At its meeting Tuesday night, the board heard of work being done at two schools, Valley View Elementary and Pleasanton Middle, to improve scores for students. The two schools are using different approaches to bump test scores for Hispanic students, English-language learners, socio-economically disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.
Pleasanton Middle and Valley View are Title I schools, meaning they receive extra federal money to help improve test scores for disadvantaged students. Failing to improve could trigger a series of increasingly serious interventions for schools that remain in what's called "program improvement." Those interventions begin with revising a plan for the school and giving parents the option to transfer their students to schools that are not program improvement, with the district providing transportation.
Scores for poor readers at PMS have jumped for 25 out of 34 students that were put into a special program called "Read 180," and some students have improved their reading skills two to three times what's predicted under the program.
An after-school intervention called "Language for Learning" has been initiated for Spanish speakers and poor readers at Valley View with good results, according to its teachers.
Those schools aren't the only ones that could end up in program improvement due to increasingly tough standards laid out in the federal government's No Child Left Behind (NCLB) act. Lydiksen and Alisal elementary schools are working to improve scores for students with poor reading and math skills. And district data show both elementary schools and middle schools did not meet the improvements mandated for this year under NCLB, although 10th-graders did.
Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi noted that other high-performing districts including those in San Ramon, Fremont and Palo Alto are facing similar problems in meeting NCLB standards.
Meanwhile, the board also learned that California is moving forward with plans to adopt sweeping changes in how and what students are taught and changes in testing as well.
Common Core State Standards is a nationwide initiative designed to prepare students for college and for work, with emphasis on the tools needed for success, according to a report presented by Jane Golden, director of curriculum and special projects. CCSS was adopted by California in 2010, and 46 other states have also approved the program, which was created to make students more competitive with their peers in other counties.
Students will do more writing in general and more writing from non-fiction sources. They will be required to show a growing ability to use language from vocabulary and syntax to the development and organization of ideas.
They'll also need to learn to make sense of math problems and persevere in solving them, along with showing their growing abilities to reason abstractly, construct arguments and critique the work of others.
Teachers will be required to begin integrating CCSS into their classes in the 2014-15 school year, and that year will also begin the phasing out of paper-and-pencil tests in favor of computerized testing.
"This is a huge challenge," said Golden, who outlined the standards to the board. "I lay awake at night wondering about what a monumental challenge (this is). Our teachers can do this."
The goal is to phase in math by 2016 and English language arts by 2018. Meanwhile, the district will need to buy materials to bridge the gap between older courses and CCSS. That'll cost $200,000, according to Golden, who said that didn't count teacher training sessions or substitutes to replace them while they're off learning, or $9,000 apiece for two years for two teachers on special assignment who will help integrate the new model into the district.
Golden also said that many of the district's textbooks are due to be replaced, noting that English coursework in particular needs to be upgraded with bridge materials in mind. School board members, however, hoped that some of the materials would be available online.
"I'd really like us to consider making a move to a delivery system that doesn't require texts," said Board President Joan Laursen, who was echoed by Board Member Valerie Arkin.
Golden noted that the district is buying $300 notebooks with Internet access for students.
"I think we're due for new standards in the state," added Board Member Chris Grant.
As the district moves toward spending money on new materials, the board voted to cut the equivalent of more than 18 CSEA (California State Employee Association) members, including the equivalent of four custodians, three library/media assistants and three site technology specialists, among others. Some schools have come up with money to fund a few of those positions on their own, but the net decrease is about the equivalent of 14.7 jobs due to state budget reductions. That's in addition to final pink slips due to be issued for teachers next month.
"These reductions and cuts may change at some point in the future," Board Member Jeff Bowser noted, with Bill Faraghan, assistant superintendent of human resources, saying that, should there be an improvement in budget numbers, "There's nothing that prevents us from rescinding a layoff."
The district had little news on state funding as it awaits Gov. Jerry Brown's May revise, although Luz Cazares, assistant superintendent of business services, noted that the state is down about $900 million from revenue projections it made last year.
"As you know, April is a good month," Cazares said. "We're looking forward to where the income taxes come in, relative to the projected levels."