'This is how we improve as a district.' Report on D/F grades reflects progress for both students and Palo Alto Unified | Town Square | Palo Alto Online |

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'This is how we improve as a district.' Report on D/F grades reflects progress for both students and Palo Alto Unified

Original post made on Jan 29, 2020

A more granular monitoring of failing middle and high school students reflects a changing approach to using data, targeted support and regular public reports to reverse the academic paths of struggling students.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, January 29, 2020, 9:10 AM

Comments (14)

14 people like this
Posted by Independent
a resident of Esther Clark Park
on Jan 29, 2020 at 10:54 am

Why do any students have D's and Fs? Why hasn't PAUSD been working to help these students be proficient? Why aren't they proficient? Is this just a PR offensive? How about some actual proficiency scores in some standardized tests? The CAASPP scores for PAUSD middle schoolers were not good. Grades that PAUSD controls itself may be just a mirage.


6 people like this
Posted by cmarg
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jan 29, 2020 at 11:44 am

What are the demographics at this point in the schools? The only schools posted with declines are :
"At Fletcher Middle School, for example, the year-over-year change from 2017-18 to 2018-19 was a 9% decrease, then a 31% drop in the 2019-20 year. At Gunn High School, a 31% decline in 2018-19 increased to 44% in 2019-20. "

What about the other middle schools and Paly? To be thorough, it would be valuable to include the demographics in the years indicated. There has been a major shift in the demographics within Palo Alto; is this shift have something to do with the decline in percentage D/Fs?


20 people like this
Posted by Family Friendly
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 29, 2020 at 1:44 pm

"Board member Melissa Baten Caswell suggested the district also look at 'objective' student data, such as from the state standardized exam, to analyze the academic trajectory of struggling students."

Totally agree. Otherwise, administrators will just pressure teachers to use the same social promotion that has been dumbing down California schools for decades. The important thing is proficiency, not grades.


17 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 29, 2020 at 1:58 pm

No worries. Jo Boaler will help PAUSD eliminate bad grades magically. No timed tests, using open-ended test questions, evaluating students based on group work, displacing objective assessments with formative assessments, adopting standards-based grading, detracking, watering down algebra, and holding back advanced kids, soon PAUSD will close the achievement gaps.

See Jo Boaler's magic projects in SFUSD started in 2015: Web Link


13 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Jan 29, 2020 at 3:11 pm

For SFUSD, the proof of the pudding is whether low-income students are achieving better; everything else is just talk. The results are not good, though. For low-income Latino students, 86% are below grade level in 8th grade (Web Link). That's a slight improvement from 91% below grade level for the same cohort in 6th grade, but not much to write home about.

For 11th grade low-income Latinos, 88% are below grade level (Web Link) vs. 89% five years ago.

So whatever accomplishments in mindset, conceptual understanding, problem solving, course taking, etc., SFUSD/Boaler claim, it does not seem to translate in better results on the state proficiency tests. Boaler has been know to claim that "standardized tests are racist" - but if you accept state tests as an independent standard, what SFUSD has been doing is not working for low-income Latino students.


19 people like this
Posted by Simple Solution
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 29, 2020 at 3:15 pm

With a below 1.00 GPA you simply don't graduate from high school.

Alternatives include continuation school, trade school, junior college or joining the military service.

Not everyone is cut out to be a high school or college graduate.


2 people like this
Posted by Anonymous1
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2020 at 8:14 pm

Well when counselors just sit in their chairs and watch kids fail , it is sad. This is easy a-g credit. The open campus and disjointed staff contributes to kids just not performing and not being noticed . Replacing failed classes with online replacement classes summer classes is good but only if there is an adult by their side. Many of these kids have disabilities and child find laws require intervention. The “ let them fail” attitude ifrom promoted adults has only “ let them fail” in this area and with resources, this is an epic fail for everyone. Kids can cut class with no consequences. Block scheduling leaves kids alone without daily instruction and the district should consider that skipping 2-4 days between classes with no support only is good for the tutored child. Obviously they do not care to give up that advantage.


5 people like this
Posted by Motivation
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Jan 29, 2020 at 8:28 pm

All people have to take an interest in their learning and be motivated to learn more. You can’t force feed someone their education. Self interest is enough for some; others should be encouraged to achieve more, but in the end we have to own our actions and choices. I haven’t been specific on purpose; showing improvement and effort does count, but at the same time there needs to be SOME sort of minimum baselines. Bring back the CAHSEE (CA high school exit exam, which was a very basic test to at least demonstrate some academic achievement).


9 people like this
Posted by See Sth Say Sth
a resident of College Terrace
on Jan 30, 2020 at 2:40 pm

PAUSD just announced that all middle grades math teachers will soon start PD training with Silicon Valley Math Initiative (SVMI). SVMI aims to hold 8th graders at pre-algebra and postpone algebra 1 to 9th grade, a mission already carried out by Jo Boaler and David Foster in SFUSD since 2015.

Barry Garelick Web Link has the testimony--8th grade algebra takers dropped from 300+ to 46 in a year: Web Link.

Here is an ode of reform math: Web Link.

Meanwhile, PAUSD is adopting science programs aligning to the Next Generation Science Standards(NGSS) for 6-12 grades. Built around a preferred pedagogy (i.e. constructivism and inquiry-based learning as in Everyday Math and CPM) instead of knowledge standards, the NGSS are doing to science what Common Core and the 1989 NCTM standards did to math.

For more info, please read updates on Web Link.

PAUSD is fully geared to lead its students to the famous American "math-science death march."


3 people like this
Posted by Ds & Fs Are Significant
a resident of Barron Park
on Jan 30, 2020 at 2:52 pm

Simple solution...just go pass/fail based on a 70% proficiency factor.

The SAT & ACT scores will weed out the ones who shouldn't be going to a good college or university.

Besides, there's always JC as a transfer option.


8 people like this
Posted by Yuri
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2020 at 6:38 pm

The theory behind Mr. Austin’s statement, “a changing approach to using data, targeted support and regular public reports to reverse the academic paths of struggling students” has succeeded goes something like this: Chronic D and F students have lost all incentive to try because they are in a hole from which they cannot extricate themselves, thus they disconnect from school, and the downward spiral hastens in high school. On the surface, it is a sound theory, but don’t be fooled by the remedy Mr. Austin is touting. There was no real data dive, just a calculation shift. Middle school teachers were admonished to get rid of D’s and F’s. Not through increased communications, data analysis, or some other radically different intervention, but by adjusting the grading scale and criteria. Here are some examples:

- 40% or below became the new F benchmark.
- a missing assignment, no matter what it was, earned a 50% mark.
- Assessments or tests were required to be administered four times if a
student scored “below standard”.
- Homework should not be graded.
- Behaviors (Attendance, tardies, class disruptions, treatment of other
students or staff, effort, study habits, etc). had to be removed from
the grade calculation.

The championed district methods listed by Austin would not show such immediate effects in the reduction of D/F's, but cooking numbers can do so. Let’s hope all of Austin’s celebrated measures achieve the long run effect of keeping underachieving students in school, but it is way too early to interpret the current impact, or to claim some sort of victory when anyone can see that the new calculations are the main reason why there are fewer D’s and F’s in middle school; no deep dive needed. Mr. Austin must be have seen or overseen something during his career that will show improvement minus so much data manipulation, or withholding of data.

What the community seems to want, in part, is a future with more disadvantaged students entering into and graduating from college, or entering into skilled trades soon after graduation. Any correlation between that and the current D/F policies will not be apparent for a while, so don’t high five yourselves for six months of questionable data.


Remember May 1, 2003? It’s too early to declare “Mission Accomplished”.




7 people like this
Posted by Bad Sorting Hat
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 30, 2020 at 7:40 pm

I am really discouraged to see how many people assume that lower grades in this district must be because students are less capable or smart than those getting A’s. Certainly, the teachers make sure the kids who aren’t making the highest grades keep their ideas about themselves low. One student at Gunn told me a teacher said, some kids have it and some just don’t (and of course basing that judgment on grades in PAUSD.)

A respected professor with Challenge Success told me that it’s very typical for gifted boys in particular to not be great students. Our district is unnecessarily restrictive in how they offer education, with the grades being more a reflection of how well the children run a hamster wheel of busy work. I’m not saying there aren’t a lot of smart kids who can do the busy work and learn, I’m saying for many, especially the most creative and gifted, the hamster wheel of unnecessary overhead is soul crushing. These are students who could be performing at the highest if our district had some provision for different styles of learning and for educational autonomy. Often such students will thrive in college because they have more freedom, but our district is busy making sure they can’t get in anywhere they could otherwise go, and that they understand they aren’t as good as the kids who run the paperwork gauntlet. Ofek is especially big advocate of being good at the paper busywork gauntlet from early on and seems to believe it correlates with ability.

Our district is a giant sorting mechanism that makes winners and losers out of how well kids do daily grunt busywork and has no provision for those who have different learning needs, which is so doable now it’s unforgivable that they don’t.





13 people like this
Posted by Greene and Paly parent
a resident of Professorville
on Jan 30, 2020 at 11:40 pm

"Board member Melissa Baten Caswell suggested the district also look at "objective" student data, such as from the state standardized exam, to analyze the academic trajectory of struggling students."
"I always worry with D/Fs — we could have sent numbers up by encouraging people to grade people differently but with a more objective measure, we can't do that. I just think we have to have both kinds of measurements," she said.


The district recently announced the termination of NWEA MAP tests at the middle schools. The NWEA MAP assessments are normed and calibrated. They are administered three times a year and provide actionable timely feedback. PAUSD had been using them for the past three years. These assessments provide a detailed picture of growth and level for students, teachers, and at cohort level.

Curiously, the termination came after the district was legally forced to share data with parents that requested it and the district still refuses to share past cohort data.

The "replacement" seems to be looking at the D/F grades! But grades are inherently biased. Grades can be twicked by teachers to show meaningless progress. Courses can be watered down. Scale can be easily changed. Grades may not mean the same thing year to year.

The end goal is confident proficient students and true progress can only be measured with standardized assessments that are out of district/teacher hands.

Web Link


11 people like this
Posted by Yuri
a resident of another community
on Jan 31, 2020 at 6:28 am

Note that not a single "on the ground" teacher is interviewed or quoted in this article. Why? Because he or she might tell you that most of what is described here is a stretch of the truth, a mischaracterization of what is actually going on, or a flat out lie. For example, "teachers broke into teams to do a "data dive" into disaggregated D/F reports and were asked to come up with strategies to support at-risk students". The data dive was mentioned in passing at one middle school site, there was never a team break out and subsequent strategy list, and to this date has not resulted in any individual plan for a D or F student.

Odd to see a principal who has recently resigned stating,"the importance of teachers taking ownership of students with a D/F,". I guess there is no ownership necessary on the other end.

If teacher input ever becomes part of the equation, rest assured 25 Churchill will cherry pick teachers who will parrot whatever propaganda comes from their so-called success story.


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