CUSD has reasons to celebrate, yet many challenges lay ahead

The Claremont Educational Foundation presented the Claremont Unified School District with a whopping $210,000 for the 2012-2013 school year at Thursday’s school board meeting. The money will be used to fund art and music education in grades K-6 and technology at El Roble and Claremont High.

Presented by new CEF president Ken Corhan, the contribution from the nonprofit dedicated to supporting public schools in Claremont was just one of many positive notes in a meeting marked by a full house and full agenda.

When the board commended CEF for its contributions, Mr. Corhan emphasized that it is the community who should be acknowledged for its willingness to give to Claremont schools.

“We’re just a conduit,” he said.

Next up, the Richard S. Kirkendall Education Center doubled as a United Nations when DeLacy Ganley, co-director of the Teacher Education Program at Claremont Graduate University, introduced delegates from 18 countries who are wrapping up visits to Claremont as part of the Teaching Excellence and Achievement program.

TEA is a program that brings exemplary teachers from across the globe to the United States to further and enrich their teaching abilities while they learn about the US education system. The TEA fellows, who have stayed at the local DoubleTree for their 6-week program, were paired with local teachers at El Roble and CHS. They’ll be heading soon to Sycamore Elementary School to give the children a global view with home country presentations. Ms. Ganley introduced delegates from countries ranging from Argentina to Nepal to Uzbekistan to resounding applause.

El Roble, CHS student achievement

Teams from El Roble Intermediate and Claremont High School made presentations with regards to their Single Plans for Student Achievement (SPSA). Each year, K-12 schools in the state are required to present a report on their progress towards goals set during the previous year and to share their most recent priorities.

El Roble Principal Scott Martinez and his team were pleased to announce El Roble met nearly all of their academic goals for the 2011-2012 school year.

One El Roble priority was a hike in the number of students testing at proficient or advanced in Algebra 1 from 45 percent to 50.5 percent. The proficiency level was ultimately raised to 49.8 percent, so the school missed its target by .7 percent or just 3 students.

In the case of 3 other goals, El Roble not only met but exceeded expectations. The school had set a goal of raising proficiency among students enrolled in 7th grade Integrated Math from 43 percent to 48.7 percent. The number of students who tested as proficient or higher in the subject actually grew to 55.8 percent.

El Roble had also aimed to have the proficiency percentage in 8th grade English Language Arts (ELA) go from 62 percent to 65 percent last year. The school was pleasantly surprised to find that the proficiency level increased to 74.2 percent. Among 7th graders, the school aimed to increase proficiency in ELA from 67 to 70 percent. In fact, 74.8 percent of 7th grade students scored proficient or higher on the ELA portion of the California Standards Test.

Principal Brett O’Connor and the team from Claremont High School reported that CHS fell short in a couple of its 2011-2012 goals while making significant gains in others. They had hoped to increase the number of Socioeconomically Disadvantaged students scoring proficient or above on the math portion of the CAHSEE (the state-mandated high school exit exam) from 54.1 percent to 59 percent. While that target was missed, there was some growth, with 55.7 percent of SED students scoring proficient or above in math.

The school’s progress toward another mathematics goal also missed the mark. CHS had hoped to move the percentage of students scoring proficient or above in Algebra 1 from 15 percent to 20 percent. In the area of geometry, the school administrators and staff had strived to raise proficiency from 31 to 36 percent. Instead, the number of students who scored as proficient or higher on California Standards Tests in Algebra I shrunk from 15 percent to 13 percent. Proficiency levels among geometry students remained steady at 31 percent.

Mr. O’Connor and his team shared some of the ways CHS plans to increase math proficiency levels, including a complete math skill assessment to be conducted among younger students. Instead of simply revealing that a student is not proficient in a subject, such an assessment can help teachers discover in which portions of the subject a student is struggling. After CHS’s presentation, the board acknowledged that math is a perennially tricky subject. Board member Hilary LaConte joked that guiding students towards greater math proficiency can be “like leading cats.”

An area in which CHS showed significant improvement was the performance of special education students in Algebra 1 last year. The school aimed to decrease the number of special education students scoring far below basic on the Algebra 1 CST from 25 percent to 15 percent. That goal was met.

Another target number in CUSD was exceeded, that of the projected number of students in the district for the 2012-2013 school year.

Mike Bateman, assistant superintendent of student services, shared that in March of 2012, he and his team had projected a district population of 6925 students. Attendance numbers as of October 1, 2012  revealed that 7026 students are enrolled in CUSD schools this year. It’s an increase of 183 students that, Mr. Bateman noted, is a testament to the continuing strength of Claremont schools at a time when many districts are struggling.

The COURIER contacted the district Friday afternoon to determine what percentage of CUSD students are inter-district transfers and, as of presstime, had not yet received a returned call. We will present this information in a future edition. 

Many districts are, indeed, struggling, echoed Bonnie Bell, assistant superintendent of educational services, while delivering the district’s 2012 Accountability Report. Claremont is one of the few surrounding school districts whose schools have avoided wide-scale Program Improvement statuses, a designation that comes with a number of sanctions.

Vista del Valle Elementary School is in Program Improvement Status for having failed to report adequate yearly progress as defined by No Child Left Behind. With this in mind, Ms. Bell reported, the school has contracted with an outside expert in order to help improve test scores, arguably one of the most minimally invasive options for a school labeled as needing Program Improvement.

As No Child Left Behind continues, however, the chance of Claremont schools avoiding Program Improvement Status lessens, Ms. Bell explained, not because local schools aren’t making yearly gains, but because NCLB is based on a mathematically impossible premise: that eventually 100 percent of all students in the US will test at proficient or above in every subject. 

There’s also a new NCLB component for school districts that tracks graduation rates. While Claremont has unusually high graduation rates, NCLB does not count the recipients of certificates of completion as graduates. In many cases, CHS special education students receive such certificates in lieu of a diploma.

In addition, any student who leaves CUSD for another district that does not properly track the student, is counted as a lost student for Claremont, namely, a student who failed to graduate. Along with these factors threatening Claremont’s AYP scores with regards to graduation rates, some 48 other factors pose a district-wide risk of Program Improvement Status.

“I think we all feel it’s unfair,” Ms. Bell said.

It is the district’s hope, she noted, that the new state legislature will revisit some of the more unrealistic aspects of NCLB.

—Sarah Torribo


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