Analysis of Test Scores Shows Room for Improvement for Davis Schools

As a member of this community for what is now going on 11 years, the mantra I have continually heard is how good the schools are in Davis. It is not something new for me however, because I grew up in a school district that was much like Davis’, near the top year after year in school performance by most of the standard measures.

The question has always been whether the Davis schools are really as good as everyone has said and there is now data that puts that proposition to the test. To the credit of the school district, they were not running from it on Thursday when it was presented.

When evaluating the Academic Performance Index (API), most of the schools continued to excel by these measures. Each school obtained a score, that score was placed in rank order and placed into deciles from 1-10. All of the schools as expected scored within a range of the 8th to the 10th decile–the top of the scale. On average, the district as usual placed was in the top 90 percent range–befitting our expectations that this is one of the best school districts in the state.

And there is no denying that. But you might suggest that a measure that places Davis on a scale with some the inner city schools may be telling us more about socioeconomic factors and less about the actual quality and skill of the schools.

And so a school characteristic index (SCI ) was calculated which compared schools with similar SCI score–those 50 schools just above the SCI and those just below the SCI. The scores were then sorts from highest to lowest API and divided into deciles.

What characteristics were used to create the SCI? Student mobility, Student ethnicity, socioeconomic status, teachers who are fully credentialed, teachers who hold emergency credentials, students who are English learners, average class size, whether the school operates a multi-track, year-round educational program, grade span enrollments, number of GATE students, number of students with disabilities, reclassified fluent-English-proficient students, and students who participate in migrant education program.

In other words, instead of comparing Davis schools with all schools, or Davis schools with schools like those in the cities, you are now comparing Davis to similar schools and similar characteristics.

How do Davis schools fare when compared with similar schools? Not nearly as high. On the statewide rank, all of the schools scored in the 8th decile and above including seven that scored in the 10th decile. In the similar school rank, only North Davis Elementary school scored above average at 8. All of the others were five (average) or lower (below average).

Curriculum and Instruction Director Clark Bryant presented the data at Thursday’s meeting.

 

“In our similar schools ranks, our performance is not as strong as it is for the statewide ranking so although we have high performing schools when we compare our schools to schools with similar demographics there is a significant decrease.”

What does this all mean? One of the interesting aspects of these findings is that in the past they would not have been presented to the public–and in fact, haven’t been presented in public. One of the differences with the new superintendent, is that these unpleasant findings are being discussed and not glossed over.

Mr. Bryant said:

 

“We would hope and expect that our schools are scoring in the above average range for similar schools–so this is something that we want to focus on.”

This led to a lengthy discussion about what could be done about these scores. As some remarked, this discussion was breath of fresh air, not only to have a chance to discuss education but to see the staff not being defensive, not trying to play down these scores or findings, but rather accepting them and talking about ways to improve them.

That is perhaps the good news. The bad news is that the impression I got from the administration was that the problem was perhaps not enough focus on the specifics that would be on the exams. In other words, the solution was to teach better toward the test.

Call me old school, but I have never been a proponent of all of these tests. Back in 1994, when I ran for school board in San Luis Obispo, the trend was moving more tests as a means to measure school performance and hold schools accountable. The problem is that if you teach toward tests, what is on those tests get emphasized at the expense of things not on the test. Presumably if a test is good enough or varied enough, that would be alright, but in practice it does not seem to be.

As we have increased the amount of testing, I am not sure we have increased the amount of student knowledge. In fact, ten years or so of watching the performance of first year UC Davis students, might have led me to the opposite conclusion, it was my observation that the student knowledge base has declined if anything. Students leaving high school and entering a fine university still lack basic writing and critical thinking skills. One of the first lesson these kids learn is that what got them an A in high school gives them a C in college. Simply regurgitating all of the information from a class does not make for a good answer in college.

Nevertheless the testing trend is larger than Davis Joint Unified School District. Though it was heartening last night to read a letter to the Davis Enterprise that called some of this testing to task.

Finally I agree that it was reassuring to listen to a frank discussion about improvements that could be made in the local school district when the line for so long had been that the Davis schools could do no wrong.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

Author

  • David Greenwald

    Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

Categories:

Education

20 comments

  1. Without standardized testing, would there be an API or SCI to argue about? What comparisons similar to the SCI could we have without testing?

  2. Without standardized testing, would there be an API or SCI to argue about? What comparisons similar to the SCI could we have without testing?

  3. Without standardized testing, would there be an API or SCI to argue about? What comparisons similar to the SCI could we have without testing?

  4. Without standardized testing, would there be an API or SCI to argue about? What comparisons similar to the SCI could we have without testing?

  5. Yes, this is refreshing to finally have this discussion. Many of us parents have often said that it is not Davis schools that are so special, but it is the unusually high-achieving parents and their offspring that are special. This might explain why “average” kids don’t fare so well here and, from my observation, many fall between the cracks. I can’t even imagine how this new data might help explain the racial gap in DJUSD.

  6. Yes, this is refreshing to finally have this discussion. Many of us parents have often said that it is not Davis schools that are so special, but it is the unusually high-achieving parents and their offspring that are special. This might explain why “average” kids don’t fare so well here and, from my observation, many fall between the cracks. I can’t even imagine how this new data might help explain the racial gap in DJUSD.

  7. Yes, this is refreshing to finally have this discussion. Many of us parents have often said that it is not Davis schools that are so special, but it is the unusually high-achieving parents and their offspring that are special. This might explain why “average” kids don’t fare so well here and, from my observation, many fall between the cracks. I can’t even imagine how this new data might help explain the racial gap in DJUSD.

  8. Yes, this is refreshing to finally have this discussion. Many of us parents have often said that it is not Davis schools that are so special, but it is the unusually high-achieving parents and their offspring that are special. This might explain why “average” kids don’t fare so well here and, from my observation, many fall between the cracks. I can’t even imagine how this new data might help explain the racial gap in DJUSD.

  9. “Students leaving high school and entering a fine university still lack basic writing and critical thinking skills.”

    Until I was a graduate student — at UC San Diego, where I worked part time as a TA and a grader in the late 1980s — I had no idea how bad undergraduate writing was. My students’ composition and grammar skills were so poor that I doubt most could have passed an AP English course at Davis High in 1982. A friend of mine who now reads undergraduate papers in the humanities at UC Davis says that about half of all Davis undergraduates are “incompetent writers.”

    Taking more tests won’t improve their writing skills. Two things would: stricter standards in the elementary schools in teaching grammar, punctuation and sentence structure; and far more writing assignments in junior high and high school. While it is largely true that the best way to improve one’s writing is to write more, that writing needs to be built atop a foundation of fundamental rules.

    “One of the first lesson these kids learn is that what got them an A in high school gives them a C in college.”

    Grade inflation is partly to blame for this, especially in “above average” school districts like the DJUSD. In almost every class, most students get an A. As such, the A carries less weight than it did when an A was less common. If ordinary performance were awarded a C, superior performance a B and extraordinary performance an A, students who hoped to go onto college would have to improve their skills to get there. But because average work is now good enough to get an A, there is less incentive to excel.

    Oh, by the way, David, that should be, “one of the first lessons…”

  10. “Students leaving high school and entering a fine university still lack basic writing and critical thinking skills.”

    Until I was a graduate student — at UC San Diego, where I worked part time as a TA and a grader in the late 1980s — I had no idea how bad undergraduate writing was. My students’ composition and grammar skills were so poor that I doubt most could have passed an AP English course at Davis High in 1982. A friend of mine who now reads undergraduate papers in the humanities at UC Davis says that about half of all Davis undergraduates are “incompetent writers.”

    Taking more tests won’t improve their writing skills. Two things would: stricter standards in the elementary schools in teaching grammar, punctuation and sentence structure; and far more writing assignments in junior high and high school. While it is largely true that the best way to improve one’s writing is to write more, that writing needs to be built atop a foundation of fundamental rules.

    “One of the first lesson these kids learn is that what got them an A in high school gives them a C in college.”

    Grade inflation is partly to blame for this, especially in “above average” school districts like the DJUSD. In almost every class, most students get an A. As such, the A carries less weight than it did when an A was less common. If ordinary performance were awarded a C, superior performance a B and extraordinary performance an A, students who hoped to go onto college would have to improve their skills to get there. But because average work is now good enough to get an A, there is less incentive to excel.

    Oh, by the way, David, that should be, “one of the first lessons…”

  11. “Students leaving high school and entering a fine university still lack basic writing and critical thinking skills.”

    Until I was a graduate student — at UC San Diego, where I worked part time as a TA and a grader in the late 1980s — I had no idea how bad undergraduate writing was. My students’ composition and grammar skills were so poor that I doubt most could have passed an AP English course at Davis High in 1982. A friend of mine who now reads undergraduate papers in the humanities at UC Davis says that about half of all Davis undergraduates are “incompetent writers.”

    Taking more tests won’t improve their writing skills. Two things would: stricter standards in the elementary schools in teaching grammar, punctuation and sentence structure; and far more writing assignments in junior high and high school. While it is largely true that the best way to improve one’s writing is to write more, that writing needs to be built atop a foundation of fundamental rules.

    “One of the first lesson these kids learn is that what got them an A in high school gives them a C in college.”

    Grade inflation is partly to blame for this, especially in “above average” school districts like the DJUSD. In almost every class, most students get an A. As such, the A carries less weight than it did when an A was less common. If ordinary performance were awarded a C, superior performance a B and extraordinary performance an A, students who hoped to go onto college would have to improve their skills to get there. But because average work is now good enough to get an A, there is less incentive to excel.

    Oh, by the way, David, that should be, “one of the first lessons…”

  12. “Students leaving high school and entering a fine university still lack basic writing and critical thinking skills.”

    Until I was a graduate student — at UC San Diego, where I worked part time as a TA and a grader in the late 1980s — I had no idea how bad undergraduate writing was. My students’ composition and grammar skills were so poor that I doubt most could have passed an AP English course at Davis High in 1982. A friend of mine who now reads undergraduate papers in the humanities at UC Davis says that about half of all Davis undergraduates are “incompetent writers.”

    Taking more tests won’t improve their writing skills. Two things would: stricter standards in the elementary schools in teaching grammar, punctuation and sentence structure; and far more writing assignments in junior high and high school. While it is largely true that the best way to improve one’s writing is to write more, that writing needs to be built atop a foundation of fundamental rules.

    “One of the first lesson these kids learn is that what got them an A in high school gives them a C in college.”

    Grade inflation is partly to blame for this, especially in “above average” school districts like the DJUSD. In almost every class, most students get an A. As such, the A carries less weight than it did when an A was less common. If ordinary performance were awarded a C, superior performance a B and extraordinary performance an A, students who hoped to go onto college would have to improve their skills to get there. But because average work is now good enough to get an A, there is less incentive to excel.

    Oh, by the way, David, that should be, “one of the first lessons…”

  13. A few years ago David Murphy, at the request of some community members, took a close look at test scores by sub-group. A report was compiled. What the district did in analyzing the data, was control for certain factors. They wanted to compare the sub-groups, but eliminate factors such as parent education level and home language. The disaggregated data was very revealing, and reflected the same issues we are discussing now. The data that stuck out to me was the comparison between White students, African-American students and Latino students, all of whom had college educated parents and spoke English in the home. The African-American and Latino students came in 14-16% lower than their white counterparts. That was pretty good evidence that there are some problems that can not be attributed to the home.

    This is why, to some degree, the standardized testing is valuable. Of course, many standardized tests have been proven to be culturally biased.

    I certainly hope DJUSD will look beyond how we can better teach to the test for this population. In general, teaching to the test creates some problems. In neighboring districts, where there are PI schools, they have decided to focus on the “3R’s” and science, since those are the tested areas. This is at the expense of fine arts and sadly, social studies. In my mind, social studies is a subject we CAN NOT ignore. There are the obvious shortcomings, such as geography, but what about learning the history of our state and nation and the people in it? I use Social Studies to teach analytical thinking skills. Even though that isn’t tested, the discussions in my classroom are unbelievable. My students have such a high ability to think and question and synthesize information. Now this skill is transfering into their reading comprehension and social awareness. Teaching to the test is not the answer.

    I don’t know how many people outside of education know this, but the STAR test has added a writing component for 4th and 7th grades. Students are given a prompt to address, and they do not know before hand which genre they will need to use. (Narrative, Summary, Response to Literature). I have seen a dramatic improvement in the writing instruction in 4th grade as a result. Although we are teaching to the test, I feel okay about this one, because writing skills are so essential to student success, and it is an open-ended test, which allows for divergent thinking.

    Clark Bryant’s information does not surprise me, but again, I am thrilled to see it brought to a public forum. The last report never got this far. I hope to see this honest, open dialogue continue.

  14. A few years ago David Murphy, at the request of some community members, took a close look at test scores by sub-group. A report was compiled. What the district did in analyzing the data, was control for certain factors. They wanted to compare the sub-groups, but eliminate factors such as parent education level and home language. The disaggregated data was very revealing, and reflected the same issues we are discussing now. The data that stuck out to me was the comparison between White students, African-American students and Latino students, all of whom had college educated parents and spoke English in the home. The African-American and Latino students came in 14-16% lower than their white counterparts. That was pretty good evidence that there are some problems that can not be attributed to the home.

    This is why, to some degree, the standardized testing is valuable. Of course, many standardized tests have been proven to be culturally biased.

    I certainly hope DJUSD will look beyond how we can better teach to the test for this population. In general, teaching to the test creates some problems. In neighboring districts, where there are PI schools, they have decided to focus on the “3R’s” and science, since those are the tested areas. This is at the expense of fine arts and sadly, social studies. In my mind, social studies is a subject we CAN NOT ignore. There are the obvious shortcomings, such as geography, but what about learning the history of our state and nation and the people in it? I use Social Studies to teach analytical thinking skills. Even though that isn’t tested, the discussions in my classroom are unbelievable. My students have such a high ability to think and question and synthesize information. Now this skill is transfering into their reading comprehension and social awareness. Teaching to the test is not the answer.

    I don’t know how many people outside of education know this, but the STAR test has added a writing component for 4th and 7th grades. Students are given a prompt to address, and they do not know before hand which genre they will need to use. (Narrative, Summary, Response to Literature). I have seen a dramatic improvement in the writing instruction in 4th grade as a result. Although we are teaching to the test, I feel okay about this one, because writing skills are so essential to student success, and it is an open-ended test, which allows for divergent thinking.

    Clark Bryant’s information does not surprise me, but again, I am thrilled to see it brought to a public forum. The last report never got this far. I hope to see this honest, open dialogue continue.

  15. A few years ago David Murphy, at the request of some community members, took a close look at test scores by sub-group. A report was compiled. What the district did in analyzing the data, was control for certain factors. They wanted to compare the sub-groups, but eliminate factors such as parent education level and home language. The disaggregated data was very revealing, and reflected the same issues we are discussing now. The data that stuck out to me was the comparison between White students, African-American students and Latino students, all of whom had college educated parents and spoke English in the home. The African-American and Latino students came in 14-16% lower than their white counterparts. That was pretty good evidence that there are some problems that can not be attributed to the home.

    This is why, to some degree, the standardized testing is valuable. Of course, many standardized tests have been proven to be culturally biased.

    I certainly hope DJUSD will look beyond how we can better teach to the test for this population. In general, teaching to the test creates some problems. In neighboring districts, where there are PI schools, they have decided to focus on the “3R’s” and science, since those are the tested areas. This is at the expense of fine arts and sadly, social studies. In my mind, social studies is a subject we CAN NOT ignore. There are the obvious shortcomings, such as geography, but what about learning the history of our state and nation and the people in it? I use Social Studies to teach analytical thinking skills. Even though that isn’t tested, the discussions in my classroom are unbelievable. My students have such a high ability to think and question and synthesize information. Now this skill is transfering into their reading comprehension and social awareness. Teaching to the test is not the answer.

    I don’t know how many people outside of education know this, but the STAR test has added a writing component for 4th and 7th grades. Students are given a prompt to address, and they do not know before hand which genre they will need to use. (Narrative, Summary, Response to Literature). I have seen a dramatic improvement in the writing instruction in 4th grade as a result. Although we are teaching to the test, I feel okay about this one, because writing skills are so essential to student success, and it is an open-ended test, which allows for divergent thinking.

    Clark Bryant’s information does not surprise me, but again, I am thrilled to see it brought to a public forum. The last report never got this far. I hope to see this honest, open dialogue continue.

  16. A few years ago David Murphy, at the request of some community members, took a close look at test scores by sub-group. A report was compiled. What the district did in analyzing the data, was control for certain factors. They wanted to compare the sub-groups, but eliminate factors such as parent education level and home language. The disaggregated data was very revealing, and reflected the same issues we are discussing now. The data that stuck out to me was the comparison between White students, African-American students and Latino students, all of whom had college educated parents and spoke English in the home. The African-American and Latino students came in 14-16% lower than their white counterparts. That was pretty good evidence that there are some problems that can not be attributed to the home.

    This is why, to some degree, the standardized testing is valuable. Of course, many standardized tests have been proven to be culturally biased.

    I certainly hope DJUSD will look beyond how we can better teach to the test for this population. In general, teaching to the test creates some problems. In neighboring districts, where there are PI schools, they have decided to focus on the “3R’s” and science, since those are the tested areas. This is at the expense of fine arts and sadly, social studies. In my mind, social studies is a subject we CAN NOT ignore. There are the obvious shortcomings, such as geography, but what about learning the history of our state and nation and the people in it? I use Social Studies to teach analytical thinking skills. Even though that isn’t tested, the discussions in my classroom are unbelievable. My students have such a high ability to think and question and synthesize information. Now this skill is transfering into their reading comprehension and social awareness. Teaching to the test is not the answer.

    I don’t know how many people outside of education know this, but the STAR test has added a writing component for 4th and 7th grades. Students are given a prompt to address, and they do not know before hand which genre they will need to use. (Narrative, Summary, Response to Literature). I have seen a dramatic improvement in the writing instruction in 4th grade as a result. Although we are teaching to the test, I feel okay about this one, because writing skills are so essential to student success, and it is an open-ended test, which allows for divergent thinking.

    Clark Bryant’s information does not surprise me, but again, I am thrilled to see it brought to a public forum. The last report never got this far. I hope to see this honest, open dialogue continue.

  17. Nikki:

    Thank you for posting such vital information for us.

    I hate to keep harping on this, but this is why a blog is such a good means to providing information–the reporter, who does a great job of reporting a lot of diverse issues, is the sole holder of information. And yet that is how the newspaper is structured. There many different sources of information and as they come together we get a better understanding of the issues.

    “The African-American and Latino students came in 14-16% lower than their white counterparts. That was pretty good evidence that there are some problems that can not be attributed to the home.”

    That is a crucial finding that I think we need to address because too many people believe that racism is gone and that the differences are simply economic or educational. That is not true.

    “Clark Bryant’s information does not surprise me, but again, I am thrilled to see it brought to a public forum. The last report never got this far. I hope to see this honest, open dialogue continue.”

    This was the crucial point–the district may have known that but for some reason they were afraid of bringing it forward in the public. Schools should never be afraid of knowledge.

  18. Nikki:

    Thank you for posting such vital information for us.

    I hate to keep harping on this, but this is why a blog is such a good means to providing information–the reporter, who does a great job of reporting a lot of diverse issues, is the sole holder of information. And yet that is how the newspaper is structured. There many different sources of information and as they come together we get a better understanding of the issues.

    “The African-American and Latino students came in 14-16% lower than their white counterparts. That was pretty good evidence that there are some problems that can not be attributed to the home.”

    That is a crucial finding that I think we need to address because too many people believe that racism is gone and that the differences are simply economic or educational. That is not true.

    “Clark Bryant’s information does not surprise me, but again, I am thrilled to see it brought to a public forum. The last report never got this far. I hope to see this honest, open dialogue continue.”

    This was the crucial point–the district may have known that but for some reason they were afraid of bringing it forward in the public. Schools should never be afraid of knowledge.

  19. Nikki:

    Thank you for posting such vital information for us.

    I hate to keep harping on this, but this is why a blog is such a good means to providing information–the reporter, who does a great job of reporting a lot of diverse issues, is the sole holder of information. And yet that is how the newspaper is structured. There many different sources of information and as they come together we get a better understanding of the issues.

    “The African-American and Latino students came in 14-16% lower than their white counterparts. That was pretty good evidence that there are some problems that can not be attributed to the home.”

    That is a crucial finding that I think we need to address because too many people believe that racism is gone and that the differences are simply economic or educational. That is not true.

    “Clark Bryant’s information does not surprise me, but again, I am thrilled to see it brought to a public forum. The last report never got this far. I hope to see this honest, open dialogue continue.”

    This was the crucial point–the district may have known that but for some reason they were afraid of bringing it forward in the public. Schools should never be afraid of knowledge.

  20. Nikki:

    Thank you for posting such vital information for us.

    I hate to keep harping on this, but this is why a blog is such a good means to providing information–the reporter, who does a great job of reporting a lot of diverse issues, is the sole holder of information. And yet that is how the newspaper is structured. There many different sources of information and as they come together we get a better understanding of the issues.

    “The African-American and Latino students came in 14-16% lower than their white counterparts. That was pretty good evidence that there are some problems that can not be attributed to the home.”

    That is a crucial finding that I think we need to address because too many people believe that racism is gone and that the differences are simply economic or educational. That is not true.

    “Clark Bryant’s information does not surprise me, but again, I am thrilled to see it brought to a public forum. The last report never got this far. I hope to see this honest, open dialogue continue.”

    This was the crucial point–the district may have known that but for some reason they were afraid of bringing it forward in the public. Schools should never be afraid of knowledge.

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