Achievement gap persists at Shoreline

10/30/2019

The results from last year’s standardized testing are in, and Shoreline Unified School District continues to see a dramatic achievement gap between its white and Latino students, reflecting statewide trends.

In English and language arts, 68 percent of white students and 27 percent of Latino students at Shoreline passed the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, known as the CASPP. In math, the district tested worse: 46 percent of white students and 16 percent of Latino students met standards.

For Shoreline’s entire student body, which is 60 percent Latino, scores have gone down in the last five years by 2 percent in English and language arts, and by 12 percent in math. In the latest round of testing, the district’s level of achievement was 7 percent below the state average in language arts and 12 percent below the state average in math. 

The CASPP was initiated in 2015 with the rollout of common core curriculum. The computer-based test is taken by students from third to eighth grades and again in eleventh grade. At Shoreline, of 33 eleventh graders who took the CASPP last year, 12 passed in English and language arts standards and 15 passed in math.

“All of us are needing to sit down and take a look at, ‘What’s going on here? What are we missing?’” Shoreline superintendent Bob Raines said. “This trend is not what we want.”

Shoreline’s scores reflect a persisting achievement gap and declining scores statewide. The California Department of Education has announced that it will work with data experts to interpret the declining test scores and evaluate their cause, then identify strategies for how local educational agencies can improve performance.

“Education equity should mean equity for all students and, right now, we are not there,” Tony Thurmond, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a press release. “All students should have an equal opportunity to succeed academically.”

Due to the possibility that their smaller size could make students identifiable, the test scores for Bolinas-Stinson Union, Lagunitas and Nicasio School Districts are not publicly broken down. Those districts performed better than Shoreline. Bolinas-Stinson outpaced the state in English and Nicasio and Lagunitas outpaced the state in both subjects, as did Marin County as a whole.

Last week, Mr. Raines met with Shoreline’s three principals to discuss the test results, hoping to dive deeper into resolving the achievement gap. Shoreline has made equity a central focus of its mission, with equity teams at each school. But, Mr. Raines told the Light, “We all have to own the fact that we have not been making a fundamental shift.” 

Matt Nagle, the former principal of West Marin School and now a first- and second-grade teacher at Bodega Bay Elementary, doesn’t think the district is doing enough to address the gap, especially with regard to math. “This is an immediate crisis that needs to be dealt with with a plan, and [district leaders] have no plan,” he said. “I have never seen anything like this.”

Equity teams at each school are in the process of identifying different groups of students and barriers specific to them. Students are looked at not just by their demographics, but also by characteristics like transportation needs and interest levels. The barriers are multi-faceted and moving targets, Julie Cassel, an eighth-grade teacher at West Marin School, said. 

“[The CASPP results] are not showing us that teachers don’t care or that some students are less capable,” she said. “It’s showing us that there continues to be barriers. We want to figure out where those barriers are and how we can fight them.”

As part of its equity work, Tomales High School on Oct. 16 gave the entire student body some version of the SAT for free. “It’s basically a way to break down some of the barriers for kids to take the SAT, offering it during the school day, on campus, facilitated by staff as opposed to forcing our students to drive into surrounding communities on a Saturday,” said Adam Jennings, the high school principal. “We want to make sure that all students who want to take these tests have the opportunity to do it.” 

The test will also help inform instruction at the high school. Tomales piloted the free SAT last year to seniors; now the program includes offering the PSAT to sophomores and juniors and the SAT-9 to freshmen.

“As much as we can argue the benefits or negatives of standardized testing data, it does help us to provide some insight into our students,” Mr. Jennings said. 

This month’s SAT day coincides with an effort by Marin Promise Partnership, a nonprofit focused on educational equity that has launched two action teams in West Marin, one for kindergarten readiness and the other for college completion. Leveraging partnerships between Tomales High staff, parents and alumni, the Inverness Garden Club and local colleges, the completion team aims to have 80 percent of students finish post-high school career readiness academic programs, such as college or trade school, by 2028. 

Tomales High graduates already have a high level of enrollment in these programs, but their completion rates are just average, at about 50 percent. “Obviously, some questions came out of that [discovery],” Mr. Jennings said. In response, the completion team created a survey to determine barriers, and 85 former students participated. The survey found independent living skills, finances and reading levels to be key barriers. 

Meanwhile, Shoreline schools have implemented a new approach to literacy using one-on-one assessments and small group workshops, piloted by West Marin School last year. Teachers notate while students read leveled passages then answer “why?” questions about the content. “That all develops into a profile, so kids don’t get a simple thumbs up or thumbs down on these tests,” Mr. Raines said. 

Teachers are guided in the new approach by the district’s two literacy coaches. Using the assessment data, teachers create flexible groupings for short lessons. “This has the potential of addressing the complexity of our achievement gap,” Mr. Raines added.