Test results, new spending on tap for school board

Members also will hear report from oversight committee on bond spending

Palo Alto school board members tonight will discuss results of an alumni survey and hear an analysis of 2013 SAT and Advanced Placement test results.

The testing data is consistent with results from earlier years showing stellar performance by district students as a whole. Ethnic breakdowns present a more nuanced picture, with African-American and Hispanic students underrepresented in the ranks of AP and SAT test takers.

In a survey of alumni from the Gunn and Palo Alto high schools' class of 2012, about 90 percent of the 318 respondents said they felt "somewhat" or "very" academically prepared for college.

In comments, respondents said they would have liked more preparation in writing, specifically in writing papers other than five-paragraph essays. The survey also identified science lab reports as an area of concern, according to a summary of "key findings" prepared by the district. But the summary provided neither the specific alumni comments nor details about the exact nature of the concerns.

In other business tonight, the board will hear from the volunteer Citizens Oversight Committee charged with tracking spending under the $378 million "Strong Schools" facilities bond approved by voters in 2008.

In its fifth annual report, the committee said district so far has spent about 44 percent of the money, resulting in new classroom, library and athletic facilities and other improvements to the community's 17 campuses.

About 45 percent of the overall allocation has gone to the district's two high schools, 13 percent to the three middle schools and 26 percent to the 12 elementary schools, with 16 percent still not allocated.

"Major projects have now been delivered at all five secondary school campuses as well as two elementary school expansions," committee chairman Todd Collins said in an Oct. 9 letter to the board.

"Additional projects are slated for completion in the coming year at Palo Alto High School and Duveneck Elementary School."

Also tonight, the school board will discuss a recommended $1.9 million in proposed new spending for additional teachers in the secondary schools and reading specialists in the elementary schools, among other initiatives.

"Since 2012-13 the district's financial position has improved," budget officer Cathy Mak said, describing a "stakeholder" consultation process that led to the specific proposals for additional spending in the district's $170 million operating budget for this year.

Tonight's meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m. in the boardroom of school district headquarters, 25 Churchill Ave.

Chris Kenrick


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Posted by Equity
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 5, 2013 at 7:07 am

We're burning through dollars, but PAUSD cannot educate the small percentage of African-American and Latino students, only the 90 percent of students who would do well in just about any other county school. The color of your skin or the sound of your language should not determine your achievement. The entire staff needs a real equity program, not just defensive measures in reaction to civil rights complaints and litigation.

"Ethnic breakdowns present a more nuanced picture, with African-American and Hispanic students underrepresented as AP test takers."

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Posted by devil in the dtails
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 5, 2013 at 7:45 am

#White students: 544 and #taking AP Tests: 1197
#Black students: 5 and #taking AP Tests: 10

District, what are you doing to close that 0.2 tests per student gap?!

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Posted by Writing scores declined
a resident of another community
on Nov 5, 2013 at 8:01 am

The ERB WrAP scores provide important data related to students' writing scores and is included in at least some of the school updates (final reports, single plans for student achievement, etc). There is a clear trend of declining scores in recent years; stanines 1-3 are below grade level.

Common core has been adopted and has a much heavier writing component and requirements for almost every subject area. This is a concern for all students, not only students of color.

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Posted by No-brainer
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 5, 2013 at 10:03 am

Dr Skelly needs to put his thinking cap on, for once!

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Posted by We're AWESOME let's have a party!
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2013 at 11:16 am

Proportion of white junior/senior students taking AP tests (544/4000): 13.6%
Proportion of black students taking AP tests: (5/200) 2.5%
Proportion of TS posters who can do basic math: ___

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Posted by Ken Dauber
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 5, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Thanks to Diana Wilmot for preparing this report.
I've created a spreadsheet comparing the number of junior and senior students in 2012-13 to the number of AP test takers, see Web Link.
Assuming that all test takers were juniors and seniors (which is a simplification, as a relatively small number of freshman and sophomores took AP tests): 59% of white students took AP tests, 94% of Asian students, 13% of African-American students, and 27% of Hispanic students. The average number of tests taken per test-taker is around 2 for all groups except Asian students, for which it is 2.76.
Underrepresented minority students take the AP test at a substantially lower rate than do white and Asian students, with Asian students taking the test at a substantially higher rate than white students. It would be useful for the district's report to note that fact, as well as reporting the test taking experience for socioeconomically disadvantaged students. Since taking AP tests closely tracks enrollment in AP classes, these gaps probably reflect a gap in the participation of minority students in advanced prerequisite classes.
Another useful comparison that isn't in the district report would be the percentage of students in various subgroups who take the SAT or ACT, which bears on the overall district goal of decreasing the gap in college preparation.

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Posted by We're AWESOME lets have a party
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Thanks Ken. If only you had won these kinds of questions would be regularly discussed at board meetings instead of on Town Square. It would be great to see an informed discussion of educational data. Thanks for finding the correct figured for us and creating the spreadsheet. What do you think lies behind the discrepancy?

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Posted by I'm on board
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 5, 2013 at 3:18 pm

Yes, thanks, Ken. It's weird that the Weekly only points to the problems with African-American & Hispanic students when White students are falling so far behind as well.
What do you think can be done to bring all the kids up to 94%?

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Posted by Old School
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 5, 2013 at 3:42 pm

Good point "I'm on board". Ken why do you think our school district is failing 41% of white students who did not take AP tests? Is there a systematic bias against white students? Do their socioeconomic backgrounds hold them back? Is it possible that they just don't work hard enough?

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Posted by New in Town
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm

I've read several times on PA Weekly that AP courses are paced incredibly fast and the students who are able to keep up are the ones who take the coursework in advance over the summer and/or have tutors.

Maybe these new "requirements" are scaring off a part of the population who are capable, but are afraid of a hit to their GPA when graded on a curve against veterans of the class material.

This is not the same school environment of our generation.

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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2013 at 8:36 am

I confused. At one point we talked about capping the # of APs students can take. Now that some kids elect not to take, there is a problem of uneven participation. Will we only be happy when we get the same outcome across all sub-groups, which of course can only be accomplished by regulation?

I wish you luck with solving the achievement gap through improved data analysis and reporting.

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Posted by Is there a real problem?
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 6, 2013 at 9:01 am

Is there a real problem here?

All PAUSD students are given the same opportunity to take AP classes/exams if they choose to.
Groups of students are not being blocked from these opportunities.

The goal is not equal results across demographics. The goal is equal opportunity.
Some demographics take more AP's, some take fewer.
This is a family decision, so let's not blame schools or "society".

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Posted by Where are my boot straps?
a resident of Juana Briones School
on Nov 6, 2013 at 10:33 am

Do we really have equal opportunity for our children? Do all our teachers and principals see the potential in our children of color? Do they have a high expectation for all and can they teach them all? At the very least, there are many parents of special education parents who feel discriminated against and I've seen the same type of complaints by parents of children of color at board meetings and around town.

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Posted by palo alto resident
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 6, 2013 at 11:39 am

The student's survey would have "Liked more preparation in writing, specifically in writing papers other than five-paragraph essays", while both my kids felt pretty well prepared for college, the one BIG area that they struggled with was writing a college level research paper. They had written a few research papers at Paly in history and a couple for science, but the actual instruction for those papers was minimal.

As one of my son's friends said "I'll be very qualified to analyze a piece of literature if I every have to at work". Very few jobs require literature analysis, lots require research and clear presentation of facts.

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Posted by curious
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 6, 2013 at 12:55 pm

@boot straps,
I am curious why you think all attention/resources should be applied to 35 students and ignore the other 545 students who aren't taking AP classes. Isn't this district supposed to see the potential in all students?

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Posted by Old School
a resident of Green Acres
on Nov 6, 2013 at 2:09 pm

The numbers (59% of whites vs 94% of Asians taking AP tests) suggest that we should be looking at cultural differences to explain the outcomes for different demographics. Schools are not equipped to change the outlook of a student formed from their cultural worldview. The problem does not lie with PAUSD, it clearly lies outside. Any proposals for solutions need to address these external factors.

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Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 6, 2013 at 3:58 pm

RE: "I've read several times on PA Weekly that AP courses are paced incredibly fast and the students who are able to keep up are the ones who take the coursework in advance over the summer and/or have tutors.

Maybe these new "requirements" are scaring off a part of the population who are capable, but are afraid of a hit to their GPA when graded on a curve against veterans of the class material."
You can take AP classes without tutors or summer work. I've done that for all of my AP's (8, if you count current ongoing ones). And contrary to belief, standards have actually been lowered: for example, to take APUSH you no longer need A's in both semesters of sophomore year history (US gov and world, I believe). With that said, there are still thresholds for AP AB/BC Calc, chemistry, physics, and languages among other things. The only AP class with a huge rep against it is APUSH, which is for the most part perpetuated by parents who complain about work (how dare they make my son/daughter read the textbook. Now he has no time! I'm aware I'm going to get heat for this but this is a satirized view of what I see many of the commenters here often saying).

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Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2013 at 4:25 pm

If getting a B in an AP class is worth less to colleges than earning an A in a regular lane class, then there is something definitely very wrong with our college selection system.

My son is taking AP classes without prior preparation, enjoys the classes he takes, gets good results in them without staying up till the wee hours of the morning and he is a happy camper. But he has Bs in these classes. He would probably get As and be bored in regular classes. Why should he be penalized for his choice when it comes to college admissions?

Also, if you worry about the statistics, then we should worry about the gap between whites and Asians as well.

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Posted by Miranda Mom
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Nov 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm

I would love to see a qualifier for taking an AP class where the student signs a contract that they have an interest and talent in the field of study and will not rely on the use of a tutor. If you can't handle it without a tutor don't waste your time and the districts resources. This would definitely even the playing field. I would also love college admission forms to ask for disclosure of the use of external tutors or college placement counselors.

Please take a step back and allow your kids to flourish or fail on their own merits. I certainly would not to hire or work with someone whose achievements were only met with external assistance.

Frustrated that all the game players don't stand up and cry foul.

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Posted by New in Town
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 6, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Thank you "C" for weighing in w/your experience. Do you think you are typical in handling such a load without the use of summer prep courses and tutors?

Similar to comments by Miranda Mom, there is regular discussion on this forum about the high proportion of students who are relying on outside assistance to make it in these courses, especially the AP level science courses. Is that not your experience? Can you speak about Gunn?

It stands to reason that if tutors and prep courses are becoming the norm, perhaps some families are opting out of that track due to $$$. Those courses are expensive as are tutors.

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Posted by Miranda Mom
a resident of Greater Miranda
on Nov 7, 2013 at 8:23 am

New in Town

This is not an easy place to raise balanced teenagers. My children have never had the benefit, or detriment, of tutors. My two oldest took one weekend boot camp for SAT prep. They know many kids who have tutors to survive their AP classes but this is never talked about openly amongst the kids. They are all in competition with each other. We are at Gunn. I have three children and have been thrilled with most of the teachers. However, I am not thrilled with the academic culture that is prevalent. The goal tends to be grades and college acceptance as opposed to intellectual achievement. It is hard to find contentment when expectations do not align with the actual task at hand. The school system appears to be a pawn of the culture motivated by ivy league striving parents, test bragging realtors and the mompolistic, all for profit, College Board. I do not know if this is nation wide or just in silicon valley.

When I was in school there were different lanes but I don't think my parents even knew which I was in and they certainly never discussed it with their friends. I have many aquantances who regal me with their child's list of AP courses but have to cut their conversation short to drive that same student to their tutor. This is a total disconnect for me. In my Pollyanna world AP courses are there for a student to augment their passion for a particular field of study at which they excel, irregardless of grades. Many of the AP classes seem to cater to grade inflation by basing too much of the mark on home work as opposed to actual mastery of the academic subject. Academic rigor of difficult material should never be mistaken as hours spent on an overload of repetitive homework. If these courses are meant to simulate college they should provide students with an opportunity for the grade to be solely based on tests, projects and labs. These students should be able to independently assess how much homework they require to master the concepts but should not be rewarded for doing that homework other than their resultant test scores.

My oldest talked his way into many AP courses, mastered the material, got 5s on all his standardized AP tests, did well on all his exams but ended up with dismal marks as he refused to play the homework game. Whether right or wrong that was his choice but he had a passion for the subjects and knows them well. He is brilliant, content and makes his own way. A huge success from my parent view but won't be a Gunn poster boy. My middle child does many AP classes and excels at them. He chooses which classes he doesn't mind getting a B in so that school does not interfere with his recreational passions. My youngest may not take any AP classes but works their buns off and takes pride in the As they independently earn in their middle lane classes , despite a huge time consuming sport outside of school. We do not believe in enforcing volunteer hours. It would be an oxymoron to do so. My children volunteer for many things but do not track their hours beyond those required for living skills.

I many times feel very inadequate as a parent but I do try to make my choices based on the expectations and contentment of our family and each individual child. A telling article talked about happiness equaling expectations minus reality. Web Link
Step back and ask why you do what you do and what your goal is? If you are happy with your honest, internally motivated answer then continue what you are doing.

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Posted by C
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Nov 7, 2013 at 9:45 am

In my experience, AP classes and tutors vary like this: I don't think even one kid had a tutor or outside help for last year's AP Art History class. Out of 4 AP Chem classes (perhaps 3 but I believe 4) only a few students had outside help. With that said, practically everyone utilized the study guides and self-made problem sets that one student graciously put online. Practically no one has a tutor for APUSH: why bother? They can't read the book for you. No tutors for AP English either: they can't write your essays. Few to none for AP bio. AP Spanish tutors are pretty much limited to Paly (at the ARC, student tutors) I believe but I haven't taken the class so I can't certify that.

With that said, it is common for parents to urge students to take AP test prep classes for 2-3 sessions before the AP test. But few to none actually have year round tutors. That's my take.

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Posted by Fred
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 7, 2013 at 1:25 pm

Our experience with our two kids is similar to C's. They didn't have tutors, didn't feel they needed them. Got mostly A's, the occasional B. One dropped down a lane in math so the workload and pace suited him better. The teachers seemed to do a good job preparing them for the AP test - didn't know that outside prep courses existed, though they did get study guides with sample tests.

I'm sure there are kids who use tutors for various things - remedial, to get ahead, to build confidence, etc. - but it hasn't had any impact we can tell our our kids' experiences.

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

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