The first results from California's new standardized testing, which looks at how students meet the new Common Core State Standards, were released Wednesday, Sept. 9. The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) tests mathematics, English language arts and literacy levels of students in grades 3 to 8 and 11.
Palo Alto Unified School District students took the new computer-adaptive Smarter Balanced Assessments in the spring, following a trial run in 2014 for which the scores did not count nor were shared with districts.
Eighty-three percent of Palo Alto students who took the test performed at or above standards in both English language arts/literacy and mathematics, compared to 44 percent of students statewide in English language arts/literacy and 33 percent statewide in math.
Chris Kolar, director of research and assessment for the school district, said Thursday that Palo Alto's positive results affirm the investments the district has made over the last several years to implement Common Core.
"The general mood is that we're happy and we're now spending a lot of time digging in," Kolar said. The results have been shared throughout the district, Kolar said, and school principals are working to integrate the data into their Single Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA), strategic road maps developed by each site every three years to guide their work.
However, there was a discrepancy between the number of participating students the district recorded at Gunn and Palo Alto high schools and JLS Middle School and the number the California Department of Education posted online Wednesday, Kolar said. His office flagged this discrepancy last week, and was told Thursday that the results posted on Wednesday, Sept. 8, are "based on a snapshot of student data in mid-August," so additional data will be added and the website finalized in early October, Kolar said.
"What that means is that the counts are likely to change between now and October for those three schools," he said.
Palo Alto's high schools also have lower participation rates, with about half of the junior classes at both Paly and Gunn opting out of the test in April.
Kolar also noted that when broken down by students' socioeconomic status and ethnicity, the results confirm the persistence of Palo Alto's longstanding achievement gap. Thirty-seven percent of economically disadvantaged students (students who are eligible for the free and reduced priced meal program, foster youth, homeless students, migrant students and students for whom neither parent is a high school graduate) performed at or above standards in English language arts/literacy compared to 87 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students, according to the results released this week.
The same percentage of non-economically disadvantaged students performed at or above standards in math, while 39 percent of economically disadvantaged students met or exceeded the math standards.
About half of African-American and Hispanic students met or exceeded the standards in English language arts compared to 85 percent of white students. Forty-two percent of African-American students and 48 percent of Hispanic students met or surpassed standards in math compared to 85 percent of white students.
The district has not yet received individual student scores, but they are set to be sent to parents later this month.
The more than 20 states, including California, that have adopted the Common Core state standards worked in collaboration with K-12 educators in 2012 to develop the Smarter Balanced test, which replaced the paper-and-pencil Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program.
The Smarter Balanced test is done entirely on computers at all grade levels, with a format that is meant to gauge students' mastery of concepts and skills.
The new test is aligned with the Common Core values of critical thinking, analytical writing and more authentic assessments meant to engage students in real-world applications of what they learn in the classroom. The test is also adaptive, meaning the software adjusts the difficulty of questions as a student moves through so that his or her results can better illustrate what skills he or she has mastered or needs to improve on.
"Because they are based on more challenging academic standards, the new tests are too fundamentally different to compare old scores with new," State Superintendent of Schools Tom Torlakson said following the release of the much-anticipated results on Wednesday. "Instead, these scores are a starting point, a baseline for the progress students will make over time."
Palo Alto is doubling down on its Common Core efforts this year with the addition of three district-level teachers on special assignment, or TOSAs, dedicated to coordinating the standards' implementation at the secondary level. Each of the three teachers will serve as a coach and facilitator in a particular subject area mathematics, English/social studies and science guiding middle and high school teachers as they shift their instructional practices toward the state's new standards.
The new standardized test results will also be some of the first data provided to school principals and teachers through Schoolzilla, a new comprehensive data platform the district is rolling out this fall. The platform ties together existing data systems, pulling previously disparate data into one place, Superintendent Max McGee explained to the school board at a retreat last month.
McGee and others have described the district's data systems before as antiquated, disjointed and impeding schools' use of student data, from standardized test scores to attendance and grades. Administrators are hoping Schoolzilla will change that.
The school board will discuss the Smarter Balanced results at its next meeting on Sept. 29.
To see detailed test results for individual districts and schools, go to the state website and choose a report to view. The website has results for the entire state, for each county, each district and each school and also lists results by disability status, economic status, English-language fluency, ethnicity, gender and parent level of education.
To find a school, first choose the county, then the district and then the school. Data is shown in bar graphs, with actual percentages shown by hovering the cursor over the bar.
Below are results for the Palo Alto Unified School District.
English Language Arts/Literacy
Grade 3 77% at or above standard
Grade 4 83% at or above standard
Grade 5 85% at or above standard
Grade 6 83% at or above standard
Grade 7 82% at or above standard
Grade 8 82% at or above standard
Grade 11 81% at or above standard
All students grades 3-8 83% at or above standard
Grade 3 83% at or above standard
Grade 4 86% at or above standard
Grade 5 83% at or above standard
Grade 6 80% at or above standard
Grade 7 81% at or above standard
Grade 8 84% at or above standard
Grade 11 79% at or above standard
All students grades 3-8 83% at or above standard