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my reflections on the September 27 meeting: closing the achievement gap in math?

I recently watched the archived webcast of the Sept. 27, 2011, meeting of the Pleasanton school board.

I want to offer my reflections on what I saw as the most interesting part of the meeting — the review of the testing completed last spring, which is analyzed over the summer and used to construct school-by-school scores on the API (Academic Performance Index). API ranges from 200 and 1000. All Pleasanton schools scored above 880 on the API, except for Village High School (a small continuation high school). District-wide, the average API was 906. (Here’s the headline from the Pleasanton Patch — Pleasanton Schools Exceed API Expectations.)

At the board meeting, board members and district cabinet members spent at least 45 minutes reviewing the district’s report on STAR results, in great detail. The other purpose of the California Standards Tests (CSTs) that almost all public school students take each spring, as required by the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program, aside from ranking schools with the API, is to allow districts, schools, and teachers to drill down into the student data, so that teachers and principals can work together to design instructional strategies for the 2011-2012 academic year.

In the full board packet (PDF) the agenda item 13.3 includes 21 pages of supporting text and tables.

During this portion of the meeting, board and cabinet members examined patterns in the data, to see what kind of progress the district is making in closing the achievement gap. They also looked at patterns across grade levels, in Math and English/Language Arts (ELA) and Science, to see how students are responding to recent adjustments in school practices.

The patterns that I am most curious about are about closing the achievement gap in Math, and ensuring that all students are making good progress in Math from year to year. Questions we can ask from the data are:

  • when students move from 5th grade into middle school, are they headed into math courses that challenge them without being overwhelming?
  • when students move on to high school, are they headed into courses that will prepare them for life after high school?
  • during high school, when are students meeting the minimum math standards for graduation (so they can pass the CAHSEE)?
  • what proportion of students meet the challenging standards required to apply for admission to one of the University of California or California State University campuses?

Regarding the achievement gap, there are related questions:

  • when students move into middle school, are they receiving equal opportunities to advance into challenging math courses, regardless of their ethnic background? are they performing at equal levels on the Math CSTs? If not, why not? Can the middle schools do something to help close those gaps?
  • when students move on to high school, are we closing gaps identified at the beginning of middle school, or do we have some ethnic groups racing ahead, while others lag behind? what can the high schools do to ensure that students get the math classes they will need?
  • just before high school graduation, what can we predict about whether students will be prepared to go to college, and where? If there are differences between ethnic groups, why?what can the schools or the district do to help close those gaps?

Some of these questions are answered in the archived webcast of the meeting, and other answers may be found in the 21-page budget backup for agenda item 13.3.

For more detail on the Sept. 27 school board meeting in Pleasanton, including other items that were on the agenda see this PDF.

FYI, the full board packet from the Sept. 27 meeting also includes minutes from the Sept. 13 meeting, for which I provided a preview of the agenda last month.