News


High opt-out rates on state exam continue to frustrate school district

State dashboard to include participation rates in the fall

After four consecutive years of failing to meet the state's required participation rate for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam, one of the Palo Alto school district's two high schools has made some progress while the other saw higher opt-out rates this year.

More Gunn High School juniors took the standardized test this year than previous years: between 56 percent and 68 percent, depending on different tests on math and English. Parental exemptions dropped from about 65 percent last year to between 27 percent and 29 percent this year, according to district data.

Palo Alto High School, however, saw little improvement. Between 13 percent and 24 percent of juniors took the tests, while parental exemptions increased from about 36 percent in 2017 to 51 percent this year.

California schools are required by federal law to meet a 95 percent participation rate on the test, which measures students' proficiency on the state's Common Core State Standards.

Yolanda Conaway, the district's assistant superintendent of strategic initiatives and operations, attributed the gains at Gunn to more proactive incentives effort (including raffling off prom tickets and parking passes), involvement of parent groups and communication that the test is beneficial for all students and the school as a whole.

Paly's numbers might have been impacted by a leadership transition this year, Conaway said, with former principal Kim Diorio taking a medical leave in late February before announcing her resignation.

"A plan looks great on paper but unless there's someone really intending to the implementation of the plan and making sure it's communicated clearly they tend to be just plans rather than actions and deliverables that are actually going through," Conaway said.

She said she was "disappointed" by both schools' rates and worries the perception about the exam at the high schools has trickled down into the middle schools. Eighth graders are just below the required participation threshold. The elementary schools and sixth and seventh graders show high participation rates.

In February, the month before high school juniors would take the test, Conaway met with school administrators, the district's Research, Assessment and Evaluation Department and special-education department to develop plans to reverse the trend. The state also required the district to create a targeted plan for special-education students, she said.

Conaway suspects outreach should start even earlier, with frequent communication about the importance of the test.

"We know that high opt-out rates are more likely in wealthier, highly resourced districts," she said. "This tells me that non-participation is a conscious choice, largely based on misguided beliefs that the assessments have no value. We definitely have more work to do."

Paly and Gunn have failed to meet the participation requirement since the Smarter Balanced exam rolled out in 2015. Initially, students pushed back against the timing of the test, which was administered the week before Advanced Placement and SAT exams.

But rescheduling and more intentional communication in the next two years did little to improve the rates.

This means less data for the district to be able to assess how students are doing and to address any gaps in instruction, Conaway said.

"I see this as a responsibility of all of us, including parents, students, teachers, site leaders and the board. We will never truly be able to measure how well we are doing for all students and the overall quality of instruction unless we measure it against a standard," she said.

While schools with Title I status, meaning they have high percentages of low-income students, could lose funding if they don't meet the participation threshold, Paly and Gunn are not Title I schools.

The state will report participation rates for the first time this fall on the new California School Dashboard, an online data tool that shows districts' test scores, graduation rates and other measures of student success. The state Department of Education is in the process of determining how participation will be built into districts' "academic indicator," which measures performance on the Smarter Balanced exam.

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Comments

21 people like this
Posted by nat
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2018 at 12:08 pm


The article does not describe what the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam is and what it measures.

A follow-up article, describing this test and why the state mandates participation, would be welcomed.


38 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 25, 2018 at 12:39 pm

The real problem is that our high school students are over-tested. Compared to other countries including those who are in an exam based system, our students get tested much too often and most of the tests mean nothing to them or their education. Testing students to see how the schools are doing is the wrong way. Students results on SATs, etc. should be the way our schools are assessed.


45 people like this
Posted by Too bad
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 25, 2018 at 2:04 pm

I gladly let my child opt out of this test. As mentioned above our kids are already over tested. If the state wants higher participation they should provide some additional funding to our district. Just because we are not Title 1 schools it doesn't mean everyone hear has unlimited funds to continue to prop up our school budgets through bonds, special assessments, and PIE donations.


31 people like this
Posted by Opt out
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 25, 2018 at 9:15 pm

I recall fondly when, in high school around 1993, I told a test administrator I would not be taking her tests.

"But you have to," she said.

"No, actually, I don't. You can make me sit here in this chair, but I'm not going to answer a single question. This has no bearing on my grades and no bearing on my college admission prospects."

Realizing that my revolt might spread and that the graduate students administering the exam actually held no power, I was quickly released. While ~400 of my my sucker schoolmates spent a week taking tests with no bearing on their future, I spent that week restoring my car and playing tennis. Good times.

The state needs to reduce tests to what is actually required to quantify teacher and/or school performance. They do not need a statistically valid sample for every student on every standard. They actually need only a statistically valid sample on each standard for each classroom (or even grade). In engineering, we commonly use materials test data with a sample size of six which provides an adequate uncertainty factor.

Lets take a third grade report card as an example. There may be 58 standards on a typical report card. That says the objectives across all subjects could be adequately measured at the classroom level with a total of 6 * 58 = 348 questions. In a classroom of 24 students, that amounts to a mere 15 questions per student to adequately quantify teacher performance. if the same level of fidelity was only desired at each grade level, in a school with five classes at each grade level only 3 questions need be asked of each child. Until the state figures this out, weI'll be encouraging our child to opt out at his discretion. I believe those in education administration at all levels understand this, but the examination and measurement industry is big money and their lobbies hold more sway than you or I unless you...

Opt out.


9 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 25, 2018 at 9:29 pm

May I recommend the book “Proofiness” out in paperback, by Charles Seife, a good read with a section on fudging education-related statistics and reporting, especially by grand-standing politicians.
We go through these jarring cycles of education fads (with attendant bloated spending) and it’s difficult to determine and understand any valid results. I’m not sure what to do. I recall the old CAHSEE test, which was so easy most Palo Alto kids breezed through and passed in 10th grade (though a silly waste of their school time). Then, state officials ditched this high school exit exam, which was a very low bar ,since some groups were identified as failing it multiple times, even with free help, and therefore notbgraduating, and therefore hurting grad rates. Some didn’t appearbto care much.
We can’t have that (kids who don’t deserve to pass high school not passing high school), so the politically-correct action by California state politicians was to ditch the test. Let ‘em graduate, even if they can’t pass a test with a low bar. So much for the value of a California public high school diploma. Previously, we parents here had all been seriously lectured about how important CAHSEE was, and that our students need to take and pass it.


14 people like this
Posted by Follow the Money
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 25, 2018 at 9:30 pm

Many ways to measure student growth Web Link

A brief history on our nationwide test obsession followed by a deep dive on the Opt Out Movement in New York #WhyIRefuse. Web Link




48 people like this
Posted by Former Paly parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 25, 2018 at 9:31 pm

Former Paly parent is a registered user.

The article states that there Is a misguided belief that the tests have no value. The test have zero value for a student. The time is much better spent as studying for AP test, studying for finals or doing classwork. Standardized testing does not benefit Palo Alto students in anyway, it only benefits PAUSD.


20 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 25, 2018 at 9:34 pm

Sad that smart people are so selfish. Good for you, you "out smarted" the system and got a free ride. But if everybody did it, there's no data by school, grade, and subgroup, and no ways to compare districts. Hey, but you got to work on your car! Good for you.


42 people like this
Posted by Revolt
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 25, 2018 at 10:36 pm

I would recommend every kid opt out in protest until the testing results are used to evaluate their teachers.

And get rid of the low performers.

We measure students a dozen different ways, ignoring the fact that it is the teacher who is responsible for teaching them, and they are blissfully unaffected by poor performance. It’s literally insane.


18 people like this
Posted by Opt out
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 25, 2018 at 11:34 pm

Resident stated: "if everybody [opted out] there'd be no data by school, grade, and subgroup..."

You miss the primary point of my prior comment. The intent of opting out is to force a return to a reasonable level of quality control. I would gladly agree to the school level measurement you're concerned about. This would likely require only a single question per student randomly selected across all subjects and standards. I would gladly agree with grade level (three question/student) or even class level (15 total question/student) testing.

Where I disagree is in the necessity and even the value of any level of fidelity beyond that. You want statistics by demographic? Take the school/grade/class level demographics together with school/grade/class level measurement data and you can accomplish that objective with reasonable error bars. The desirement to have statistically valid data down to the student level takes the number of questions from 15/student to something on the order of 348/student. I would hope we can stipulate that testing to that degree is providing diminishing returns at greatly increased cost (in terms of instructional time). This waste of students' time does not advance the primary objective of educating the student. On the last 313 questions in that block, the student's time would be much better spent doing just about anything (and in my case I chose to better use my time honing a skill and exercising).

I made my voice heard as a student and I'll support my son however he chooses to voice his in this regard.


33 people like this
Posted by Sanctimonious City
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 26, 2018 at 2:10 am

Sanctimonious City is a registered user.

Its obvious that the motivation for testing and feedback surveys has been corrupted by identity politics and the desire to divide the population into more and more victimized subgroups.

The district needs orchestrated data to support the narrative of oppressor vs. oppressed. Asian vs. Hispanic. Boy vs. Girl. Gay vs. Straight. Left handed vs. Right handed. Inny vs. Outy.....

Regardless of the questions, the answer is always the same. More money. More redistribution. More power and more control.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jun 26, 2018 at 7:47 am

Opt out, I think you missed the point of your previous post. You still think the system is dumb and you are way more clever.

Your sampling method assumes they are trying to figure something out at the district level only. But the goal is to know how each group is doing in each grade at each school and to be able to track it by year. As the stats people say, this isn't a sample, it's a census. So yes, everybody has to take the test.

I find it interesting that once and effort was made, Gunn families quickly responded, while Paly families doubled down on their position. That tells us something about our town IMO.


35 people like this
Posted by Paly Parent
a resident of Downtown North
on Jun 26, 2018 at 8:23 am

These tests are a big disruption and large request to make of PAUSD students in their very busy and stress-filled junior years. The students derive no value from them. Having listened carefully I can't see that, besides making some requisite effort, the school district gets much value from this. Rather than a week's distraction I encouraged my children to opt out and to use the time gained to pay attention to the great many other things we ask of them. It was a lot of 'found time' (in a multi-day, SBAC school-wide disrupted bell schedule) which, among other things, kept the rising stress of my juniors in check. Our opting out is an informed choice which serves our kids better and ultimately serves the school district. I suggest PAUSD stop trying to convince parents and students to take the SBAC and spend the energy trying to convincing the state to make a less disruptive and personally costly assessment at the 11th grade level.


10 people like this
Posted by Parent of Two
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 26, 2018 at 8:57 am

I still see big values of these tests. Why? Because they are standardized and state level.

That's a much more objective way to compare students at state level.

School class tests? Meh. The variance of teachers teaching style and respobsiveness can easily skew the measurements.

Two AP chemistry teachers may use dramatically different test questions on their students. One class has a lot of As and the other class only has a few. Is that fair?

Also state level tests are good indicator of teachers performance.


28 people like this
Posted by Ed Researcher
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jun 26, 2018 at 9:52 am

@Paly Parent - over 95% of other Cali high school juniors take this test. They all have busy schedules, most are trying to get into college, just like yours. But they all find the time, no complaints, no problem. Paly is almost certainly the single lowest participation high school in the state of California. And there isn't any principle or ideal involved - the kids and families just think their time is more important than everyone else's. Wow.

Agreed, this has little benefit for the 11th grade student; their time is done. But it does benefit every other student in the state K-12 system, by providing detailed performance data, at the end of the K-12 process.

BTW, they don't take the test in 9, 10, or 12 grade (it is done every year for grades 3-8) - only once in four years.

So what's in it for you: Better public education and a better society. Do your civic duty. Tell your kids to take the test.


9 people like this
Posted by Just Saying
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jun 26, 2018 at 10:08 am

This article is titled "High opt-out rates on state exam continue to frustrate school district". It presumes that the school would like all or enough students to participate. That would imply that teachers would encourage students by making it conducive for test taking. It is frustrating and even mind boggling that there are multiple tests scheduled in the same week. What is the logic there? Sure, students can advocate by rescheduling their school tests. However, that becomes an unnecessary inconvenience making participating in the tests highly undesirable.

I had encouraged my child to take the test knowing that I could have written a letter to opt out. So my child went.
However, the first day of the test saw only 2 students in his class taking it. Once I found out and knew that the school was not going to have enough numbers to receive the report anyway, I gave him permission to opt out.


4 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 26, 2018 at 10:44 am

Anyone here tried the Smarter Balanced website -- Web Link -- and their practice tests?
Not recommended.


4 people like this
Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jun 26, 2018 at 7:26 pm

Blows my mind how many of you who have no background in psychometrics act as if SBAC is an accurate assessment of what students know.

@Revolt - is an example of this kind of thinking. This article might fill some gaps about the science of assessment.

Web Link


8 people like this
Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 26, 2018 at 8:28 pm

Former Paly Parent is a registered user.

If Paly wants Juniors to participate they should cancel ALL other testing and projects due for the week testing occurs for any student who participates and maybe feed them something fun - pizza? Sushi? There is literally no reason for these kids to take the test - then need and incentive.


28 people like this
Posted by What's in it for me?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jun 26, 2018 at 9:00 pm

What's in it for me? is a registered user.

Wow. I am amazed to see this stated so plainly: "Standardized testing does not benefit Palo Alto students in anyway, it only benefits PAUSD."

So we ask our children to do only what benefits them? And more to the point, haven't our students benefited from PAUSD for years and years? I cannot wrap my head around the above argument, except to wonder what our world would be like if that rationale were applied by all of us. And to be very grateful that Gunn is making a turnaround on this.

My kids are 100% going to take that test, even if they are the only ones in the room. That would be a terrific lesson for them.


11 people like this
Posted by Paly parent
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 27, 2018 at 11:25 am

The competition for Palo Alto students who want to get into one of the top colleges is fierce, and the pressure on these students is much higher than what students in other school districts experience.

PAUSD is not putting enough effort to help these excellent students, and the very limited action taken on the weighted GPA issue is just one sign of that.

As a parent to such students, I would gladly opt them out of any activity, if it brings them some pressure relief. Once they get into college, even the best ones, the pressure is significantly reduced. Until PAUSD addresses the high pressure issue more thoroughly, they should not expect higher participation from students and parents.


18 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jun 27, 2018 at 11:49 am

@Paly Parent - well, your position is clear, I give you that. I feel bad that my neighbor is so selfish and feels no civic responsibility - do you also tell your kids to run stop signs and park in handicapped parking to make life a little easier? Make sure your kid mentions on his/her Stanford application that they cleverly skipped the state test since they didn't technically "have to" - see how that goes over with the admissions department.

Luckily the students and families at other high performing high schools (for example Saratoga, Monte Vista, Lynnwood, Cupertino, Fremont, etc., and now apparently Gunn) don't see it the same way. It sounds like Paly is literally the only school with this attitude. Think about that.

If the state financially punishes the District for this, I hope they pass the punishment directly on to Paly. If they only respond when "something's in it for me," well, I guess something will have to be taken away.


12 people like this
Posted by The Facts
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 27, 2018 at 3:56 pm

The Facts is a registered user.

PAUSD is WAY behind the times!

OTHER OPTIONs: Other states have already eliminated these tests and are using students ACT/SAT scores! The students actually try their best on ACT/SAT for college admissions, so the data is actually valid (vs. the Smarter Balanced which is irrelevant data because students justifiably don’t care how they perform because it’s of zero value to them). Eliminating the smarter balanced test solves multiple problems (over testing the students, bad data, privacy issues, etc). It’s absurd that our school district continues to try to push these tests when there are other options! Clearly, PAUSD should stop banging their heads against the wall to get overwhelmed, over tested Juniors to take the Smarter Balanced test which often sits directly on top of AP/SAT/ACT Tests in the spring. PAUSD is obviously getting nowhere by saying “it’s all we have” or “it’s your civic duty” and should consider taking a different approach that other districts have ALREADY taken.

In fact, a bill has already been introduced in Sacramento by Assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell, D-Long Beach, that would give CA schools the option of swapping out the state’s English and Match tests for either the SAT or the ACT, exams already required by most colleges.

(PA Online you should've noted this in your article!)

Web Link

FUNDING MYTH: In the past, there was an argument that students needed to fulfill some kind of civic duty by taking this test and PAUSD would lose funding if students did not take the test. This is false. PAUSD receives no funding from students taking this test, regardless of how many participate. Only the bottom 5% lowest performing of California schools are eligible to receive state funding based on results. It’s complicated, but even some of the lowest performing California schools that were supposed to receive funding based on these results did not due to manipulation of the test results. As a result, the Federal Govt just put Calif on notice!

Web Link

PRIVACY: There is also a privacy issue. These tests are not multiple choice fill the bubbles! The tests have directory information (personal data). They are adaptive (meaning each test is unique to each student because with each question they answer correctly they are given another more difficult question). Short story, the tests are individually identifiable (and of course the results are mailed to your home by name). The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (housed at UC Santa Cruz) is a public agency and their privacy policy is to defer to the states. Calif does have student privacy laws. However, be aware that the state of Calf maintains the right to share student data, including test data with directory info, with public or private entities whose requests they deem appropriate. There is an actual list of those organizations that have received individual student records under this request on the Calif Dept of Education web site. Click on the Archived Data Requests downloadable file. Anyone can see the list of those organizations: Web Link




8 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 27, 2018 at 4:24 pm

@Facts, the state mandates the SBAC. PAUSD has no option. Long Beach schools applied for a waiver to use Sat tests;it was denied. The bill submitted in the assembly is still under consideration.

Gunn turned around participation once an effort was made. Pausd isn't banging its head against anything. It's just Paly that is out of step.

Yes, it's a civic duty to take the test. Why do


4 people like this
Posted by Samuel L.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 27, 2018 at 4:41 pm

Samuel L. is a registered user.

Using SAT/ACT would tend to give higher achieving results given that students taking those tests are on the college track. How do you track the underachieving students who might not be taking those exams?

This tends to highlight the issue at PAUSD which is to assume that all students are high achievers.


11 people like this
Posted by cvvhrn
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 28, 2018 at 12:57 pm

cvvhrn is a registered user.

From my albiet not as informed as some perspective:

1) I have yet to see a collage applicant make or not make admission because of failing to take this test. So even if its some part of a grand database scheme it has little value for students beyond the district and the state meeting some arbitrary Federal level of participation in a test that measures basic knowledge.

2) How many tests do we need our students to take? This is the equivalent of the ASVAB tests we all took back in the day that were meaningless in terms of collage admissions

3) Is this test really more than an attempt to justify the horrible common core standards imposed on our students?


8 people like this
Posted by honey or vinegar
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 28, 2018 at 3:12 pm

The schools need to just make it worth the students' time. At the moment they don't get anything for it and it takes up valuable free time when they could be working on something that does benefit them.

Give them a choice of taking the state exam and they can skip one project of their choice. Effectively the exam gives them a free pass on something else. You'll see the participation rate shoot up.


2 people like this
Posted by The Facts
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 28, 2018 at 3:50 pm

The Facts is a registered user.

@Follow the Money:
Thank you so much for providing these links! Fascinating and enlightening info. Especially the #WhyIRefuse doc is amazing to read. I'm grateful to learn all of this. Much appreciated and a must read for everyone.


6 people like this
Posted by Momof3
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jun 29, 2018 at 8:57 pm

Here's a link to an interesting article talking about the possibility of substituting the ACT or SAT for these state tests in high school. Web Link

One has to imagine there are more valuable tests in elementary and middle school as well, such as the Writing ERB, which seems to have been dropped.



7 people like this
Posted by Whence Independence
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2018 at 8:03 am

The fact that 11th graders are still so powerless over their educational destinies in11th grade that this would even be a choice is depressing. These students are practically in college. Because so many of them were redshirted as kindergartners, many are certainly old enough. Imagine doing this to college students just as they were finishing a thesis deadline, testing for the institution’s benefit, so that the institution didn’t have to get what it needed in a more organic way. Such an institution would struggle to survive.


5 people like this
Posted by Old Timer
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 1, 2018 at 11:50 am

Umm, yes @Whence, high school juniors still have to take state mandated tests. I know back in our day 16 year olds were married, living on their own, had jobs, led wagons across the great plains, etc., but these days they are teenagers living at home attending public schools. If they write a college thesis (rare), that will is probably 5 years in the future for these kids. Taking one state mandated test over a four year stretch seems like an awful impingement on their liberty, but that's the price you pay for public schooling.

BTW, I figure you mean "Whither" (where has it gone) vs. "Whence" (where does it come from).


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 1, 2018 at 10:01 pm

Posted by Former Paly parent, a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis

> The article states that there Is a misguided belief that the tests have no
> value. The test have zero value for a student.

> Standardized testing does not benefit Palo Alto students in anyway,
> it only benefits PAUSD.

You have boiled it down to an essentially self-centered argument, that could be applied to lots of things. e.g. Most elections are not decided by one vote, so, why should I bother to vote?

But, I do wonder about one of the premises in this discussion. Do standardized tests benefit PAUSD, and, if so, how? As far as I can tell, PAUSD funding doesn't depend on the tests. Can someone explain why PAUSD should actually care?

I will push back slightly on the claim that taking the tests has no benefit for a student. To the extent that standardized tests like these, such as the SAT, are used for college admissions, and, to the extent that practice for standardized tests raises test scores**, taking these tests should be considered free "practice".

** Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 1, 2018 at 10:18 pm

@Anon, these tests are critical to the district's evaluation of whether they are doing a good job in fundamental areas, compared to how they did in the past and how other districts are doing. Without this, there's no telling, especially for lower performing students. If there's no independent benchmark, chances are the schools will decide they are doing a fine job.

So the test is not for PAUSD's benefit - it's for the benefit of all the students still in the district, and those coming in the future, so the district can improve how it delivers education.


4 people like this
Posted by Whence independence
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2018 at 10:00 am

Well, there we have the problem: there is plenty right in front of them that they could be doing, like following laws and generally not being evil. Our district doesn’t even bother to collect asthma rates for the CA Healthy Kids survey, when asthma is such a major problem and absenteeism is known to be associated with a host of ills, including depression (as is asthma). And the district could do that without making the students do anything.

Nope, you haven’t convinced me that the primary motive isn’t administrative bragging rights.


13 people like this
Posted by 2017 Paly Grad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jul 2, 2018 at 11:12 am

2017 Paly Grad is a registered user.

I opted out of the Smarter Balance tests every year they took place during my time at Paly.

I don't think it's fair to blame students for not seeing the value in SBAC exams-- the administration's explanation of the tests and their benefit to PAUSD was nothing short of patronizing and vague year after year. We were told things along the lines of "so the district can get funding from the government," and "so the powers-that-be can have a good idea of how Paly is doing compared to other schools in California."

How has PAUSD gained recognition as a top school district in CA and the US? There are other ways to measure the effectiveness of a public education, which are employed annually when organizations like Niche and US News compile their rankings. Why is the burden on the students to secure state funding? And why another standardized test? No matter how 'Smart' or 'Balanced' the exam is, it provides an infinitely narrower characterization of our schools than they deserve.


10 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 2, 2018 at 12:39 pm

@2017 Paly Grad - it is a shame you didn't get a better explanation. And somewhat a shame that you require one.

The answer on how PAUSD gained its reputation is that its students have high scores (on tests your predecessors did take), take a lot of AP tests, and go to fancy colleges. It's not clear how much of this is due to what PAUSD does vs. what the students and families do on their own. That's one of the reasons why SBAC test is so valuable - it tells the district how ALL the students are doing, down to smaller sub-groups and schools, vs. students in prior years and at other schools.

The limited data available, from earlier grades, suggests the district does an average to poor job with low-income students generally. Does this improve or worsen in high school? Is it different between the two high schools? Is it better/worse in math or English? No one knows - not enough students have taken the test.

Niche and US News are probably the least effective ways to measure our performance; they are shallow and focused on overall averages. They are click-bait, not data.

Don't be selfish - just take the test.


Like this comment
Posted by Former Paly Parent
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jul 2, 2018 at 4:25 pm

Former Paly Parent is a registered user.

How did Gunn get students to participate this year?


8 people like this
Posted by Whence Independence
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 2, 2018 at 7:43 pm

@2017 Paly Grad,
"Why is the burden on the students to secure state funding?"

That's an interesting question. When the district was spending its last facilities bond and asked why they didn't bother to use the guidebook for how to reduce unnecessary costs in school construction, their answer was that they didn't rely on state funding so they didn't have to. They don't seem to bother with the state funding when they don't want to.


18 people like this
Posted by Revolt
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 3, 2018 at 7:41 am

@Resident writes: “ these tests are critical to the district's evaluation of whether they are doing a good job in fundamental areas,”

Therein lies the problem- the district does evaluation after evaluation over an over, whilst never actually DOING anything with the results. Not once ever have I seen the district announce:

‘Well test results are in, and English department is lagging under Tokheim, and Geller hasn’t taught physics properly for years. So we’re doing something about that!’

Without district action these tests are a pointless burden.

Students are justified in revolting. It is not a revolution born of selfishness, but rather desperation. A revolt intended to REALLY make the school do its damn job and fix the broken system that coddles incompetent teachers.


2 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 3, 2018 at 9:23 am

@Revolt, the test, given once in four years of high school, is not a tool for measuring the effectiveness of individual teachers, except at the elementary level, and even there it is quite limited.

Agree that the data is not useful if it is not used. With recent changes in district leadership it does look like they are using data more, which may be why they are pushing harder on the tests.


7 people like this
Posted by Revolt
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 4, 2018 at 7:42 am

@Resident: Nope. I don’t buy this argument. Here’s why: there is NO stated actionable goal for this test data. It is bureaucratic time waste. You claim it is to evaluate whether they are doing a good job, BUT you also claim it is not useful to evaluate teachers. I suspect it is not useful for any purpose. Any measurement has a goal; the thing you want to manage. You measure some parameters that allow you to manage. This test has none.

An example: when I want to improve the comfort of my room, I measure the temperature. It is self evident that this would require a thermometer. If you see me grabbing a ruler, then it becomes obvious that my measurement has no useful purpose. A ruler cannot be used to measure anything related to temperature. It is a pointless measurement.

That’s the nature of these tests - the district claims they are to improve the school, but they are not specific to any one teacher or department or program to provide useful actionable data. The test is useless as currently formulated.

The best evidence that it is useless: the district doesn’t use it to DO anything. It is (yet another) test for testing sake. If they insist on testing, they should have a goal, state how the test data metrics that goal, do the measurement and take the action. State that clearly up front, and you’ll get 100% participation.

And, yes, it should test the teachers. That is what the district is accountable for delivering: teaching.


3 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 4, 2018 at 8:22 am

This test means nothing at all to the students, and probably very little to the schools' aptitude in teaching students. Most of the very best students get tutoring and most of the second tier get tutoring. The ones who are struggling, the ones who need the better teachers, are the ones who could benefit from the reality of how the schools are doing are still being ignored because time after time the schools come out right near the top of schools. So what do these tests achieve?

The students who are doing tests in APs, SATs, ACTs, as well as school finals, are stressed out by testing. They most definitely are not helping by performing well in tests to see how good the schools are. Their participation is not helping those who are struggling to keep up. Their participation is not helping those who choose not to go to 4 year colleges after graduation.

If the schools really want to know how well they are doing, then what they should be doing is looking at the participation rate of SATs, ACTs, APs and wondering why so many choose not to do these tests. I am not saying that there is anything wrong with students choosing to not do the tests. But, in my opinion, to study the schools' performance and the schools' ability to teach students, a better method would be to look at the lower performing students, the numbers of those choosing not to join the testing game, and the numbers of those struggling to make the graduation requirements. If those numbers are poor, if those numbers are not shrinking, then in my opinion, the school cannot be classed as performing well.

The testing of good students to see how well a school performs is not the important thing. The improvement of those further down the achievement ladder are a better litmus test for schools' performance.


12 people like this
Posted by changes Gunn made
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 5, 2018 at 3:00 pm

One of the changes Gunn HS made to increase participation was to require all students in all four grades to actually ATTEND school one the testing days. Wow! what a concept, actually count the testing days as school days.

When my oldest son was a junior there two years ago, we told him that no we weren't going to opt him out of the test. (Civic duty, pathologically self-responsibly, obligation to give back to system, yada-yada.) We told him "Don't study for the tests, don't stress about the tests, just show up and as well as you can on the day. They are testing the school, not you."
When I heard from him afterwards that he was one of three students in the testing room, I felt like a horrible mother. The rest of his peers AND the other three grades of students had spent the day sleeping in, recuperating, maybe catching up on important work.
My normally very willing, positive-minded son felt that he had been PUNISHED because his parents bought into the buracratic BS.

We pointed out to the school how unfair it was to request that juniors show up to school on a day given OFF to the rest of the students to take a test with absolutely NO personal pay-off.


This past year, my second son was a junior at Gunn. They substantially changed the scheduling of the test days and required all students to be on campus. Attendance was taken for all students in all grades. Alternative requirements were in place for 9th, 10th and 12th graders. There was still substantial absenteeism that day across the board. Many of the "alternatives" were also viewed as useless by the other students and there families. But still this was an improvement.

The shocking thing is that the school and administration couldn't see for themselves in previous years how outrageous and counter-productive having "Juniors-only" testing days were. I guess it was a bonus day off for most of the teachers and staff. Bone-headed.


6 people like this
Posted by Response to Former Paly Student
a resident of Gunn High School
on Jul 5, 2018 at 8:40 pm

Gunn staff, students and parents brainstormed ideas and issues and "got the word out" so families could each make their own fully-informed decision. Web Link


6 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jul 6, 2018 at 12:24 am

@Response..., that Oracle article implies that Gunn could get Title-I funding with no strings attached if they got 95 percent participation on this test. The original PA Online article says Gunn is not a Title-I school. I guess my reading comprehension has declined in my old age, but sounds like the test is immaterial where Gunn funding is concerned. How many dollars are we talking about, and at what cost to autonomy?


3 people like this
Posted by kids
a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2018 at 5:27 pm

kids is a registered user.

I would like to see early SAT prep for all freshman with targeted goals. So many would do so much better with earlier help and easy, planned advice about this test. Is there targeted remediation for the smarter balance test senior year for the juniors that took it?


9 people like this
Posted by Paly Alum
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jul 8, 2018 at 5:19 pm

My child dutifully woke up early to take the test even though she was exhausted from studying for tests prior days. She knew that students were going to skip but wanted to do the right thing. There were so few in Junior year that they combined two classrooms. Instead of telling the students that their scores wouldn't matter due to low participation, they still administered the test. They could have told them they could study in the library instead (wink, wink). To our horror, we found out later about the disqualified scores. So the next year, we opted out, not going to be fooled again.

@kids: I completely agree that SAT prep would benefit our students. Bet the private schools are building that into their schedules. Most of the Paly English teachers don't even have vocabulary tests! That's about the easiest assignment for teachers. The Jordan English teachers could do the same. Back in the day, we would have vocabulary tests each week at Paly in our English Composition class.


9 people like this
Posted by Local College Professor
a resident of College Terrace
on Jul 10, 2018 at 10:07 am

Great! This is a good thing not just for the students who can spend the time doing more valuable things but also for the school administrators who should be getting the message that too much focus is put on testing.

No wonder PA public schools are considered by many of the top educational minds to be among the worst. The only reason the students are doing so well in academics is that their parents are spending a ton of money on them and pressuring them to do so much extra work, driving them into negative emotional states...


5 people like this
Posted by Pluheeze
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jul 10, 2018 at 11:10 am

Please tell us who these "top educational minds" are and why they think PAUSD is "among the worst".

Here is a report contradicting your statement:

Web Link


7 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 10, 2018 at 2:59 pm

"Top educational minds." I love that someone can write that with a straight face.


Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 10, 2018 at 4:45 pm

Several weeks have gone by, with lots of replies, but, no one seems to be able to articulate how PAUSD funding is affected by the testing rate.

The article in The Patch posted above claims PAUSD is "the best school district in California". Apparently the opt-rate hasn't hurt anybody. ;-)

However, I stand by my assertion that these extra tests should be viewed as -free practice- at taking standardized tests, and, some college-bound students may actually be more likely to get into the college of their choice by scoring higher on standardized tests, like the SATs.


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