's unfortunate use of the words "failure" and "failed" three times in the first two paragraphs created the false impression that these are poor performing schools, when in fact, a review of test score data provided by the state leads to the opposite conclusion.
For most parents, it is difficult to make sense of the alphabet soup of standardized test results reported in the media. So here is a simple explanation without technical jargon. Overall, test scores at Monta Loma and Theuerkauf improved last year, as they did at all nine schools in the district. However, the scores for two subgroups of students (special education students at Monta Loma and English-language learners at Theuerkauf) in one specific subject area (English language arts) did not improve as quickly as called for in the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Hence the Voice reported these two schools "missed test targets."
In fact, last year Mountain View Whisman test scores met or exceeded the No Child Left Behind improvement goals in 47 out of 49 categories. Unfortunately, the Voice failed to report that news, and instead ran an article highlighting the two categories where the NCLB improvement goals were not met.
Let's step back and focus on the big picture of overall academic performance in our district. Every spring, all public school students take the California STAR tests. The state reports test scores for each school, broken down by grade level, subject area, student subgroup, and so on. In addition, the state ranks each school on a scale of 1 to 10 relative to 100 other schools with similar demographics. A ranking of 10 means a school is in the top ten percent of its peer group, a ranking of 1 means the bottom 10 percent. These "similar school rankings" provide an objective measure of the academic performance of each school.
Last year, our schools received the following ratings: Bubb - 9, Castro - 7, Crittenden - 9, Graham - 8, Huff - 6, Landels - 9, Monta Loma - 7 and Theuerkauf - 5 (Stevenson scores were not available on the state website). These data clearly show that our schools are performing at least as well as, and in most cases substantially better, than their peer schools around the state.
The state also calculates an overall "Academic Performance Index" score for each school based on test scores. The API score ranges from 200 to 1,000. The state goal is for all schools to obtain API scores of 800 or higher. The average API score for the nine schools in our district last year was 817. Four schools in the district had API scores below 800 (Castro - 788, Crittenden - 781, Monta Loma - 794 and Theuerkauf - 764), but scores at these schools have been consistently improving in recent years and are closing in on the goal of 800.
In my view, the story that needs reporting is that thanks to the dedication and skill of our educators, our local schools are effectively meeting the needs of our diverse community of students. I also strongly believe that our children will derive life long benefits from their experience growing up immersed in the rich mix of cultures in our schools. It's time for us all as a community to stand up and celebrate the accomplishments of our schools and our district. Our educators need and benefit from our support.
Jim Pollart lives on Emerson Lane.