School Board Debates Value Of Test Assessments
It was the next to last meeting of the lineup that has been the Culver City School Board for the last two years and there seemed to be a sense that old business should not hang over for the new Board that convenes on December 8.
One such issue is the validity of student assessment tests, which came up Tuesday night during a presentation by El Rincon Elementary Principal Dr.Tom Tracy.
Tracy was “taking [the Board] on a tour of [his] school,” with a PowerPoint presentation showing the typical charts for test results. There was the summary of CSTs (California Standard Tests) which showed an “upward trend” among El Rincon students in English Language Arts, Math, and Fifth Grade Science (El Rincon specializes in science).
Grades in all three areas have improved since 2007, and in 2009, more than 200 students of the 327-member student body are performing at or above proficiency in ELA and Math, with 46 fifth grade students at or above proficiency in Fifth Grade Science.
However, as Tracy proceeded with discussion of test results for the CST in a three-year grade level breakdown, and for the Academic Performance Index (API), where some students, grouped by ethnicity, had lost rather than gained points, Board member Dr. Dana Russell sounded a note of impatience.
He wanted to know why the same students (if you followed them through the chart year by year) had lost points from one grade to another. Tracy explained that El Rincon had lost some of its best teachers in 2008 and by the time high-scoring fourth grade students reached the fifth grade, they were victims of these losses.
“We’ve been seeing these results for weeks,” said Russell, referring to previous presentations for other schools in the Culver City District. “The reality is that classes should function no matter who’s teaching these classes.”
He protested that constant testing is “not providing any insight” into whether or not students are learning.
Board members Steven Gourley (an outspoken opponent of over-testing) and Scott Zeidman also sounded off. “The tests are arbitrary,” said Gourley. “Why not take one test and give it to everybody?”
But Superintendent Dr. Myrna Rivera Cote noted: “I think it’s extremely useful. This is the data we have to look at.”
“But [the data] varies from grade to grade,” said Russell.
Dr. Cote suggested that the Board look at the numbers for “at or above proficient” as the guideline for most accurate results.
Tracy finished his presentation, but there were more questions, including one from a student who wanted to know how all these tests are funded. Tracy replied that they are funded through booster clubs and PTAs. They used to be funded through categorical funds, but these funds have been lost.
Russell did note that “it’s not a perfect system,” and other Board members thanked Tracy for the presentation. But as outgoing Board member and president Dr. Jessica Beagles-Roos concluded: “I feel there has to be some assessment of data. It’s a problem left to the new Board members.”
In other events of the meeting, the District presented a resolution to Westfield Corporation. The group behind the renewed Westfield Mall has given generous donations to the Culver City School District for the last few years, including $5,000 for El Rincon’s state-of-the-art science lab, a $5,000 grant in 2008 for improvements in school technology, and the $20,000 donation made at Westfield Mall’s grand opening on October 8.
Board members also congratulated the new Board members, Karlo Silbiger, Kathy Paspalis, and Patricia Siever, all of whom were present.
Public comment was brief, with a student asking that the Board consider making two Muslim holidays part of the school calendar. Although students are circulating petitions to allow days off on Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha, Beagles-Roos reminded them that the Board does not determine holidays and that this is something to take to the Administration.
Assistant Superintendent of Finances David El Fattal gave a brief report on the budget, mostly a preview of the First Interim Report that will be given on December 8. Of course there is, for once, some good news-the Parcel Tax from Measure EE that beginning in 2011, will bring in $1 to 1.2 million annually for five years. There is also Redevelopment Agency funding of approximately $1.1 million annually through 2025, after which, however, the funding will drop to zero.
Still, the funds from the parcel tax may provide a note of comfort. And with those test assessment stats still bothering him, Zeidman quipped that “the number I like is the number by which EE passed-74 per cent.”