Districts sift through STAR test results


This year's standardized test results show that local schools are working hard to improve their scores. The question is: Are they improving enough?

The state Department of Education released the 2009 California Standards Test (CST) scores last week, a significant component in the state's overall Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program.

The test results, which are highly scrutinized but difficult to analyze, have varying implications for the Mountain View-Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman school districts. Though results from both districts showed general improvement, math continues to be an issue for students, especially those from disadvantaged populations.

Not yet released are the state's Academic Performance Index (API) scores, or how the districts stacked up against the federal government's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals, established by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. While both measurements are indicative of school growth, the yearly progress goals determine whether or not a district or school will get the "Program Improvement" label, which marks them as not meeting accepted standards. Currently neither district has been hit with that label, though Mountain View Whisman administrators say they probably will be soon.

Catching up at MVLA

Administrators at Mountain View-Los Altos said they were very pleased with progress in their district.

In the English-Language Arts category, the district improved by an average of three points to 71 percent, well over the county average of 56 percent.

"The thing that we are really excited about is Los Altos has gained in virtually every area," said Brigitte Saraff, associate superintendent of educational services. This is good news for the district, as in the past, Los Altos High School students have tended to score lower than Mountain View High School students.

"We are now very busy trying to analyze what caused those results," Saraff said.

Los Altos High students made notable gains in language arts, including a 10-point gain in the ninth grade, from 66 percent proficiency in 2008 to 76 percent proficiency this year.

Students also made major gains in world history, with 65 percent of students scoring proficient, up from 60 percent in 2008 and just 48 percent in 2007. Administrators said this jump in proficiency could be attributed to a change in history requirements from three years to three and a half years.

"Our big challenge still continues to be math," Saraff said.

The district saw a one percentage point drop in summative math from 2008, placing it below the county average. However, in certain classes like geometry, students excelled. Saraff said this could be attributed a new math placement system where students were admitted to certain classes based on their previous CST test results.

Though scores indicate that a significant achievement gap still exists, Hispanic students at MVLA performed better than Hispanic students state and countywide in nearly every subject area. Hispanics continue to struggle in mathematics, a trend that echoes the district.

"We are most excited to see growth in our Latino subgroup," Saraff said. "We see definite trends in closing our achievement gap."

"We are looking at what produced this," she added, saying it has to do with a variety of issues. She said the district has been working to align its curriculum with standards taught on the test, and improved the pacing of courses so that students learn the materials before the test is administered every year.

Saraff also said the culture around the test has changed since its inception nearly a decade ago, and that teachers and students are more accepting that their schools are being publicly judged and rated on these scores.

"The public has become much more discerning and aware of this, and that affects the schools' attitude, our attitude," she said.

MV Whisman improves

The local elementary and middle school district also saw some progress on the standardized test.

"Everybody improved, but some improved more than others," said Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent for the Mountain View Whisman School District.

Overall, the district improved its English-Language Arts scores by seven percentage points from 2008, with more students scoring at the "advanced" level than last year. Hispanic, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students in the district scored higher in that category than their respective subgroups at the county and state levels.

In mathematics, the district in general improved, although each of the mentioned subgroups saw a slight decline.

"We'd like to close the achievement gap, not make it bigger, and I felt like we didn't close it this year," Lairon said.

Though a slight decrease in scores from one year to the next is not necessarily cause for concern, the district's 2009 CST scores will almost certainly fall below this year's new AYP goal of 46 percent proficiency.

Since NCLB was enacted, federal proficiency standards have increased significantly. Starting in 2007, standards began increasing by approximately 11 percent each year, making it difficult for already struggling districts -- especially those with many disadvantaged students -- to keep up.

"We're almost sure that we'll go into Program Improvement," Lairon said. "But what we're going to celebrate is progress."

The California Department of Education is tentatively scheduled to release API scores, yearly progress and program improvement data on Tuesday, Sept. 15.


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Posted by Emily
a resident of Sylvan Park
on Aug 27, 2009 at 6:26 pm

"We're almost sure that we'll go into Program Improvement," Lairon said. "But what we're going to celebrate is progress."

It's amazing how MVWSD can spin anything positive.

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Posted by Ned
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 27, 2009 at 6:35 pm

Call me crazy, but I would expect at this point that the Mountain View elementary district would know how "to sift through scores" at this point. This is just another "politically savy" tactic of the superintendent: bring out the bad news slowly and sprinkle it with plenty of sugar. At least the high schools have got their act together. How much are we paying these senior administrators with years of experience to sift through results at their leisure? School's begun folks. They had better figure out what is going right and what is going wrong and fix it. Every school day that passes this year without a clear understanding of problems that exists are days and opportunities wasted to improve next years performance. Surely I can't be the only one that recognizes this tactic and ploy.

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Posted by Educator
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2009 at 8:08 pm

Mountain View has had since July to analyze the results and to come up with a strategy to address lagging test scores. Districts get results ahead of the public release.

The claim that "everyone improved" would also appear to be incorrect, and the test results indicate this was not the case. In fact, some groups dropped.

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Posted by Stephanie
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Another white wash and soft-paw treatment of the district. No mention of the widening achievement gap indicated by the test results. No challenge to the claim that "everyone improved." This is simply not true. Press them for the truth. Have an outsider analyze the results. Don't settle for the status quo party line.

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Posted by Enough!
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 27, 2009 at 9:17 pm

Classic MVWSD spin:

"Hispanic, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students in the district scored higher in that category than their respective subgroups at the county and state levels."

Now, call me crazy too, but this type of statement appears deliberately deceptive. OK, scores in MVWSD are higher than subgroups at the county and state levels (which, guess what, are in the proverbial toilet), but this does not translate to say that they went up this year in MVWSD. Au contraire, look at the results yourself, and you will find out they went down!

Alas our superintendents would appear to have received some coaching in the art of spin. When put to the wall regarding low or dropping scores within MVWSD one year to the next for Hispanic, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students, deflect the question and answer by finding a comparison that suggests scores actually went up! Classically deceptive, but morally bankrupt statement. I second the call: he truth is what is need here, not spin.

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Posted by eric
a resident of another community
on Aug 27, 2009 at 11:10 pm

"No mention of the widening achievement gap indicated by the test results"-poster
"We'd like to close the achievement gap, not make it bigger, and I felt like we didn't close it this year," Lairon said-article

Enough! you make some real leaps in your "rationale". I sampled a handful of various year over year results for specific groups, and I see improvement-- what do you see?

For those more interested in venting then following the issues, NCLB legislation put very nasty expectations of program improvement year over year that just arent realistic for most districts. A LOT of good districts will be in program improvement in the next few years, even ones that are improving.

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Posted by Mary
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 28, 2009 at 7:05 am

Sampling a handful of results will give you just as skewed a picture. You will see improvement if you choose only improved scores>

The fact is, is that the test result do not reveal that all scores are improving, despite the fact that even if they were the schools could still be in Program Improvement.

If so many schools are destined to fall into Program Improvement, then doesn't this just indicate what many of us, beginning with our politicians, are quick to point out, which it, that California schools are in terrible shape? Wasn't it said last year that the state ranked 48 out of 50 in a national ranking? That 1 in 4 students dropped out before finishing high school?

I'd like someone objective just to spell out step-by-step the results for each school and each subgroup, rather than one side or the other. Did they do well, or didn't they. I tried to interpret the Calif. Dept of Education's website, and I found a mixed result.

The entire process suggests it is almost deliberately deceptive. If we are to agree that NCLB put "very nasty expectations" in place, then are we also to agree that 46% proficiency (where I would assume 70% percent is passing) is an acceptable outcome? It's awfully low. These low percentages, after all, represent a child's future potential. It also tends to suggest that one group is always in the bottom fifty percent would no real hope for ever getting out of it.

I've looked at NCLB. Some very intelligent and experienced professionals put it together with an eye to improving schools and children's futures. I seriously doubt it was intended to punish them. If anything, it's a least an attempt to overcome the giant obstacles and confusing mess found, in this case, in public education in California.

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Posted by done with you
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Aug 28, 2009 at 10:03 am

Get over yourselves!

The District is doing a good job. They have not turned everything around and make 100% of the district proficient - but look around, nobody else has either.

They are looking at what they did well and trying to better what did not go well.

So at your house when something goes wrong and something goes right - you completely dwell on the bad and don't celebrate the good. IF so, your kids are not doing that well on the test.

NCLB is bogus! It always has been and will be. Our District is doing better than the County and the State - so let's let the State come in and take over since we did not hit the numbers. Sure, they'll do better.

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Posted by Maria
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 28, 2009 at 12:38 pm

I really appreciate reporting that sparks conversation- interesting article, am looking forward to further coverage of this hot issue.

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Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Aug 28, 2009 at 5:15 pm

Done with you:

So gettin' by and good enough is just good enough? Below 50% average performance and a widening achievement gap are serious issues that shouldn't be so seriously dismissed. "Nobody else has either"? Many other district in the states are doing better and out performing ours. Other states districts are performing better than California. Students coming out of higher performing districts will get a better education on average and perform better on tests. They'll get into better universities and get better jobs. NCLB is bogus? Hardly. On thing for sure is that such a complacencent attitude sacrifices a lot of children's futures.

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Posted by Molly
a resident of Rex Manor
on Aug 28, 2009 at 6:38 pm

Ned makes a good point over-looked by all the sharp shooting. What do we pay these people for if they are still sifting through the results?!? These scores come out every year. School has already started! Time is being wasted!

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Posted by Edward
a resident of Whisman Station
on Aug 29, 2009 at 11:46 am

It seems clear that the school leaders don't know how to interpret the results, only spin them favorably.

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Posted by Ken
a resident of North Whisman
on Aug 29, 2009 at 6:12 pm

Looking at the score card, it seems like there is a racial divide. The white did extremely well while the Hispanic/Latino group failed miserably. I am not sure how school officials will be able to fix this as the "disadvantaged" groups are more of a social problem than anything else.

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Posted by Bill
a resident of Waverly Park
on Aug 30, 2009 at 6:20 pm

Scores that average less than 50% are failing no matter how you slice it. All students should be striving for 100%. We would hope the vast majority score over 70%. Only a small percentage should be failing. The schools are doing a terrible job otherwise. The implications of half the students never being proficient is appalling! Heads should role, and it should start at the top where these fat cat administrators sit on the results and ponder what to do.

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Posted by privates schooler
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 31, 2009 at 6:48 am

Scores went up for my child, three grade levels ahead. But then again, she's in private school. You snooze, you lose.

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Posted by parent
a resident of another community
on Aug 31, 2009 at 3:26 pm

Private Schooler,

Last I checked, private school students take an entirely different exam than the STAR tests used in CA public schools. So your comparison is questionable.

Believe me, NO one in MVWSD is "snoozing!" Go VISIT any one of the schools and see for yourself.

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Posted by private schooler
a resident of Cuesta Park
on Aug 31, 2009 at 3:56 pm


Last I checked, only about 50% of MVWSD students even meet grade level. My daughter is three grade levels ahead. We already gave the district a try, and what a mistake that was.

Some are definitely snoozing at MVWSD! Just look at the test scores for yourself. The entire district will be in Program Improvement for a reason. Why is this so hard to grasp? Simple put, amny children will never reach their potential in MVWSD the way things currently stand. Never.

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Posted by Ed Observer
a resident of Cuernavaca
on Sep 1, 2009 at 7:46 pm

NCLB is hardly bogus as one thinker above claims. When test results are flat or down year after year, a widening deficit occurs. The effects of yearly low scores--even if they are going up, but still below proficient, compound the effects of a low score over time, much like interest on a credit card--an effect that causes NCLB to require increasingly higher scores year after year.

Just ask yourself what would happen if a group of people each took out a $130,000 loan with the condition to pay it off in 13 years (equivalent to the number of years a child spends in school), and then less than 50% of them were able to pay off $10,000 of the balance each year. The other 50% would fall further and further behind each year that they are not able to pay off the required $10,000, the remainder is added to the principal with interest still accruing. How long would it take those individuals to pay off the loan? Definitely more than 13 years, but by that time it's too late to graduate.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2009 at 1:51 pm

Private schooler: Glad you daughter is doing well. My kids have also always tested at least 3 grade levels ahead in reading, and in the advanced ranges for math, science, and social studies. At MVWSD schools. Without tutoring, SCORE, Kumon, or any extra help from us. So to assume that your daughter would not be doing as well as she is in public school is not necessarily a given. If the school you have chosen is a better fit for her and your family, then it is the best choice for you. But my kids received a much better education in MVWSD schools than my husband or I ever did, and we each went to private school (I also went to a very good public school -- which, when I look back, would have been a better place for me than the private school I spent 7 years at). I wish there was more money for more resources, but I have no complaints overall with my family's experience.

Ned: "At least the high schools have their act together." Yes, we have excellent high schools. Great teachers. Their test scores are helped, of course, by the fact that half their student population comes from Los Altos (really raises the average!), and also that they have lots more money than the elementary district (hence more resources), being a basic aid district, plus a foundation that raised $700K last year. MVEF raises around $300K per year, for twice as many students. MVLA High Schools have free tutoring for any kid who needs it on-site (paid for by foundation money, I think), among other things. And, don't forget that some of the lowest-scoring kids may end up at Alta Vista, the alternative school (another excellent school, by the way). This helps the kids by placing them in a very small, supportive school where the whole staff is focused on their needs. I'm sure it also helps bring up the test score averages of the other high schools.

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Posted by James
a resident of Whisman Station
on Sep 2, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I looked at the 2008 and 2009 scores for our school (Landels) and the improvement is pretty dramatic, particularly in math scores, and everyone improved. Something/Someone (teachers,staff,parents) is obviously working there.

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Posted by Carl
a resident of Waverly Park
on Sep 2, 2009 at 5:38 pm

If everything is so great, then why is the entire district being placed in Program Improvement. No one has explained it, some have side stepped it or outright ignored it, some have frame their discussion entirely from their children's singular experience, others have pointed out that math scores have improved, but ignore the fact that they have only improved from a terrible low, but are still not where they need to be. And then there's those that blame BCLB, but seem unclear as to why. On whole, the whole situation and all the rationales seem suspicious and folks should be wary.

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Posted by parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 2, 2009 at 9:57 pm

Confused by NCLB? Here is an analogy that has been circulating for several years:

No Child Left Behind - Football Version


- All teams must make the state playoffs and all MUST win the championship. If a team does not win the championship, they will be on probation until they are the champions, and coaches will be held accountable. If after two years they have not won the championship, their footballs and equipment will be taken away until they DO win the championship.

- All kids will be expected to have the same football skills at the same time even if they do not have the same conditions or opportunities to practice on their own. NO exceptions will be made for lack of interest in football, a desire to perform athletically, genetic abilities, or disabilities of themselves or of their parents.

- Talented players will be asked to work out on their own, without instruction. This is because the coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren’t interested in football, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don’t like football.

- Although four quarters of a game are required to be played in order for the game to be completed, the score at the end of the third quarter will be used as the final score.

- Games will be played year round, but statistics will only be kept in the 4th, 8th, and 11th game.

- Coaches will receive an entirely new team for every game. They will not be allowed to select their players or ensure that they all play at a similar proficiency level.

- Teams in wealthier areas that are already outfitted with nice facilities (fields, locker rooms, assistant coaches, specialized training programs) will compete against teams that are forced to practice with deflated balls, broken goalposts, and coaches with less experience and training.

- Only by winning the championship can teams receive additional funding. Teams that lose games will have their budget slashed, their coaches replaced, and/or their players dispersed to other teams.

- The league administration will demand that coaches drill, drill, drill skills into the players. There is no time for activities that do not directly relate to the game.

- Parents who do not like this new law are encouraged to vote for vouchers and thereby divert tax dollars to private schools that can screen out non-athletes and prevent their children from being on teams with children who are not proficient football players.

Like this comment
Posted by Zeth
a resident of Castro City
on Sep 3, 2009 at 8:33 am

Comparing being proficient in football with just basic reading, writing, and math skills is laughable. Your comparion neglects the fact that CA schools are in the dumps, that the high school drop out rate is close to 1 in 4, that other cities, counties, and states outperform the MVWSD district despite the affluence of this area. It also accepts a certain inevitability that the leadership and bureaucracy that runs the district can do absolutely nothing to change things.

Furthermore, you assertion that "coaches will be using all their instructional time with the athletes who aren;t interested in football, have limited athletic ability, or whose parents don't like football" really belays your true feelings about the situation: that as long as your kids are doing well, let's not worry about those that aren't. Believe it or not, the State is responsible for educating all children, not just the ones that want to learn or who have parents that value an education.

NCLB is valid and is not going away. Accept it.

Like this comment
Posted by Gemello Resident
a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2009 at 9:46 am

It seems to me a lot depends upon parent participation, expectation, and ability. Many parents are spending many hours each week at home helping their children with reading and homework . . . and are setting a certain expectation about the importance of education and proper behavior.

Unfortunately, there are also many who are not doing these things, either because of inability (e.g. single ESL parent with two jobs)or, frankly, lack of class.

There is no doubt our schools could use more money from the government and that certain teachers and administrators are coddled by the system, thereby wasting our taxpayer dollars. There is also no doubt that our society is doing a piss-poor job helping overworked "working class" parents. All these things should change.

That said, I am concerned about the number of parents who do not feel they should stay on top of their children on homework, do not emphasize the importance of education, do not expect or follow up on their children's behavior, and do not challenge gang participation. Then there are parents who may be very concerned about these things, but cannot speak English, putting them at a terrible disadvantage in terms of pursuing what is necessary for their child/children in our society.

Our schools' scores may improve somewhat if we put the school district's feet to the fire. But they will NEVER improve enough unless and until parents are provided with more resources, or until certain parents either wake up or stop having kids.

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Posted by parent
a resident of another community
on Sep 3, 2009 at 3:18 pm


I didn't write the football analogy, it's been around for years, I'm just sharing one point of view that expresses the sentiments of many (not necessarily all) educators.

There are some who believe that NCLB is just a Republican ploy to divert tax dollars to private schools through vouchers.

Each state sets its own "standards" and California has set its standards higher than many other states. If we had set lower standards we'd have fewer schools in Program Improvement.

Bottom line is public education is in need of a complete overhaul on several levels...lack of common standards, archaic agricultural school year calender, convoluted system of funding, etc. There is a lot of resistance to change from all parties involved.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of The Crossings
on Sep 8, 2009 at 5:25 pm

These administrators just don't get it. They need to get off their hind quarters and get to work. See the following link.
Web Link

According to the just released Education Next poll put out by the Hoover Institution, public assessment of schools has fallen to the lowest level recorded since Americans were first asked to grade schools in 1981. Just 18% of those surveyed gave schools a grade of an A or a B, down from 30% reported by a Gallup poll as recently as 2005.

No less than 25% of those polled by Education Next gave the schools either an F or a D. (In 2005, only 20% gave schools such low marks.)

Beginning in 2002, the grades awarded to schools by the public spurted upward from the doldrums into which they had fallen during the 1990s. Apparently the enactment of No Child Left Behind gave people a sense that schools were improving. But those days are gone. That federal law has lost its luster and nothing else has taken its place.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of The Crossings
on Sep 9, 2009 at 7:09 am

Say what you like, but fourth grade STAR scores at Huff were way up this last year, and mostly due to Polifrones tough love approach.

I say put some blame on the Voice for running a witch hunt based on rumor. I know I sure would hate to be tried and convicted in the newspaper by the words of middle schoolers and a few disgruntled parents.

But far more blame goes to the MVWSD adminstrators of all this. The wizards of spin, who time and again lack the courage and integrity to stand up and admit there's a problem, and moreover fix it.

These people would have been long gone in any real professional organization with a bottom line.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of another community

on Jun 3, 2017 at 9:07 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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