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PAUSD: South Palo Alto kids/schools -- wow

Original post made by SouthPA Mom on Aug 9, 2013

I was looking at STAR results for the 2nd grade. My son got "advanced" (the highest bucket) in both math and English, which seemed impressive at first, but then I noticed that at his school (Fairmeadow), an astonishing 83% of kids scored "advanced" in math, and 61% in English. So his scores are pretty much par for the course there.

At Palo Verde, 80% of 2nd graders scored advanced in math, and 68% in English. At Hoover, 86% scored advanced in math and 77% in English.

This is much higher than the rest of Palo Alto, though Palo Alto did well over all, with an average of 68% scoring advanced in math, and 54% in English. Duveneck, for example, had 51% scoring advanced in math, and 51% in English. Walter Hayes was 52/47 and Addison was 50/59.

So, two questions. (1) What's up with South Palo Alto kids/schools? And (2) Why do we persist in offering standard math curriculum to a set of kids who are so clearly exceeding the norm?

Comments (37)

Posted by Beowulf, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 9, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Being richer does not necessarily make you smarter? No stay-at-home moms north of here!!!


Posted by Umm?, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 9, 2013 at 8:54 pm

More Asians?


Posted by Parent, a resident of Duveneck School
on Aug 9, 2013 at 10:28 pm

"Umm" is correct. It has nothing to do with teachers and everything to do with a culture which prioritizes education excessively. Many of the children are learning outside of the classroom too.

As far as "standard math curriculum", just because these students are testing well, doesn't give a public school a Carte Blanche to teach more vigorous academics. It's still a public school.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2013 at 6:09 am

How sad that "vigorous academics" are something to be disparaged. I've never seen a Palo Alto parent complain about "vigorous sports".


Posted by SouthPA Mom, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 10, 2013 at 9:52 am

I really agree with Mom above.

It seems to me that the bar for the third-grade teachers should be to keep these kids at 80% in Advanced. I wonder if that's what PAUSD is aiming for. Somehow I doubt it.

Regarding learning outside the classroom, I'm guessing you mean academic instruction. (You can't possibly object to learning, right?) FWIW, I keep my son as far away as possible from math outside of school, because it will just make him even more bored in school, which is bad for everyone. So I specifically don't let him learn things he'd love.

How sad is that.


Posted by One wise Latino, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2013 at 10:34 am

Culture decides math achievement? What's next? Girls have a lower aptitude for math. My kid didn't get the coveted math score of 600 in her 6th grade. Nope, she missed one problem only. We don't know if that is her Latino culture or her gender that caused that. Palo Altans, a master's or doctorate, or a bunch of money, does not cause a rise in intelligence. PAUSD actually doesn't know how to teach math. Every school and every teacher is left to decide how they will use the books that are given to them. The leasership is too weak and the teachers' union is too strong. Simply compare our district to a whole bunch of other districts all over the Bay Area to see how poorly our poor and Latinos and African-Americans achieve in math and English, and keep in mind the extra thousands of dollars we spend on each child and the vast number of children who will do well no matter which school or teacher they get. Children like mine, who comes from a Latino culture, one that values education


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 10, 2013 at 11:05 am

I've got news for you. STAR tests are easy.


Posted by That's not news, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2013 at 12:13 pm

[Post removed.]


Posted by SouthPA Mom, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 10, 2013 at 2:04 pm

Fairmeadow's report shows that while 83% of kids are "advanced" in math in 2nd grade, only 61% are "advanced" in math in 5th grade. The kids are starting off great, and finishing almost bottom of the pack among the Palo Alto 5th grades.

Not sure how PAUSD would explain this, or whether it's something they care about.

Of note: The other schools generally hold their ratings, with significant advances at schools like Duveneck (from 51% to 78%) and Walter Hayes (from 47% to 72%). Fairmeadow is the only school other than Barron Park to show such a precipitous drop, which goes from 46% to 33%.

I'd really like to know if PAUSD cares about this, and has some plan for it, or if the focus continues to be on the low-performing kids (which should not be confused with the under-performing kids).


Posted by devil in the details, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 10, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Each year is different. You can't assume the 4th grade results will match the current 5th grade results even in the same school. It's a completely different set of kids, don't read too much into it.
Other things to consider:
- Hoover teachers to the test, Ohlone doesnt't, don't know about Farimeadow.
- The difference between advanced and proficient is only a couple of questions.
- As noted above, the STAR tests are very basic. They are minimal acceptance.


Posted by SouthPA Mom, a resident of Greendell/Walnut Grove
on Aug 10, 2013 at 5:29 pm

To the above poster, I think you might be missing that the numbers in that last message were for *the same set of kids* (scores in 2nd vs scores three years later in 5th).

For example, let's look at kids who were in 2nd grade in 2010, and 5th grade in 2013.

Fairmeadow: 73% advanced as 2nd graders, 61% advanced as 5th graders
Ohlone: 48% advanced as 2nd graders, 54% advanced as 5th graders
Addison: 68% advanced as 2nd graders, 68% advanced as 5th graders
Duveneck: 81% advanced as 2nd graders, 78% advanced as 5th graders

Feel free to look at other schools. The data is here: Web Link

Let's try the kids who were in 2nd grade in 2009.

Fairmeadow: 73% advanced as 2nd graders, 58% advanced as 5th graders
Ohlone: 49% advanced as 2nd graders, 39% advanced as 5th graders
Addison: 59% advanced as 2nd graders, 68% advanced as 5th graders
Duveneck: 85% advanced as 2nd graders, 82% advanced as 5th graders

I understand the STAR test is super basic. But that doesn't mean a chronic pattern of under-achievement wrt these coarse buckets isn't meaningful.

I'd like to see an analysis like this done for every school in PAUSD. The data is readily available at Web Link

The district as a whole seems to be dropping about 10% from advanced to proficient through 2nd to 5th in elementary math over the last few years. Are we meeting these kids' needs? These kids who constitute the majority of kids in our district? Or do we prefer to speedily regress to the mean?


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2013 at 6:02 pm

SouthPA Mom, thank you for pointing out that these are matched sets of data for the same students. I would hope that the principals and Site Councils of the schools with decreasing performance by their students would look at the data and ask why.


Posted by devil in the details, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 10, 2013 at 6:06 pm

@ SouthPA Mom,
Apologies, thought you were comparing apples to oranges.


Posted by Experienced Parent of 4, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 10, 2013 at 7:45 pm

Settle down, young parents. As "devil" noted, there are only a couple questions between levels. Success in school is dependent on more than just STAR test scores. As "Parent" noted, this is a public school district. Those who want their children to focus solely on test scores and academics can send their children to Challenger or to China. Many Asians come here because they want their children to experience more than just academics.


Posted by resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2013 at 8:21 pm

I am so grateful that my three children have had teachers that do not teach to the test !!!! They are rock solid in math, and fairly strong in English. I could care less about their STAR scores. Getting less than "advanced" on the test is not a red flag to me as I see their skill building and learning throughout each school year. There are teachers who are more concerned about this test than others and dictate a large portion of time to "teach to the test". I'm just grateful that my kids have only come across that once!


Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2013 at 8:27 pm

STAR tests mean nothing to the kids and they know it. It means a lot more to the teachers and the schools.

To anyone who is worrying about their individual child's scores, make sure that they didn't deliberately answer all the questions wrong, because that does happen.


Posted by pamela, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2013 at 8:37 pm

GIve your kid the ISEE and then see where they hit. The Start Test is set for California PUBLIC SCHOOLS - which are ranked somewhere around 47th - 49th in the country.

600 on the STAR gets you about 50% on the ISEE. PAUSD is a mess.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 10, 2013 at 11:02 pm

If you really want to assess how your child is doing in math, have them take the Bay Area Math Olympiad test. Four problems in four hours. If they get two completely, they receive an honorable mention.


Posted by Common Core is Coming, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 11, 2013 at 12:11 am

Pamela,

That is not true for everyone. Some who get 600 on the STAR (the highest score on that test) will get the highest score on the ISEE too. You are assuming that all PAUSD students are in the top 99th percentile nationally but that is not true and you cannot pin the fact that they aren't on our schools.

That the STAR test is easier than the ISEE can't be pinned in PAUSD either. The state writes that test.

Your discontent will be refocused soon. This may be the last year of STAR testing now that California signed on to the Common Core test in 2015. Brace yourself; NY just gave its students the Common Core test and students fell from 55% to 31% proficient in just one year. Web Link&

Early reports are that it is the Common Core tests that are "a mess." Web Link and Web Link


Posted by common sense, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 11, 2013 at 6:06 am

I think if you want to compare how students & a school is doing, for a particular school,

* compare 5th grade results 2013 to
* 4th grade results 2012 to
* 3rth grade results 2011 to
* 2nd grade results in 2010

That way you are using mostly the same set of students to see if they are getting better in Math or Language Arts.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Pamela's point is very true...we were stunned when our kids who aced every STAR test took their first ISSE practice tests and couldn't do most of the math problems. Many families who decide to apply to private schools for middle school discover the same problem too late.


Posted by Everyday Math sux, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 11, 2013 at 1:37 pm

The problem is Everyday Math is a defective math program and PAUSD got suckered into adopting it because Skelly allowed the former Barron Park principal to bully everyone into adopting it because she thought it would help Barron Park's low scores. The program is so bad that teachers have to interpret and tweek it so all elementary math learning is dependent upon the teacher. If the program is followed to a tee, as written, God help those children. Fortunately, PAUSD teachers don't have to follow the program and can simplify the teaching style so children are not frustrated. There was clear information on the internet that schools and parents disliked the program, even inner city schools (confusing for students, jumps to another category before everyone understands and circles back around later in attempt to reteach). Data proved that math scores went down after a few years of teaching Everyday Math. Everyday math sales and marketing are laughing all the way to the bank, and using "Palo Alto bought it" as a salespitch.


Posted by Mom, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 11, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I remember going the Everyday Math meeting at Nixon where Skelly framed the adoption of EDM as a matter of supporting the choice of the teachers on the textbook committee. I remember thinking "what about the students? what about all of the evidence that EDM has been a disaster in other districts?"


Posted by Chris Zaharias, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 11, 2013 at 6:19 pm

I don't run into many startup or big company CEOs who are any better at math or English than the average Joe. Parents, know that tomorrow's leaders likely bear no resemblance to those achieving at the upper end of STAR, SAT or whatever other standardized test you can think of.


Posted by Hays Mom, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Aug 11, 2013 at 8:12 pm

Hays scores were not: Walter Hayes was 52/47
For 2nd grade they were 52% English Language, 74% Math.

I read an email that made it sound as though Fairmeadow was giving 2nd grade students an unlimited amount of time to complete the tests. If this is true, it's a huge advantage over other students in the district, but also, and perhaps more importantly, against the rules and regulations of the test!

As for comparing schools, it's better to look at the district as a whole as opposed to select schools. If you're super-concerned about test scores, move to Hoover where they teach to the test.

After two years of subjecting my daughter to these ridiculous tests that help no one, I will be opting-out for the next two years.


Posted by not so, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 11, 2013 at 8:14 pm

My child got a perfect score on the ISEE math test and he went to the school that everyone is saying is so bad (and no my child didn't prep for it either). The ISEE isn't the SAT. But the population taking it is generally going to be at the high achieving end, particularly nationally, which makes it feel more competitive than it is given the percentile ranking.

Everyday math isn't great but I think you have forgotten what we had before in PAUSD which was nothing. There was no math curriculum. None. Every teacher got to make their own curriculum and that was that. EDM is kind of dumb (and the lattice division method is crazy) but hey, at least there are standards now.

If you want to improve elementary math in PAUSD get rid of timed tests. They are making the kids anxious and do nothing for learning per a lot of research.


Posted by Dignify, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 12, 2013 at 6:34 am

I'm not sure if I should dignify Hays Mom's posting with a response, but I will anyway. My son was a 2nd grader at Fairmeadow this past year. No, he was not given an "unlimited amount of time to complete the tests", and I'm not sure why anyone would feel the need to come on here and spread false rumors about this.

I also know that his teacher spent some time each day in the week before the tests familiarizing the students with the format and going over some practice questions. She also stressed to them that although they should try to do well on the test, it wasn't something to get too worked up over. This was a far cry from "teaching to the test" all year and putting lots of pressure on the kids over this. It's nice to see that PA kids performed well on the tests despite this relatively laid back approach, and it's something we should all be happy about.


Posted by Hays Mom, a resident of Walter Hays School
on Aug 12, 2013 at 8:59 am

Dignify-
Thank you for your response! I am so glad the Fairmeadow scores are true. It was information that I gathered from an email that one of your fellow 2nd grade Fairmeadow moms wrote so I was going on what I was told.
Hays also has a very laid-back approach to the test and I'm very happy with the way they have handled them.


Posted by palo verde parent, a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 12, 2013 at 9:17 am

It is my understanding that STAR/CST tests are not timed tests. The state provides a guideline of how long they expect the test to take an average student. This is just for planning purposes. I think students get whatever time they need to finish the test.


Posted by palo alto parent, a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Aug 12, 2013 at 9:19 am

There were plenty of times that both of my kids either just filled in the bubbles or made designs on their STAR tests because they were so bored. Not a great way to truly judge how a school is doing.


Posted by Dignify, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm

Hays Mom,

Thanks for your reply, and sorry for my indignant tone in my first post. When I saw the early posts about Asians and "a culture which prioritizes education excessively" and then saw your post about alleged cheating, I feared this was turning into yet another Asian-bashing thread.

I'm not sure what your friend was talking about, but at least things sounded above-board and laid back in my son's class and among others I spoke to at school.


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 12, 2013 at 5:30 pm

As usual on these school related threads, some are writing from the perspective of elementary school parents, and some from relatively olden times, and some from perspective of parenting older teens. I heard there were big Math Wars in what, the late 1990's in PAUSD?!
In our experience, which was in higher grades, we witnessed most of the action in Math occurring outside of school: costly private tutoring and year-round efforts to move ahead kids of the curriculum. Then - when the stakes are much higher - high school - some kids who aren't even interested in Math are ahead one year in the highest lane, it most certainly is a competition between parents for: top college admissions. Make no mistake about it. It usually has little to do with an affinity with Math, though there are certain exceptions occasionally of (supposedly) naturally gifted youth prepped from age 3 (look up and read local news articles if you don't believe me).
Anything about the STAR test is totally irrelevant in the big picture of all this. Math holds major status in this community.
Some of us had kids who never had anything to do with "Everyday Math" for the little kids, either because they were older when it began or we moved here after that age, so like some, I can't speak to that except it sounds confusing to me. I prefer traditional, straightforward educational methods. I have someone in the field of Mathematics in my family. It is interesting to see the cycle that never ends of trying out one Math curriculum or another in the elementary level...


Posted by DO3, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm

@former Paly
I don't understand your thoughts on math tutoring. You seem to imply that math enrichment should only be reserved for kids who are somehow naturally talented at math. I don't believe there is any "natural talent" for math. It is developed through hard work and persistence. Anybody can be great at math if they just spend effort. I am certainly prepping my kid, who doesn't currently show any particular aptitude for math, because math is fundamentally important. Without math you cannot understand any aspect of the universe which we inhabit. Math can develop razor sharp logic.


Posted by Sarah, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 12, 2013 at 6:02 pm

@Mom: Yes, I was at the Everyday Math meeting at Nixon too. Superintendent Skelly asked parents to vote with their hands on whether they wanted Everyday Math or not. Instantly, the bullies squahed that idea and did not allow it. Someone from our school who was on the committee said they were bullied into agreeing to adopt the program.


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 12, 2013 at 6:51 pm

I wasn't clear, sorry. I am cynical after witnessing what I witnessed here (and yes, it does go on in some other areas in these modern times in areas with family money), basically parents buying their kids grades, AP scores - especially Math, and entrance into top schools. There are some ethnic-only after-school, weekend programs that "promise" admissions to Harvard or equivalent upon receipt of thousands of dollars. It is appalling. I remember being handed a bilingual brag sheet (printed ad) when my first kid started at Paly and I was picking up afterwards, though it certainly wasn't aimed at my ethnic group - I don't think the school realized this was happening at the orientation - it showed names and faces, their scores, where they had been admitted, all with many exclamation points and vulgar bragging. Virtually the entire (top level) curriculum could be taken (paid for) in advance, according to the flier.
At the same time, most of these Tiger Moms are secretive and instruct their teens to do as they say for competitive advantage.
I did hedge since I am aware of certain gifted students who clearly were "math geniuses" - the most desired title around here. But many are way overblown in status, which they do enjoy in this age of oversharing of personal information - grades, scores, awards -- yet at the time, when the chips are down, they have a carefully build paper record reflecting major parental planning, money, backup.
I have known some teens to lord over other teens that they were ahead of the curriculum and could thereby receive an easy A (even for fairly difficult coursework). Some students either 1) don't have that kind of family money or 2)just do their own work -- all the way through school YET these students compete for limited university slots at certain coveted universities. Sometimes the one with the better match, really, does not get in owing to a minor paper record difference or test scores (even slight differences): like the kid whose parents had him/her start taking the SAT (not for a score) in 8th grade -- with sophisticated paid prepping, which may not occur to a fair percentage of parents to do OR such parents believe in free play, downtime, camp, sports, music, art and etc. -- and then when the srongly prepped kid takes it "for real" they can get greatly improved scores. It is well known that careful prepping can result in much raised SAT scores. Multiply that across AP curriculum, AP test taking, parent-planned/assisted obtained internships at the local university (recommend: medical or biomed or similar!) and especially the major math competitions and wow, you can build a super competitor for university admissions.
I have been heartened to read on occasion that Stanford is seeing through some of these projects and looking for genuine individuals. They have plenty to pick from, yet each year some parents angrily complain that "my kid, who got the perfect SAT scores (with great effort on the part of many people!!) did NOT get into Stanford whereas THAT KID (some other kid in the school or the HS across this city) DID get in and "had lower scores." Most university admissions are holistic and increasingly able to detect the packaged kids.
Such practices are legal but contrived and do not make for creativity, self-motivation, or a level playing field. I wish people would guide their teens but permit more choices, serendipity in their resume building...
STAR testing is nothing in this equation, believe me.


Posted by Dignify, a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Aug 12, 2013 at 7:53 pm

You know you're living in an affluent community in the Bay Area when the incendiary racial code word is not "crime" or "poverty" but "math".

former Paly parent, I get where you're coming from, but if this board is any indication, very often, frustration with alleged "Tiger Mom" Asian parenting practices descends into simple racism.

And bear in mind that if you substitute "soccer"/"basketball"/etc. for "math" and substitute "coach" for "tutor", you have a pretty good description of extreme parenting techniques prevalent among some other ethnicities. But those who go to such lengths for athletics are often praised for their "work ethic" while Asians who study hard are criticized for "excessive emphasis on academics".


Posted by former Paly parent, a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Aug 12, 2013 at 9:02 pm

I have known what are in effect "Tiger Moms" of several ethnicities! In the end, it isn't about "studying hard" or higher IQ as is sometimes attributed to the supposed reason for one ethnic group's apparent superior testing performance around here.
In some cases, it's about recent changes in parental behavior leading to borderline cheating and misrepresentation and buying one's way into advantaged situations. But then, we are in a very specific high-income, high-education area and THAT skews the samples we are looking at (of various students, their ethnicities, supposed IQs and/or testing performance).
I have only commented on parent behavior I witnessed that I disagree with - such has been promoted in the 'Tiger Mom' book and, frankly, I don't admire that woman. Perhaps you do, and it's a free world here in America.
Some ethnic groups of the world really aren't represented here and are conveniently overlooked. As it happens, my ethnic group has very little representation around here and so is dismissed in the discussion (and no, I am not African-American).


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