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PAUSD metrics -- focused on just 10-15% of our young kids

Original post made by Parent, Charleston Gardens, on Sep 21, 2013

Please note that this is focused on elementary and middle school only.

PAUSD is reviewing progress on some of its strategic goals on Tuesday Sept 24.

Look toward the end of this board packet for the presentation: Web Link

You can search for "strategic plan", or just skip to page 56.

The thing to notice is that each of the three strategic goals being reviewed is focused on the low scorers (10-15% of our young kids), even though it is not presented that way.

Here are the details.

The first strategic goal is clearly focused on low scorers: 95% of students will be proficient or advanced. The only way to move that metric up is to focus on the 10-15% of kids who are scoring below proficient today.

And the third goal is also clearly focused on low scorers: Reduce the percentage of students not yet proficient by 50%. Couldn't get much clearer than that, focusing on the same set of kids. I don't in fact understand why we have both those metrics.

But the interesting thing is that the second goal is also focused on the same set of kids, even though it doesn't seem it on the surface. The goal is: 85% of kids show a year's progress (or more). Naively you would think this would focus on all levels. Advanced kids need to stay advanced.

But it doesn't. The metric you might think we are measuring, that kids stay at level or move up, is already at or above 85%, for each level. Instead, the metric is defined so that kids who are at the three lowest levels (Basic or below) must move *up* a level, not stay where they are. So low scorers *must* increase their score, while it's okay for the higher scorers to stay as-is. With this version of the metric, only 53% of kids at Basic or below are making a year's progress. So that, of course, is where the focus must be to increase this metric. The kids at the other levels are doing fine by this metric.

At this point, you might think, okay, so we're focusing on the low scorers for this first review. Maybe we'll cover the "high" scorers (85-90% of the district's kids) later? Well, if you look at the Strategic Plan, it's not clear we track any meaningful metrics for all the other kids.

Look at the plan: Web Link
Page 17, which is slide 15 has the metrics.
You can see two of the metrics listed above are covered in the general "differentiated learning" section, even though they are low-scorer metrics. So what's left? Survey metrics addressed at older kids?

If I am reading this properly, we do not have a single objective metric for the vast majority (85-90%) of elementary and middle-school kids who are doing reasonably well in school (Proficient or Advanced). With the majority of kids in fact scoring Advanced, how can this be? Do we feel we are so great at educating these kids, we don't even need to measure it? Or maybe we think they don't really need a great education?

I am very concerned that our district is equating low-scoring with under-performing, and high-scoring with over-performing. That is a grievous mistake. We need to focus on all under-performing kids, equally, regardless of their native ability. All kids have a right to be challenged, and pushed to excel.

More fundamentally, we need to care enough about kids at all levels to set decent metrics and measure how they are doing. Right now, it doesn't look like PAUSD knows, or cares.

If you care, show up at the board meeting on 9/24, or send email to

Comments (16)

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Posted by Same ole, same ole
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 21, 2013 at 1:41 am

[Portion removed.]

STAR tests have no impact on future academic success. Two of my kids scored Below Proficient and Proficient for many years and they are at Paly now, earning "A"s and "B"s. The real problem is there are too many parents who expect kids to figure out school on their own. They need to be taught how to get organized, be responsible, and how to study. And there are many parents in Palo Alto who are overseeing their children's homework before they turn it in. There are many students who see professional tutors or are tutored by their parents. Students with disengaged parents are at a disadvantage. Schools can only do a limited amount; there is nothing a school can do if the parents don't emphasize the importance of academics at home.

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 21, 2013 at 9:17 am

Indeed. If you don't think that the Board has much impact (you suggest that education is primarily in the hands of parents), and you don't think these tests matter, then this post is pretty pointless. We'd put much more of our funding in parent education, and stop the testing! It'd be interesting to think about that.

For the residents who believe that the district's decisions around budgeting and prioritization do matter, that schools do have a significant impact, and that the tests are relevant, they may care to learn that the strategic metrics we are using to direct and evaluate our performance cover just a small section of the student body.

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Posted by Remember when
a resident of Gunn High School
on Sep 21, 2013 at 9:38 am

[Post removed.]

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 21, 2013 at 9:48 am

STAR tests mean nothing to students and most know it.

STAR tests mean a lot to many parents and make sure their kids get good scores.

STAR tests are testing the schools and the teachers primarily.

I know one group of STAR testing elementary students who all decided to deliberately answer all the questions wrong to see what happened. Nothing.

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Posted by paly parent
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Sep 21, 2013 at 10:25 am

@Resident - you bring up a good point. Many kids (mine included) don't take STAR testing seriously. They get bored, they make designs or answer all the same letter, etc. When the kids were younger, the got treats at the end of STAR tests for the day - that was actually an incentive! The HS kids like STAR testing because they don't get homework on those days. But past about 5th grade, my kids knew they were only taking them because the state required it.

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Posted by Jester
a resident of Terman Middle School
on Sep 21, 2013 at 10:31 am

I can't believe a couple of you took the time to pore through the board packet. On the one hand, it's great that you are reviewing it, on the other, though, you are taking it way too seriously. Nothing in the Strategic Plan truly addresses serious issues nor do the principals and teachers take it seriously. It's smoke and mirrors to show that your superintendent and school board are doing their jobs. Think about it: how important is the Strategic Plan if our students continue to attempt suicide and Kevin Skelly and the board ignore it and go off cheerleading the new Gunn gym. How important is it if our public dollars have been made vulnerable to lawsuits because of an incompetent superintendent and an even less-effective compliance officer, yet those two are looking forward to a new Paly gym. Please save your reading time. You're being duped. Go read the gibberish from the new PR administrator whose qualifications included a few years as an assistant principal. Are these folks the best out there? Are you really satisfied with their performance

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Posted by Mom
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 21, 2013 at 2:56 pm

Though I agree with Jester and I also agree with closing the achievement gap as a top priority I am going to also agree with the poster who started the thread. There should be a focused goal to ensure that every child learns to his or her potential. Elementary math in this district is atrocious. Children are bored spitless and the district is investing nothing in trying to solve that problem. Then they get to 8th grade and uh oh -- suddenly it is very hard. There is a serious disconnect between elementary and secondary math curricula in PAUSD.

Why? Because the district relies on parents to provide enrichment for bored students. Sounds reasonable but all that tutoring for enrichment is altering the environment drastically for all.

Therefore I agree that every child should be given appropriate challenge for his or her ability but that ability should be their real ability sans tutoring or prepping.

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Posted by Midtowner
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 21, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Welcome to PAUSD.

The focus has been on underperforming students for many years.

Until you get to high school lanes, there is nothing, null, zero, zilch, nada, done for GATE kids. It's a shame. Other school districts have real GATE programs. PAUSD does not (other than its in class differentiation program which is a joke as nothing is really done).

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Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Sep 21, 2013 at 10:14 pm

@Midtowner: I have no reason to believe that PAUSD is focusing on under-performing students. I would have no problem with that. Unfortunately, what I see is that they are focusing (almost exclusively) on the low-scoring students. Who constitute a small minority of our kids.

And I'm not talking about having no metrics for GATE kids. I'm talking about having no metrics for the 85-90% of kids who are proficient or advanced. The vast majority of kids in our district. No metric?

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Posted by Same ole, same ole
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Sep 21, 2013 at 10:37 pm

There aren't really many extremely gifted children in PAUSD so there is no reason to have a GATE program. The majority of Palo Alto children are already gifted intellectually compared to other children nationwide. When I grew up in a working class community I was in the gifted program but when I moved to Palo Alto, I was a regular student. There are so many opportunities living in this area that parents of these extremely gifted children can find ways to stimulate their children's intellect and should not expect PAUSD to address the issue since there are so few extremely gifted children.

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Posted by Jester
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2013 at 12:51 pm

The CA GATE program was to allow multiple ways of determining giftedness, but for a bunch of reasons, the majority of kids tested well. True giftedness is much different from the vast majority of GATE students, especially those of us who were labeled GATE back in the day. We often think very highly of ourselves when nostalgia kicks in.

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Posted by OPar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 22, 2013 at 1:54 pm


What do you mean by the majority of kids? In the state? In Palo Alto? How are you defining "true giftedness"?

My sense is that the district doesn't want to deal with classifying kids as GATE or, shudder, non-GATE. I remember back in elementary school (different district) that the percentage of "gifted" kids grew every year--until most of the class was absent for "special classes" and the gifted kids were no longer "gifted", but "academically talented." Or so they said . . . some years later, the list of kids who were officially gifted ended up on a bunch of scrap paper and turned out to be shorter than everyone had believed.

Now you have families in other areas where the kids are prepped and tutored so that they can get into gifted programs, which kind of undermines the whole idea.

It's a shame as the profoundly gifted kids actually do need attention and benefit from some kinds of teaching strategies. (Some of them are a bit odd and don't know how to handle their mental horsepower.)

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Posted by Jester
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 22, 2013 at 2:27 pm

I am consistently amazed and amused at the perception of Palo Alto parents. Classifying certain kids as GATE is mostly theater to calm parents down. GATE was gutted a long time ago across the state. Other states are actually identifying kids as GATE as young as first grade. It's such a scam. And they are not prepping them for anything, though they may be primping them.

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Posted by Exactly
a resident of another community
on Sep 23, 2013 at 12:38 am

To the original poster...

You hit the nail on the head, and I couldn't have said it better myself.

The priorities in PA elementary education (especially math) have gotten so out of whack. Kids who enjoy and are good at math are forced to sit through years of slow paced basic concepts with no time or focus on them from the teacher. As a result, they get to middle school (or in some cases high school) and no longer enjoy math or grown accustomed to thinking that they can skate through. There needs to be some focus on enriching and challenging everyone.

It isn't about GATE. It's about making sure that everyone gets a chance to learn and be challenged at school.

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Posted by Torquemada
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Sep 24, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Most kids think of this test as long and tortuous and anticipate it with dread. Some fake being sick to avoid it. Several years ago one opted out of living rather than face it again.

How can this test. E of any value under such circumstances?

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Addison School

on Jun 5, 2017 at 4:25 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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

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