Immediately following the publication of my 9/27/17 article “Educators laud test success” – Give me a break!!!! I was invited to meet with Superintendent Kevin Skelly of the local San Mateo Union High School District (SMUHSD). This meeting took place on 9/28/17.
Two weeks later on 10/12/17, I met with San Mateo Foster City School District (SMFCSD) Superintendent Joan Rosas and Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Heather Olsen.
Both meetings lasted about an hour, were cordial and productive, and I continue to be impressed with the professionalism of the top administrative staff in both districts.
Because I desire to maintain an honest exchange of views (which happened in both meetings), I am not going to report on each meeting in intricate detail. I would prefer it if the districts reported directly to the public to avoid any chance of miscommunication on these sensitive issues. The following is an overview of the issues that I raised in the meetings.
In both cases I urged the districts to create reports analyzing the test scores in more detail and make it available via their websites.
The SMUHSD presented information on this topic to the public at their last board meeting, but the presentation format unfortunately had an extremely brief introductory narrative and was more of a detailed data dump than a report that the public could easily digest. Please see
Both districts have ready access to all data and have a need to report clearly to the public if they desire to maintain public support on bond issues.
I stated that it would be very helpful if a detailed analysis of the data, which took into account various demographic factors, could be produced. For example, since the SMFCSD has over ten times the number of economically disadvantaged test takers as the neighboring Burlingame and Belmont districts (see the Comments section in this article), a simple comparison of the test scores as was done in the San Mateo Daily Journal, without taking into account the demographics, puts SMFCSD in an unfavorable light.
Some of the demographic data of interest is already present in the SMUHSD reports above, and there are a lot of slides of various subgroup data.
When almost half of local students do not meet grade level in math, the reasons for this failing surely must be diagnosed. Clearly there are important differences in students’ parental education levels, economic resources and access to outside enrichment programs, English language ability, potential exposure to the effects of racial discrimination, etc.
Another factor is that these test results are important to the school districts, but unfortunately students have little stake in the outcome. In high school, these tests are often given around the same time as the SAT and ACT college entrance exams. Students will clearly devote more time preparing for tests that matter to them than for tests that do not. (Note, however, that this problem affects all high school districts, though probably not in a uniform fashion.)
HOWEVER, having filtered out all of these potential negative factors, it would be of great interest to see how students who are impacted by none of these negative factors are doing. If one removes all of the possible excuses, one would hope that very close to 100% of the remaining students would be at or exceeding grade level. This seems to me to be the place to start such a report. Compare other subgroups to this “privileged” data cohort as opposed to using “all students” as the basis for subgroup comparison (as appears to be the standard practice).
While it may take a bit of effort to produce the original report and then compare similar statistical cohorts to neighboring districts and the state, subsequent years’ reports should be much easier to write. Having this data online in a prominent website location would provide a ready response to both the press (when the inevitable articles are written at test score release time each year) and also to the libertarian naysayers who are always bashing public schools in voter information pamphlet opposition statements.
I remain hopeful that these reports will be produced, although it may take a while to do so. I encouraged both districts to take these steps, particularly in the case of SMFCSD before trying to float another Measure Y replacement to fill the $7,000,000 a year budget shortfall created by the defeat of that measure.
On a separate topic, I also discussed the accelerated math options for SMFCSD middle school students during my meeting with Drs. Rosas and Olsen. This has been another hot button issue for some public school parents. Dr. Rosas detailed the progress that has been made in this area, but, due to controversy surrounding this topic, I encouraged the district to report directly to the public on this area instead of my serving as a conduit for information. In my opinion, a demonstration of progress on both test scores and math acceleration issues would help the passage of a future bond measure.
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