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Achievement gap persists in new state test scores

Palo Alto school board discusses Smarter Balanced assessment results

While school district staff celebrated at Tuesday's school board meeting the high achievement of most Palo Alto Unified students on the state's new Smarter Balanced standardized assessment, some parents, the superintendent and one school board member expressed concern about the persistently lower performance of students of color and low-income students compared to their peers.

In Palo Alto, about half of African-American and Latino students met or exceeded the standards in English language arts compared to 85 percent of white students and 92 percent of Asian students, according to the test results released earlier this month. Forty-two percent of African-American students and 48 percent of Latino students met or surpassed standards in math compared to 85 percent of white students and 95 percent of Asian students.

And 37 percent of economically disadvantaged students (students who are eligible for the free and reduced-price meal program, foster youth, homeless students, migrant students and students whose parents did not graduate from high school) performed at or above standards in English language arts/literacy compared to 87 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students. 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.

School board member Ken Dauber called the results "a pretty grim picture" — and one the school district has been seeing for a long time.

"I don't think we've seen much progress," he said.

New Associate Superintendent Markus Autrey presented the new results Tuesday night with color-coded bar charts, with the higher scores in green and the lower scores in red and blue. His PowerPoint presentation also included a brightly colored slide that read "Celebration Time."

Kim Bomar, the parent of two African-American students in the district and longtime co-chair of Parent Advocates for Student Success (PASS), asked for more sensitivity to how these scores relate to and affect everyone in the district, particularly students of color.

"I just want to call for a little bit more sensitivity on how we deal with these numbers because frankly, there's just way too much red and blue in there to call this a celebration when it comes to children of color if everybody in this district really does matter," she told the board.

And though staff repeatedly cautioned that the new test results are only a baseline of information and cannot be compared to past standardized scores, "the pattern certainly is exactly as we've seen in the past" for students of color, PASS co-chair and parent Sara Woodham said.

She noted that although black students make up only 2.6 percent of the school district's overall student population, the fact that nearly half of them are less than proficient must be addressed.

Board President Melissa Baten Caswell questioned how to evaluate results drawn from very small numbers of responding students. In particular, she pointed to a slide in Autrey's presentation that notes a significant spike in African-American students' performance in both English language arts and math in fifth grade. From third grade, there is a jump in more than 50 percentage points in the students' achievement, but there were only 17 total fifth-graders.

Dauber also pointed to what he called a "collapse" in high school for students of color and economically disadvantaged students. He urged the district to remedy the situation by looking more closely at structural factors like teaching, curriculum, laning and the effect of high rates of tutoring with students who can afford it and those who can't.

Superintendent Max McGee said that three main issues emerged during high school focus groups held by the minority achievement and talent development committee he convened last school year: underrepresentation of students of color in higher level courses, like Advanced Placement (AP) classes; a lack of engagement in and use of tutorial, a built-in class period for students to seek extra help from teachers; and access to "doing school" in Palo Alto, which means things like being able to afford an external tutor or getting extra support and enrichment over the summer.

Board Vice President Heidi Emberling stressed that the district's identification and support of these students must start long before high school.

"The earlier the intervention, the better," she said — a similar plea made by the minority achievement committee, which recommended a series of early education interventions to more effectively change the course of historically underrepresented students.

"We have to be able to talk about connecting with families early on," Emberling said. "You're talking about the invitation to join our district for your child's next 15 years. We have to look at what's going on in terms of community supports, in terms of transportation, access.

"How are we helping with readiness to learn and what are we looking at in terms of developmentally appropriate assessment earlier? And then, what are the interventions and how are we implementing those? That has to be part of this conversation about achievement throughout the district."

In May, the minority committee issued its set of recommendations, some of which the district has already begun implementing this fall. (This includes a new early literacy program the school district is launching next month in partnership with the East Palo Alto Tennis and Tutoring, or EPATT, program.)

Similar to the picture presented Tuesday night of the Smarter Balanced results, the committee's final report described Palo Alto as a "tale of two cities: a Palo Alto for a high-achieving majority of students, with access to enrichment opportunities and high expectations, and a Palo Alto in which access and expectations for students of color and students from lower-resourced backgrounds are limited."

The board also discussed Tuesday how to address the low participation rates of high school students in the test this spring, primarily by scheduling it around AP and SAT exams rather than immediately before. About 50 percent of the junior classes at both of Palo Alto's high schools opted out of the Smarter Balanced Assessments in April, most of them citing concern about losing two days to a standardized test the week before their AP and SAT exams.

Some also expressed disinterest in spending time on a test that has no real short-term benefit to them.

"We need to sit down with groups of students and understand the motivation and what would be motivating," Baten Caswell said. "It might not personally benefit you much, (but) it does benefit the school, so we have to figure out what to do about that."

While some threw around ideas about offering juniors incentives to take the test like a pizza party, schoolwide picnic or homework-free weekend, Chris Kolar, the district's director of research and assessment, noted that the Smarter Balanced test is now the placement test for English language arts and math for the University of California and California State University schools.

It's also now the official test for biliteracy certification in the state, so students who didn't take it in the spring missed the opportunity to have that listed on their high school diplomas, he said.

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74 people like this
Posted by Here We Go Again
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 30, 2015 at 9:19 am

Here we go again, schools and teachers are failing the kids! What is a fact is education starts at home and with parents. Yes, teachers and schools can make a difference but these kids and their PARENTS need to be accountable. I have known plenty of low income students who have done well and the common theme is these kids all worked very hard and the PARENTS were involved, had high expectations. They also did not blame the schools but held their kids accountable.

Mr.Dauber just does not get it plus he has never even been in a classroom so what experience does he have? A Stanford study is not the same as getting in there day in and day out with kids of all backgrounds.

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Posted by Cannot unsee
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 30, 2015 at 9:33 am

[Post removed.]

35 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 30, 2015 at 9:48 am

Minority students with involved parents makes a world of difference in their overall success in education.

17 people like this
Posted by Parent too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2015 at 10:03 am

Do people commenting here really think that there are a surplus of minority students going to school in Palo Alto whose parents don't care about or put effort into their schooling? As I understand it, to go to school in Palo Alto, you have to either 1) live within the boundaries (takes quite a bit of effort and intention, given housing limitations and costs, and usually education is the driving factor for families with kids); or 2) enter through Tinsley (also takes extra effort driven by a focus on education). Parental involvement is surely important, but is it really the explanatory factor here?

Full disclosure, I'm a parent of an underrepresented minority student. Which means I should know better than to post on comment boards, I suppose.

4 people like this
Posted by Parent with high expectation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2015 at 11:02 am

I tell my kids that they have to learn the material even if they have Agatha Trunchbull for a teacher. They have no excuses. It's their responsibility to learn.

8 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 30, 2015 at 11:05 am

Basic fact: From your first day onward on a job or in college, nobody cares what you did in high school or how you scored on any of these tests.

5 people like this
Posted by DZ
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 30, 2015 at 11:17 am

"Achievement gap"? Define achievement please. High score doesn't guarantee success in life. People are different! They are born that way, right? School's job is really let kids find what they are good at, what they love to do. Not just to reach the "achievement" contaminated with political correctness. Give us a break.

8 people like this
Posted by parent midtown
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2015 at 11:46 am

There are school goals and responsibilities, but they traditionally (and legally?) always come second to parental goals and responsibilities.

Is is not a bit pompous for successive school boards to declare they can close "the achievement gap," as if this century's old situation is just that simple?

We can all agree with the ideals of such politically correct movements. But we are not allowed to voice opposition to the vast amounts of taxpayer resources that steer toward idealistic programs that just don't have proven metrics to justify their expense.

The mainstream suffers when we divert resources in this manner.

I'm just wondering if we could indulge in a little more realistic view on what exactly is the responsibility of the government/district vs. the responsibility of the individual/family.

Sidenote: does the Superintendent's pet committee on the achievement gap take into consideration they nearly standard model of Palo Alto parenting in which families seek out extracurricular tutoring and skills advancement? It's a confounding factor, at least, when it comes to policy making.

34 people like this
Posted by Jaime
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 30, 2015 at 1:29 pm

Dauber's bashing teachers again. [Portion removed.] If kids come from families where education isn't a priority, I don't know how the teachers would be able to change that.

10 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2015 at 2:00 pm

[Post removed.]

12 people like this
Posted by Cannot unsee
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 30, 2015 at 2:04 pm

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by white male Palo Altan
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 30, 2015 at 2:15 pm

white male Palo Altan is a registered user.

Always talking about the "achievement gap" places the onus on the children and their families; the reality of education in Palo Alto (and in much of the United States) is the result of an "expectation gap" that pervades school systems and the communities they serve. It's as simple as "Expect high, get high; expect low, get low." This is the pattern we need to disrupt, for all our sakes. We have allowed African Americans to become an endangered species to our shame.

5 people like this
Posted by Dan
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2015 at 2:16 pm

>Parental involvement is surely important, but is it really the explanatory factor here?

It would seem plausible to many because they see how parental involvement and resources play a very large role in student drive and success. Unless we are willing to entertain the absurd possibility that it is really genetic, based upon the minuscule difference in DNA between races, the family backing of education seems the strongest determinant of academic success. Another alternative possibility would be cultural differences that render teaching methods for basic concepts less effective across different social/racial groups (again parental involvement should smooth out such differences. If I am a parent of a struggling child, I would recognize the issue, and fill in the gaps myself at home. None of the material taught in PAUSD is particularly difficult to learn with a little effort and support at home)

In any case, I am not sure it is the schools role to compensate at all costs for parental involvement/resources or cultural differences at home. They should be teaching consistently and having the same high expectations of all students. (with the realization that beyond the basics when you get into truly difficult concepts, there will always be a huge achievement gap based upon natural ability ... though this fundamental gap shouldn't necessarily be racial or socioeconomic)

As for "high test score doesn't guarantee success", we can all agree that there are no guarantees. However low test scores on relatively rudimentary concepts taught in elementary and middle school is definitely not a strong indicator of future success, rather it is an additional hurdle that many will not be able to fully overcome later in life.

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Posted by Slow Down
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 30, 2015 at 2:38 pm

Slow Down is a registered user.

@Parent too - As a parent of an underrepresented minority, what do you think the problem is? I, along with most people see the schools and teachers working hard to help. Even if there are some problems, nothing so glaringly clear to cause such a massive achievement gap.

10 people like this
Posted by Waving my hand - Talking to the hand
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2015 at 3:10 pm

There are probably many factors. Here's one (there is other research):
Web Link

"School Size, Achievement, and Achievement Gaps"
"achievement gaps ... were larger in larger general effects were more common in mathematics than in reading, and were more pronounced at the high school level."

Narrowing the achievement gap, which we knew of back then, was just one of MANY reasons for us to use the facilities bond in a way that would have created three updated high schools considered optimally sized, rather than two really large updated high schools that already exceeded optimal and would be larger still.

I read a statement to that effect to the Hand at 25 Churchill way back when it was still possible to do that.

We really should develop a spirit of (and mechanisms for) continuous improvement in all ways here. The trouble with addressing this as just a tasks force can be that everyone pulls together what everyone already knows when the opportunity to do something about most of those things has passed or isn't now. I didn't see anyone concerned about the achievement gap (that was already known back then) advocating for the kinds of structural changes that would have helped, when the opportunity arose in the bond planning.

I did, however, hear a lot of this Palo Alto schools are wonderful and nothing can be wrong handwaving, as an excuse to do nothing (and look down on me for trying). There is somehow this attitude that we are above the real world and don't have to plan for creating the best conditions for problems to be solved or minimized.

20 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 30, 2015 at 3:28 pm

Over my years in the District I have come across many parents who are not able for various reasons to take a great deal of time supporting their child's education. This goes right across the board and is not something that is racial.

I know of one family where one parent was extremely sick with cancer and the other parent was working long hours to support the family, put food on the table and pay the bills as well as dealing with medical support for the spouse. The kids, although fully cared for in many ways did not get homework support and the parent was not able to attend school events or meetings. Other families came to help the kids, but the kids' education was suffering as a result.

Another family had a big time screaming divorce. Once again the kids education suffered.

Another family I know had problems with elderly parents living with them that had Alzheimers and other issues. Once again, the kids education suffered.

All these issues can happen to any child. The parents all loved the kids but were unable to fully support their kids with academic help at home. In some cases these issues are only problems for months or a year. In other cases, these problems lasted long enough for serious gaps in the kids' education.

It doesn't always mean low income, or ethnic diversity, but it does happen and sometimes to a family that won't ask for help or want to keep their problems private.

When a child starts performing poorly at school it can be for any number of reasons and quite often these problems are not obvious to the teachers. If a family with problems doesn't tell the school and the child is embarrassed by what is going on at home, their grades will and do suffer. The child is often so concerned about home issues that school no longer matters much.

I would like to see less assumptions made here that low achievers are always from a low income or minority home. Quite often the low achievers are just suffering and nobody pays them enough attention to be able to offer them to emotional support to help them get through their day, let alone worry about studying for a test or doing a homework assignment. If the assumption is that all they need is more academic support then those students are not getting the emotional support that would help them most.

21 people like this
Posted by Carlos
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 30, 2015 at 3:35 pm

I find it quite naive and wasteful to be spending so much time/resources/$ on this gap by assuming that schools/teachers can do a better job closing it. The gap just reflects family priorities and levels of education that need to be solved by each individual and their families; there isn't much that the schools/teachers can do in these situations.

Some people like to bash the system by not producing better results, but this is just convenient scapegoating. It gets very emotional and political when ethnic labels get applied to the gap, but we should be honest enough to call it like it is. Just my humble opinion as a minority member who never suffered from this gap, either in the US or south of the border.

6 people like this
Posted by casey
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 30, 2015 at 3:36 pm

casey is a registered user.

If you really want to know how parental involvement factors into these test scores, then test the kinders so you have a baseline measure and can see if there is a significant gap already in place when these children start school or whether it develops over time due to other issues.

3 people like this
Posted by Parent too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2015 at 3:37 pm

@Slow Down: I don't actually know what "the problem" is and I doubt it's just one problem.

I actually think that just the very small number of URM students in very large schools is likely itself part of "the problem." When few look like you, you might feel a bit more isolated and disengaged, even if you have plenty of friends -- see multiple research on the difficulties of being "the only one in the room." I have heard comments out of my own kid's myth that suggest some sensitivity to this. This is probably exacerbated in a really big school context, and outside of elementary, our schools are quite big.

I don't in any way think that teachers or the community are actively trying to discourage or limit minority achievement, quite the contrary, but is it possible that the same unconscious bias that infects our criminal justice system also infects public education even in good old liberal and well meaning PAUSD? Yes (and I'd say the leap to "their parents must not care about education" seen so often here reinforces that).

Do these things necessarily directly contribute to the achievement gap? I don't know, and frankly, neither does anyone else seem to know. But there are probably a lot of factors, and the automatic jump to "the families must not care" is so puzzling to me given how much many people sacrifice to live in this district or hoops they jump through to get their kids in here.

None of these are easy fix issues and none are in a vacuum in Palo Alto either. I am not sure a committee can do much. I just wanted to mention this point about the families here, since that's always the conclusion that pops up quickly and often in this sort of conversation.

1 person likes this
Posted by disgusted in this board
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 30, 2015 at 4:02 pm

[Post removed.]

10 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2015 at 4:58 pm

Dauber repeated last night that PAUSD lags behind (or has in the past) other districts for minority and poor students in certain high school classes including Algebra II. We are at the top of the state for some groups (affluent, White, Asian) and in the middle of the pack for other students. Question: why shouldn't PAUSD be at the top of the state for all groups of students? What are other districts doing that we are not doing?

Unless you think the answer is: recruiting better poor and minority families, that is a question for the school leadership to answer and then use to improve.

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Posted by Parent with high expectation
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 30, 2015 at 5:12 pm

[Post removed due to deletion of referenced post.]

13 people like this
Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 30, 2015 at 7:57 pm

@reality check: common sense tells you that: An A at a east side San Jose high school in math is a whole different beast and situation than getting an A in math at Paly or Gunn, you do not need a doctorate to figure that out,! A lot of these kids or kids of minority status are thrown to the wolves at Paly where kids are very very educationally motivated and have tutors etc.... Just the reality of the situation.

Who cares about test scores anyway. What is wrong with getting b or c 's in high school and going to a college after junior college or etc... All that matters in the long run is getting that piece of paper. You are always going to have your high achieves and kids who struggle. [Portion removed.]

6 people like this
Posted by True That
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 30, 2015 at 8:28 pm

"Here we go again" makes good points with the reality of the situation. What is the goal? That every student proceeds onto a 4-year college?

There are many teachers who are inaccessible after school so they are partly to blame. The BoE should require teachers to stay one hour after the school bell rings. But underperforming students should also seek help.

Truth is, there is no reason a student should earn less than a "C" in a regular lane class if they are trying.

8 people like this
Posted by number crunching
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2015 at 6:03 am

Here are PAUSD's statistics on the huge gap between students on three less talked about measures:

1. Disability --------------- 46 point gap

students without a disability -- 86% tested proficient or better in Language Arts
with a disability --- 40%

2. Parent Education ----------------- 47 point gap

graduate school -- 86% tested proficient or better in Language Arts
no 4 year degree -- 39%

3. Economic Status ------------------- 50 point gap

not economically disadvantaged -- 87% tested proficient or better in Language Arts
economically disadvantaged -- 37%

Web Link

7 people like this
Posted by Magic Markus
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 1, 2015 at 8:17 am

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by Reality check
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 1, 2015 at 9:22 am

@Here we go again says "An A at a east side San Jose high school in math is a whole different beast and situation than getting an A in math at Paly or Gunn, you do not need a doctorate to figure that out." The data isn't about grades, it's about scores on the same test, so your point is incorrect.

And you're right, I don't have a doctorate and I was able to figure that out.

12 people like this
Posted by Parent too
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 1, 2015 at 10:20 am

I do think the culture of tutoring here probably has something to do with this. I expect it's not uncommon for families who care about their kids' education to jump through hoops to land in PAUSD, only to find that the "great school district" reputation may be much more a product of excessive competition around out-of-school tutoring, than the education being received in class. (I'm not saying there aren't great teachers, there are, but this is undeniably an issue.)

I'm not sure yet how this connects to the achievement gap data on ethnicity, but it seems like it could in some way... and it surely is some explanation on the income gap side. But I doubt the district wants to dive too much into that.

This post brought to you by the fact that I'm sitting in a Palo Alto medical office waiting room and just heard a radio ad for Kumon which expressly stated that its programs will "help your child get ahead of their peers." You know, rather than helping them master material or assist them in their classes or anything like that. The way it was phrased kind of repulsed me. Maybe we're not Palo Alto material after all.

17 people like this
Posted by "Doing School" in PAUSD
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 1, 2015 at 10:40 am

Good to see that there is an awareness that kids are ""doing school" in Palo Alto, which means things like being able to afford an external tutor or getting extra support and enrichment over the summer". Students should NOT need external tutors to succeed in a class, nor should their parents need to have the ability to "help" with homework. Homework is meant to reinforce what is learned in the classroom, practice and let your teachers know what you don't understand. Any work done at home should be something a student is capable of doing ON THEIR OWN! Too many teachers in our middle and high school rely on homework and parents to teach the material instead of teaching in the classroom. Kids who have parents that can't "teach" are of course at a disadvantage!

20 people like this
Posted by Michael O.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 1, 2015 at 11:27 am

Michael O. is a registered user.

The achievement gap will never go away. N.E.V.E.R. Never. Not happening. Stop all the blaming about it. It's not anyone's fault. It just is.

If you haven't noticed, the gap is bigger in Palo Alto. But the gap on essentially everything is bigger here. It's too bad the kids who aren't proficient have to suffer thought high school here with so many intellectually outstanding (and competitive) students, but it's also too bad that the merely excellent high school students have to suffer through four years with so many outstanding students. Too bads all around.

Have fun fighting, though. Don't you think if the country had a stable and enduring solution to the achievement gap (not one in which outliers make a district look good for a year or two) it would have been disseminated by now? It hasn't because it doesn't exist. And it never will.

10 people like this
Posted by moniker
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 1, 2015 at 11:49 am


It's not about making the achievement gap "go away", it's about doing as well by these students as other districts manage. That is, finding out why PAUSD has a much larger achievement gap than other similar districts and actually doing something about it.

5 people like this
Posted by Celebration
a resident of Jordan Middle School
on Oct 1, 2015 at 12:33 pm

These standardized test results are more meaningful to us than the District's own tests, because we never know how much help children are given in District tests or if the tests were modified for special needs students. It is done and it can be for good reasons (child can pass the test, but can't type or hold pencil), but it is not always reported.
The speaker who asked the District presenter to curb the "Celebration" language was right on. The language was callous and misplaced. The speaker was glib and minimized the real problems the data showed.
A source of the "Celebration" language and attitude is the District's law firm trainings on how to conduct meetings for disabled students and on public relations.
We found the language hurtful, especially when the District said to celebrate the news a child was just diagnosed with an incurable, lifelong disorder. At first we thought District employees did not understand, but after it happened at so many meetings, we asked the District to stop using the "Celebration" language.
The problem is staff meet before presentations and meetings and decide what to say, sometimes using stock phrases from a law firm manual. Staff are told to write everywhere they are "collaborative", even when it's nonsensical, such as the District writing denying a child help is providing a "collaborative consultation service."
These meetings strategies don't leave staff enough flexibility to hear real information, and staff are shocked when the techniques do not work. They don't know what to do. Staff keep repeating the same stock law firm and p.r. responses, which may have no relationship to the question asked.
It is just basic bad communication skills.
We still hear Administrators tell parents meetings about problems and disabilities are required "to be a celebration." Truthfully parents do not need party streamers and a mariachi band, they need straightforward information about student strengths, weaknesses, progress and the District's action plans to move students forward. That is the way to good public relations. That is the way to public trust.

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Posted by Marc Vincenti
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 1, 2015 at 4:20 pm

Dear Fellow Onliners,

Our best bet for quickly helping our less advantaged kids is Save the 2,008.

This community campaign to bring hope to Palo Alto's high-schoolers is at its very essence a plan to free up teachers to have more bandwidth--more time and care and concern--for every single individual student.

It would flood Gunn and Paly with a far greater possibility that minority students will be understood and appreciated and helped for their individual, different, important needs.

What all of our students want most from school, and what makes them want to learn, is to know that a teacher is interested and cares. For a teacher who genuinely cares, a student will go to the ends of the earth.

And yet the toxic conditions of a modern day high school--overcrowded classes, unrealistic workloads, sleep deprivation, rampant cheating and distrust, overemphasis on grades--get in the way of teachers and students having the time and energy for each other.

And yet this plan has found no favor with the Palo Alto School Board or Superintendent.

To bring hope to all our high-schoolers, and especially our less advantaged kids, visit


Marc Vincenti
Campaign Coordinator
Save the 2,008

15 people like this
Posted by Let's work together.
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm

To Mr. Vincenti, hyperbolic statements like, "And yet the toxic conditions of a modern day high school--overcrowded classes, unrealistic workloads, sleep deprivation, rampant cheating and distrust, overemphasis on grades--get in the way of teachers and students having the time and energy for each other." are in themselves toxic. This kind of statement is not helping, it revs up community angst and adds to the toxic soup.

What Mr. Vincenti describes is not the experience my daughter is having in a PAUSD high school. She sleeps nine hours a night. Things aren't perfect. She does experience a lot of competition for theater parts, small musical groups--because of the size of the high school. She knows some kids cheat, most do not. (As a former teacher, I can tell you that is NOT new. It has always been a universal problem.) She loves participating in theater after school-- in addition to playing music, singing, and hanging out with her friends in her personal time. She is taking a couple of AP classes in subjects she enjoys and a nice distribution of required classes and electives. Her homework load is about 1 or 2 hours a night. She is a Junior.

I encourage the community to listen to our kids. I think Gunn faculty and admin staff have been making an effort to do this. (Though the decision to eliminate zero period was an exception to this--it was generally opposed by Gunn students who made important cogent arguments that should have gotten real consideration.) Gunn's experiment with the new block schedule and controls on AP classes is a good start. They are working on further improvements. They are currently working on addressing test stacking, among other things. They are not doing this because of Mr. Vincenti. They are doing this because they are professionals who care about the kids and they are listening to and collaborating with Gunn students and parents. I, for one, am grateful for their efforts.

This is healthy, but it is also a process that takes time because there are many students with many diverse wants and needs that must be heard and understood. Addressing all of their multifarious problems is not a simple matter.

It is easy to criticize and point fingers. It is MUCH harder engage all of the affected parties to define the problems in useful terms and find feasible solutions that work best for the students. There is lots of room for improvements, and we need to support this process. However, I don't think Mr. Vincenti is the person to lead the charge. He appears to have an ax to grind, and that is never a good place to start.

Finally, I encourage moms and dads to take a deep breath. Don't buy into the "common knowledge" that your child won't get into a "good" college without five APs and perfect grades. I have just been through the college process with my older child. She had very good grades, but not extraordinary. She had three APs classes TOTAL over four years of high school. She had a couple of extracurriculars and a paying job. (Like I had in high school.) She got into a very competitive private college with a very GENEROUS merit scholarship.

Let's work together. We are a community, and we all love our children.

9 people like this
Posted by Another parent
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 2, 2015 at 2:53 pm

@work together,

I'm really glad things are working for your child, I really am. Your drawing the conclusion then that just because things are working for you, that therefore everything must be just fine for everyone else (or could be if they just did what you do), and if not, it's because people just believe things people like Mark Vincenti say without it being reflected in their lives. That's not what I'm seeing.

Of all the parents I spoke with this week, only the small minority are experiencing things like your daughter. The majority are in the segment who aren't fine.

In my experience, parents' views on working together are informed by past experiences trying to do so. The district doesn't treat everyone equally (understatement). I may not agree with Marc Vincenti's prescriptions, but he's not agitating for no reason.

Your family doesn't have problems, we get that. For those who aren't fine, a person claiming everything is fine and that anyone advocating for recognizing problems is creating something toxic, is a much greater insult than anything Marc Vincenti is doing.

Our district vision makes a number of lofty promises. Simply honoring those promises with integrity would eliminate the "toxic soup", not trying to suppress discussion.

3 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 2, 2015 at 5:12 pm

I hope Ms. Kolar was misquoted in saying that Smarter Balanced Testing will be the placement test for the University of California system. It will NOT - it is will be the placement test for the Cal State system and the community college system, in place of their EAP program - in other words, they will ask you to take an additional class if you don't test at a certain level on SBT. The UC's use SAT scores and sometimes AP scores to test out of the basic math and English classes.

Most of the kids taking multiple AP exams who are concerned about exam burnout are not concerned about the Cal State placement - it is irrelevant to them.

11 people like this
Posted by jerry99
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Don't worry. Some colleges have dropped the requirement for SAT testing because they claim "some students don't do well on tests". And for the third time the SAT is being changed and diluted so minorities will get better scores.
Or like UCB there was an annual percentage quota for blacks and Latinos admitted to each new freshman class. When that was voted down by CA voters, UCB now requires them to write an essay on what they did to earn UCB status. And now they are back to the same old quota numbers. What a surprise.

The simple answer is the more children study the better they learn. And yes, in STEM degrees every year of education is used for the student's eventual career.

6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 3, 2015 at 7:24 am

Palo Alto schools are very competitive. If a student is at the 75 percentile nationally, they are at the bottom on the class in Palo Alto. And they know it. For some, this means they don't put the effort into school because it won't make any difference. They can excel in other areas but it won't be academics.

3 people like this
Posted by Waving my hand - Talking to the hand
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2015 at 8:41 am

Another factor we may be missing is redshirting - the practice of holding back kids to start elementary so they will have leg up on other kids developmentally. That may be working itself out since the state changed the start date. However, for most of the kids in the system today, the age ranges in a given grade can be significant. It was typical for younger boys to be in class wth others who were 18 months or even 2 years older.

Those differences translated to real differences in opportunity, as teachers favored more developmentally advanced students, and students' own perceptions of their abilities would have been an aspect of this. Especially when some kids are going through puberty, and the differences become really stark - but the school system continues to fail utterly in recognizing and dealing with the issue (they even played a hand in creating it by encouraging some parents to hold their kids back).

Is there a cultural aspect to redshirting? It's worth considering the problem just from the de facto disadvantaging of the younger students, but is there also a cultural aspect (some groups thinking holding back students would make them stand out in a negative way)?

6 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2015 at 10:55 am

Web Link

In its first key finding, the report focuses on the different parenting
styles found in black and white households and argues that these
cultural differences help create an achievement gap not fixable by schools

[Portion removed.]

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 5, 2015 at 11:56 am

[Post removed.]

4 people like this
Posted by sick of politically correct PA
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 5, 2015 at 3:53 pm

[Post removed.]

2 people like this
Posted by Marc
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 5, 2015 at 4:26 pm

I can think of a simple solution.

When a child enters the PAUSD system, they should undergo a rigorous physical and mental evaluation and assigned to a counselor that will follow them through their entire term at PAUSD. Any child that deviates from the norm (behind in reading, weight issues, dental issues, etc) will have a corrective action plan defined and delivered to their family. All children will be monitored and evaluated every 3 months to make sure that they are meeting all the goals. Any family that has a child that is not meeting their goals will be investigated and determined why the CAP has not been followed. If a period of 6 months have gone by and the child and family have not brought the child into expected norms, then they child will be removed from the parents and placed into a PAUSD group facility where PAUSD staff can raise the child and ensure that they meet all the expected goals.

In this way all children will be exactly the same.


3 people like this
Posted by truthis
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Oct 5, 2015 at 4:33 pm

Dear Educator, School cannot fix the Achievement gap because this is not the function of the school.

2 people like this
Posted by Been There, Done That
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 5, 2015 at 8:58 pm

@Let's work together: Don't misinform people. 2 AP classes, and only 1-2 hours of homework? No doubt, your daughter got all easy teachers. As for your older daughter, depends what her major is. Not likely a STEM major, which is quite rigorous for admissions. However, I agree that students don't need to take more than 4 AP classes.

Like this comment
Posted by @tension
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 5, 2015 at 10:52 pm

A good source of information to help the kids is to learn from the personal and family habits of those students in each category who actually routinely pass the test. Presumably, a successful Latino student can provide more insight for helping other less successful Latino students because their circumstances or blockers are probably more similar to each other.

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