Achievement, Scrutinized


In an attempt to identify institutional academic barriers for minority students in MVLA, the district hired Principal’s Exchange, a nonprofit organization that analyzes schools to help underperforming students by conducting an equity audit. The audit crafted numerous recommendations for MVLA to help its “target group” of students underperforming the most.

“We wanted to get some objective feedback on how [we treat] our students from low socioeconomic environments,” Superintendent Jeff Harding said. “We had reason to believe that [Principal’s Exchange] could give us objective perceptions.”

The audit concludes that a “substantial number of students” experiencing an achievement gap are Latino and are categorized as English Language Learners, socioeconomically disadvantaged or qualifying for Special Education services. Many students are identified with a combination of those classifications.

While the report highlights numerous issues that students of low socioeconomic status face, it also commended the district on its successes in narrowing the achievement gap.

“We have… some fine-tuning to [do], but it’s validating that our thinking matched [Principal’s Exchange’s] thinking in many ways,” Harding said. “Sometimes you need to hear from an outsider… ‘This is good, keep doing it, do more of it.’”

The report outlines pressure from parents and students to expand opportunities for high socioeconomic status students in contrast with the lack of advocacy for students of lesser privilege. As a result, district resources often center around Honors and AP classes rather than the CSU and UC course completion necessary to qualify for four-year colleges, as demonstrated by the inception of courses such as AP Computer Science.

“Pressure to uplevel and accelerate students… decreases attention on CSU/UC course completion,” the report said. “Most students in the target group do not graduate university-ready. Many of those who do… plan to attend a two-year college over a four-year.”

The report also emphasizes the necessity of prioritizing acceleration classes over remediation classes. While remediation classes review previous course material, acceleration classes progress students to new material. The report looks to AVID as a model of acceleration, citing tutors and other support systems that foster student self-advocacy and provide foundational tools for course progression.

“We have tutorial two days a week where students are bringing questions in academic areas where they need help, [and we have] a lot of skill-building exercises that are helping them in their content classes,” English and AVID teacher Arrantxa Arriada said. “I think that’s why they do well and I think that’s why Principal’s Exchange said AVID is a good model.”

Arriada said that the methods used by AVID can easily be applied to non-AVID courses, including subject courses.

“At the start of the year, a science teacher can spend a few days… breaking down the text [and] explaining how the text is organized,” Arriada said. “The teacher can model how they read through the text, how they take notes. Lots of times it’s a lot of the AVID methodologies and techniques. It’s about starting routines and patterns that students do, and eventually those are things they do on their own.”

Changing the focus from acceleration to remediation is not exclusively a task for AVID, and may also require supplementary classes for core subjects.
“If there’s a student who is struggling in a subject, [we should] still let them take a challenging class,” Arriada said. “[We want] kids to accelerate rather than repeat… When we’re reading ‘Mockingbird,’ they start reading it ahead of time in Skills so the kids feel like they can participate in their class [and] they don’t feel behind.”

Focus on remediation classes for students of lower socioeconomic status during elementary and middle school creates gaps that are hard to close once students enter high school. Discrepancies in student math placement become prevalent in fifth and sixth grade.

“[MVLA] promotes acceleration for high socioeconomic status students, but remediation for others,” the report said. “Stratification begins in upper elementary school for math… [which] results in differential educational attainment by graduation.”

Communication with the MVLA feeder districts in LASD and Mountain View-Whisman can be difficult, as the two districts vary in policies and structure. The report recommends feeder districts to offer only standards-aligned and accelerated mathematics courses and no ELA class below the UC A-G graduation requirements, in order to align schools and straighten out the path for UC qualification.

“It was clear that we need to behave more like a K-12 district,” Harding said. “We want [math to] be consistent throughout all the grades, so it doesn’t seem like you’re moving to another region in the country, you just move forward.”

In order to create these seamless transitions, the district plans to further emphasize communication between districts.

“[Communication] doesn’t happen automatically,” Harding said. “It has to be a priority… to see our teachers working with their teachers, our administrators working with their administrators.”

To help reduce divergence in educational opportunities between students of higher and lower socioeconomic status, the audit calls for increased communication of graduation standards for all students. One specific recommendation is for the creation of an “On Target” map that outlines expectations for each grade, with emphasis on a four-year college as the end goal.

“In this environment, the expectation is you go to an elite college,” Harding said. “The expectation here is so high that we have not impressed upon students that… going to any four-year school is something to be proud of.”