Achievement gap continues to disturb MV Whisman | May 2, 2008 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |

Mountain View Voice

News - May 2, 2008

Achievement gap continues to disturb MV Whisman

by Casey Weiss

The Mountain View Whisman school district's annual report was released this spring, and administrators, faced with persistently low test scores from Hispanic students, are hoping to raise cultural awareness in a district-wide effort to close the steep achievement gap.

Standardized test scores in math and English improved in the district in 2007, but there is still a large discrepancy among Hispanic students, who are also performing poorly compared to other Hispanic students in the county and statewide.

"It is bad in English language arts, but worse in math," Assistant Superintendent Mary Lairon said of the scores for Hispanic students. "It is just not good."

"Hispanic" students — the term used in the annual report — are the largest ethnic group in the district, making up 43 percent of the student body in 2006-07. The schools with higher scores have a lower percentage of Hispanic students, and school officials say lack of a systematic approach contributes to the discrepancy in test scores.

As part of a district overhaul, special committees for English language learners and math were formed this year, and teachers are now incorporating English into everyday lessons. Administrators have also identified professional development, curriculum and instructional strategies as important components in addressing achievement gaps. And, most recently, they have begun discussing the importance of raising cultural awareness so staff members understand "how being an immigrant affects your learning," said Judy Crates, director of English language development.

"We are trying to look at the whole system," Lairon said. "One aspect of it is cultural awareness."

A comparison of math scores shows how far the district has to go. In 2007, just over 30 percent of Hispanic students in the Mountain View Whisman school district were proficient or better in math, according to the federal Annual Yearly Progress (AYP) report, a component of the No Child Left Behind program, which measures academic progress based on performance goals.

Meanwhile, in both Santa Clara County and statewide, nearly 37 percent of Hispanic students scored proficient or above on math tests. Mountain View's Hispanic students are still far below other students in the county and statewide.

Results from 2008 will not be released until this summer.

When counting all students, the district has increased its test scores in both English language and math, jumping from 53 to 60 percent for students scoring proficient or above, according to the annual report. Whites in the district have an AYP of over 77 percent — well over the state score of almost 63 percent. Although AYP is one of many ways to measure performance, administrators agree it is representative of the district.

"We cannot rest until we get all kids at proficient or above," Crates said.

In an effort to reach this goal, Crates, who started the district's first English language development program two years ago, is organizing immigrants to come talk with teachers about their experience. She also has been holding pre-kindergarten classes to inform incoming parents of what to expect from the district. Many of the Hispanic parents, she said, are not familiar with the district's expectations or volunteer opportunities for parents.

"Many parents are coming from situations where there is a hands-off relationship with schools," she said. "In our community we rely on parents to support what is happening in the classroom at home."

Administrators also hope a new pilot summer school program for any student performing poorly in math will help foster long-term educational goals. The students will take classes at Foothill College with district teachers, exposing them to college life.

"We want them to see going to college is possible," Lairon said.

She added that since the district is still in the planning stages with many of these programs, their effects may not become evident until next year's test scores.

"We expect our scores will go up, but we don't know if we will close the gap," she said.

ELL challenges

Administrators say there are correlations to the low test scores among Hispanics and English language learners. Although students in the district speak 35 major languages, nearly 75 percent of English language learners are Hispanic, and roughly 75 percent of Hispanics are also English language learners.

Overall, ELL students showed better progress than Hispanics in 2007, but are still behind the district. In mathematics, 39 percent of English language learners scored proficient or above, compared to just over 30 percent of Hispanics.

District administrators say English language learners are one of their main areas of focus, and have spent the last year working on ways to increase test scores and performance for these students. They are also hoping this work will pay off during next year's tests.

E-mail Casey Weiss at


Like this comment
Posted by William Symons
a resident of Waverly Park
on May 6, 2008 at 10:15 am

I applaud all MVWSD is doing to raise the bar for Hispanic students, but I hope they will also strive to raise the bar for ALL students.