Board Takes Further Look into Closing Achievement Gap


achievement-gapBy Nicholas von Wettberg

At its regular meeting on Thursday, the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) Board of Education heard the third in a series of presentations from district schools about closing the achievement gap.

The multifaceted educational approach has been addressed on a consistent basis, under the guidance of Board President Madhavi Sunder, and the most recent report highlighted numerous programs and practices that are being offered to students in need at Davis Senior High School (DHS).

Interim Superintendent Kevin French prefaced the presentation, noting that with a school the size of DHS (enrollment for the 2014-15 school year was 1,715), the examples from the report were only some of the programs students had access to with a positive impact on narrowing the achievement gap.

French also mentioned the school had been going through a “Self Study” accreditation process, this spring, and that, according to a preliminary report filed by an assessment team, he was “pleased that tonight’s presentation is so tightly aligned with the findings and what I saw in here, and we didn’t have that discussion beforehand to see what Davis High was bringing forward.”

DHS Principal William Brown, who led the presentation, was accompanied by a number of the school’s staff, including Vice Principal Tom McHale, Academic Center Coordinator Marie Michel, Head Counselor Courtenay Tessler, and teachers Widgen Naegley and Kelly McInturf.

The first page of the report, presented through PowerPoint, drew on the overall profile of the site, listing its demographics (55% White, 18.5% Asian, 17% Hispanic/Latino, 4% two or more races, 3% Black/African American, 2% Filipino) and some of the students’ academic accomplishments.

“You know, left off that [accomplishments] list are National Journalism Journalist of the Year, a perfect score on AP Calculus exam, the Robotics champions, all-state musicians, national rated debaters, graduation rate, and college going rate…all the things that we’re really proud about and that stuff, that’s not hype,” Brown said. “It’s easily researchable, its really what happens here at Davis and it’s a big part of why there’s a lot of pride in our young people and it makes Davis a really special place to go each day.”

Brown backed the collective belief when he said that the achievement data pointed to a curriculum-wide achievement gap at DHS, and that it crossed all sections of student makeup.

Connecting with students on a social and emotional level continues to be a target area for DHS staff, according to Brown.

He added that, with such busy schedules, there are students left to cope with stress factors impacting their performance, and that the practices are some of the school’s approaches to meeting those challenges.

After that, Brown rattled off a list of the things, or approaches, put into place at DHS.

“We’re talking about Common Pace and Common Assessment, Later Start schedule, collaborative CARES, our counseling team, ACES, AVID,” said Brown. “We want to ignite a fire where there is none for the High School, starting with their 9th Grade transition in to the 10th Grade. We have a number of programs to help kids successfully transition from that Junior High life to a successful High School experience and then beyond.”

The CARES (Collaborative and Restorative Empowerment of Students) Committee, says Vice Principal Tom McHale, is a group of 25 classified and certificated members from the different academic departments, along with representatives from special programs, that meet monthly.

A leadership team consisting of an additional nine classified and certificated members from various academic departments meets weekly to talk about the topics of discussion for the committee.

“We are a very forward-looking committee dedicated to reducing the achievement gap and our efforts are focused on all of our students examining the programs that we have currently, finding better ways to assist our students,” McHale said. “During our meetings we also spend quite a bit of time at data, so we get regular reports, DNF lists, the different quarters, we look at SBAC test results, Youth Truth and California Healthy Kid results, and the student use of the Academic Center.”

One aspect the committee has looked at throughout the year, according to McHale, are certain intervention focus areas, nine of them, in particular.

A few of them are credit recovery (Academic Center), student outreach (Link Crew, AVID, Blue Devil Spirit Awards), and enhancing parent outreach to better serve the needs of low SES families, which is being done through an LCAP proposal via the committee sponsorship.

A mentor tutor program for English Learner (EL) students is also in the works, through a LCAP proposal.

Interaction among peers outside the classroom setting is crucial in the development of students representing underperforming groups, and the DHS counseling services not only offers students opportunities, like an all day workshop at UC Davis on writing literacy and poetry, it also provides them with culturally-relevant learning platforms.

Head counselor Courtenay Tessler said they have been very fortunate to have the backing of the PTA and the Davis Schools Foundation, which has allowed students in various programs to take four separate field trips throughout the year.

The trips have become such a success that the students are now more engaged than ever, and in charge of choosing the destinations for next school year.

“What’s so important is when the students are on the trip and they go to these conferences, for the very first time they’re with at least seventy-percent of people who look like them, are like them,” Tessler said. “They don’t have that experience in Davis and they’re doing activities and programs with people they can relate to. And the SAYS conference is coming up tomorrow where we take kids to work on the writing and the poetry and they hear each other and their voices.”

Tessler added: “That’s something we can’t provide for them at Davis High but what we can provide is programs out there that offer opportunity for all of these students. And it is amazing to see them light up, when we went in to the California Academy of Science, the students who went with us had never been there and you can imagine when we walked into the Aquarium and saw all the fish…It’s just amazing to have that experience with them.”

Programs, such as these, explained Tessler, trigger self-belief in students to the attainability, and value, in attending college.

Teacher Widgen Naegley leads two ACES (Academic Coaching and Empowering Success) support classes for 11th and 12th Graders at DHS.

Naegley said that she is a big fan of the program model, and is very familiar with it, having taught something similar – she called it “basic skills” – as a teacher close to three decades ago. The downside was that it was not considered a college prep course.

“It’s really a wonderful opportunity for them to have a support class and yet be in college prep classes,” Naegley said about the ACES program. “This model says you can go to college, you are taking all but you’re going to get some help. And it’s primarily going to be offered, literacy help reading and writing.”

Instruction is offered, in the form of helping with students struggling to write, or even submit their papers. Naegley said there is an even divide between the time students are given instruction, and allowed to write on their own.

She called the Academic Center “the most phenomenal program that we have going at the High School,” and called the tutors there as “the very best role models that you could ask for.”

Naegley believes that ACES plays in to the school’s high graduation rates.

In fact, three-fourths of her seniors are already signed up for college classes.

AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) coordinator and DHS elective teacher Kelly McInturf spoke on behalf of the school’s program, which was chosen for Davis as a research-supported intervention for typically underrepresented students.

Intended as a means to close the achievement gap, AVID (as discussed in a previous presentation to the Board on Junior High School) is a nationally recognized program for students who meet a certain set of criteria, and for those whose experiences include a special circumstance, or hardship, that has made the likelihood of attending college uncertain at best.

With an emphasis on writing inquiry, collaboration, organization, and critical reading skills that, according to McInturf, “they might not otherwise access as much in their classes without that little bit of extra support.”

Students enrolled in AVID are encouraged to take honors and AP classes, “to challenge themselves,” and “with the expectation is that they complete the requirements to be eligible to apply to a four-year college at the end of their High School career.”

Forty-two percent of the current AVID class at DHS is comprised of students who are classified as EL, which dwarfs the school’s overall rate at 5 percent, while 47 percent of the class identifies as Hispanic/Latino, compared to the school’s overall rate at 17 percent.

McInturf said that letting students at the Junior High level (8th & 9th Grades) know the program will continue once they reach 10th Grade is an important reminder, for its intentions are to build off learned skills, until a point is reached where college seems like the logical next step in educational pursuit.

Junior High students have shadowed the DHS AVID program, and even had a chance to visit UC Davis, creating yet further mental pathways.

Academic Center Coordinator Marie Michel gave her program’s part of the report, in which she explained the center’s “doors are open for everyone.”

Meeting students’ academic, social and emotional needs are all goals of the center, according to Michel.

High School juniors and seniors make up a group of peer tutors, who get to help out classmates in their classes.

The amount of peer tutors has increased from 13 in 2014-15 to 20 for the current school year.

Michel reported an increase in sessions with UC Davis student tutors by over 2,000, with access Monday through Thursday beginning at 7:30 am and running until 4:30 pm, and on Friday from 7:30 am to 3:30 pm.

A DHS World Civilization class asks for students to write a research paper, and, as a result, a pilot program was implemented this year to help tutor those sophomores in the writing process.

Michel said graduation rates for students classified Hispanic/Latino have increased close to 10 percent (from 82.5% in 2009-10 to 91.7%).

“So we’re really helping our students, especially our English Language learners who have more walls between them, that are thicker to really close that gap.”

At that point, Board members were given the chance to discuss, comment or ask questions about the report.

Trustee Barbara Archer asked for further elaboration on what is meant by the term “first kids” and asked, who qualifies as a kid?

Principal Brown responded that they were really “high priority kids” or, in effect, one out of the every five DHS students who are not meeting the requirements.

Archer followed that up with a question about the amount of students falling under the “first kids” category.

Brown said the number was brought to his attention earlier in the day, and that is was at 11 percent of the enrollment.

“Could we be bringing more students into the fold?” Archer asked Brown.

“Absolutely yes,” he said. “You know, the information will reveal that you do have some predictable groups who will struggle but there are some privileged kids who come from well-represented groups who are struggling, who are on that D or F list, who have social-emotional issues, be it stress, or whatever.”

Brown added: “You know, they come in, we have to deal with what comes in, what meets us at the door, and so regardless of what group you come in if there’s a need that needs to be met we try to connect you with the resources that will meet those.”

Archer asked about the program being offered to everyone in need, even to those second-tier students who end up falling somewhere “in the middle.”

“As a Board member, I’d like to hear more about resources and how we can catch more kids,” she said.

Half of the tutoring sessions at the Academic Center, in the fall, were given to the general student population, according to Michel, who said “the scope is there you see, and every time I hire tutors I say ‘we have the whole spectrum here, we have students for all AP classes, A’s and they do not want to see that B come in here to get help with Trigonometry or Calculus.’”

Michel said they have students that come in who are still in Common Core 2, “who need that extra support.”

“And then we have everyone in the middle in Algebra 2 and Geometry, just as an example for math, so we see the whole spectrum and we provide support for all those students and with the tutors that I hire, their backgrounds are as well. We also provide support in different languages: English, Spanish, Farsi, Chinese Cantonese.”

Trustee Alan Fernandes asked what the Board could do to advance the efforts of programs, such as ACES, and the Academic Center, in particular, and what the chances were for extending the center’s hours.

“I think it’s a great possibility for our tutors to help our students for a longer period of time,” Michel said. “Funding is one concern, especially throughout the year, currently we’re at the same funding that we started with, and are potentially seeing cutbacks.”

“It sounds like the work there is great and as you mentioned it’s open to all students,” Fernandes said. “We offer college prep courses and we have a college prep mindset in this district and when you go to college you will learn that there are libraries open in some instances at some Universities at certain times of the year are 24 hour, and computer labs.”

Tessler said that there is a definite need for an increase in counselors, and they know when they are effective – when they had AB 1802 for two years and extra money had been brought in by the state.

At that point, caseloads were down to 280 students, and Tessler said Counseling was able to connect with each family, work more with our at-risk, bring them in, but when caseloads went up to 350, their efficiency went down.

Trustee Susan Lovenburg asked Widgen Naegley about a “fairly recently” written letter that had been written by her colleagues in the English Department to the Board, regarding class sizes in 10th Grade English.

“We used to, similar to counselors to where we had additional categorical funding, we used to be able to maintain class sizes of 20 to 1 at 9th Grade and 10th Grade,” Lovenburg said. “That went away with the state funding reductions and then categorical funding went away, but your colleagues were making a case for going back to 20 to 1 possibly through the LCAP process.”

Naegley said she had taught classes sized in the 30s and those at 20 to 1, and there is a big difference, in particular, connecting with more students in the classroom.

“When there’s a small enough ratio, she quipped “you can connect with everybody everyday and there’s something wrong with you if you can’t.”

Responding to a question asked by Board President Sunder about the current size of the class, Naegley answered that it was 35 or 36 to 1, although with additional counselors for next year, the numbers will go down to 28 to 1.


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18 thoughts on “Board Takes Further Look into Closing Achievement Gap”

    1. wdf1

      I generally agree.  Part of the problem is that in using the term “achievement gap,” it has conventionally referred to the standardized test score differential in math and English between different demographic subgroups.  But it is a bigger issue than just standardized test scores and math and English ability.

      1. South of Davis

        wdf1 wrote:

        >  But it is a bigger issue than just standardized test

        > scores and math and English ability.

        The BIG issue is that children of “ALL RACES” who have married parents that both had high SAT scores, went to top schools for undergrad and have grad degrees from top schools tend to do well and there is an “achievement gap” between those kids and the children of “ALL RACES” who’s parents dropped out of high school, where Dad is either in jail or not around and Mom does drugs (the “achievement gap” gets even wider if the kids come from a home where no one speaks English).  The people (like David) who love beating the “racism” drum seem to forget almost every black kid like Malia Obama (who’s married parents went to Columbia, Harvard-Law & Princeton, Harvard-Law) do well in school and almost every white and asian kid who’s parents dropped out of high school to join a gang and do drugs don’t do well in school…

        1. wdf1

          I don’t disagree.  The school district doesn’t collect information about parents’ marital status or criminal record.  But they do collect for parent education level, and in Davis I think that’s a very helpful marker (maybe even the best) for identifying students likeliest to need extra attention and help.

  1. Frankly

    We know the problems.  We repeatedly talk about them.

    But we are not going to make much if any progress in solving them without significant system disruption.  And we won’t have significant system disruption while all the foxes are in charge of the henhouses because they pay off the farmers.

    Think about it.

    The problems are systemic.  The “solutions” are always constrained by what the employees of the system are willing to accept.   And the employees of the system are never going to be willing to accept what is actually required to solve the problems.  And for this reason, if the employees of the system are allowed control over the decisions, they will always be inadequate.

    1. hpierce

      And for this reason, if the employees of the system are allowed control over the decisions, they will always be inadequate.

      Are you an employee, or are you an “owner”?  Are you the “system”?  Actually meant as fair questions… would help me evaluate the nature of this comment in particular…

      1. Frankly

        In my world I am an employee (co-CEO in role) and governed by by non-compensated board of directors.  By board of directors is independent, qualified and as hard on me as they should be.

        One of my competitor peers was closed down by SBA because his board was friends and family, and compensated with perks and they rubber-stamped his self-serving business decisions… That led to unsustainable loan losses.

        There should never be any need for compromise for what is good for the students.  But that is what we end up with… What is good for the students ONLY secondary to what is good for the employees of the system.

        1. wdf1

          Frankly:  There should never be any need for compromise for what is good for the students.  But that is what we end up with… What is good for the students ONLY secondary to what is good for the employees of the system.

          And this is supported by what evidence?

  2. ryankelly

    Nothing is mentioned about the disruption of disciplinary actions – suspensions, arrests, etc. – that tend to affect low SES and students of color at higher levels.

  3. MrsW

    Trustee Barbara Archer asked for further elaboration on what is meant by the term “first kids” and asked, who qualifies as a kid?
    Principal Brown responded that they were really “high priority kids” or, in effect, one out of the every five DHS students who are not meeting the requirements.
    Brown said the number was brought to his attention earlier in the day, and that is was at 11 percent of the enrollment.

    I’m not sure what this exchange is saying.  Eleven percent of enrollment (1715 from above) is 189 students.  Five times 189 is 945. I don’t think he means that 945 students aren’t meeting requirements…

    1. wdf1

      Principal Brown responded that they were really “high priority kids” or, in effect, one out of the every five DHS students who are not meeting the requirements.

      MrsW:  I understand it to mean that about 20% (1 in 5) of the student population would fall into achievement gap risk groups who need help of one kind or another.  Brown chose to label this group “first kids” to indicate that these students are a high priority.  I didn’t catch the part of the board presentation where 11 percent was mentioned, so I don’t know how to reconcile that number.

  4. quielo

    I’m a recent arrival to Davis and as I have children in 3 different Davis schools am trying to figure out the positions of the various players. The public school district my children were previously in was excellent and my kids feel that Davis is a step in terms of education. They prefer Davis as they feel they have more freedom, being able to bike to school and activities gives them more independence, so on the whole they prefer it here. It is surprising to me that with the educated parents in town my son complains that his Davis school is far behind in math where his previous public school was and he finds it boring.

    I have one child in AIM so get those emails. AIM parents seem to support Sunder and despise Lovenburg. Is there a “cheat sheet” anywhere is a summary of the players and their positions?

    1. wdf1

      quielo:  AIM parents seem to support Sunder and despise Lovenburg. Is there a “cheat sheet” anywhere is a summary of the players and their positions?

      AIM is the Davis JUSD for GATE (you probably know that).  “Pro-AIM” usually means being mostly in favor of self-contained GATE.  Being on the other side of the issue *usually* means either wanting more or only differentiated instruction in the same classroom (mixed with non-GATE students), or wanting to have a greater mix of AIM/GATE options.   The arguments also involves issues around how to identify GATE students. The AIM/GATE discussion in Davis schools has been ongoing for more than 20 years and has involved a number of parents who have moved on to other areas of public office, including Mariko Yamada and Don Saylor.   Usually the issue over what size to make the self-contained program comes up every 5-6 years.  Up until now it was mostly about adding additional GATE “strands” (class cohorts) to the self contained program. 

      More recently it has been about restricting the size of the self-contained program.  At present Lovenburg, Archer, and Adams have favored limiting the size of the self-contained program and having more differentiated instruction. Fernandes sometimes votes with this block. Sunder generally favors a more expanded self-contained program than Lovenburg and co. The full narrative over that 20+ year period is a little like asking someone to explain how we got to today’s episode of a soap opera.  For more recent history, you can search on AIM/GATE articles on the Vanguard and follow some of the comments.

    2. MrsW

      …my son complains that his Davis school is far behind in math where his previous public school was and he finds it boring…

      I wish I could answer this.  It’s really interesting to hear comparisons.

    3. MrsW

      AIM parents seem to support Sunder and despise Lovenburg. Is there a “cheat sheet” anywhere is a summary of the players and their positions?

      If you search on the term “Davis Excel” you can find articles from the last few years.  Sunder was a founding member of that group.  They used to have a web-site, but I cannot quickly find it.  This article on daviswiki has a bit of the story: AIM Model.  Generally speaking, they don’t want change.

      The organization Davis Learning Together has pulled together a number of resources, a historical time line, and more regarding the AIM program.  I don’t know how connected Lovenburg is to the group, but Davis Learning Together has been advocating for changes to the program.

    4. MrsW

      wdf: the arguments also involves issues around how to identify GATE students

      The AIM/GATE program I am familiar with (20 years-ish) was originally a two-strand magnet program held at Valley Oak Elementary.  Over the years, it grew to add strands at Willet and Pioneer elementary. When Valley Oak was closed in 2008, strands were placed at North Davis and Korematsu.  

      There is a timeline on the Davis Learning Together describes the Current Program (scroll down).  In the last 15 years, there have been at least 4 different student identification criteria for the program.  Preference for a test to determine eligibility has not wavered, but a single test has not provided the outcome wanted.  None of these processes have been transparent and there are a number of anecdotes, where placement one way or another was egregiously wrong or dizzying right.

      All of these changes were also not implemented in isolation of the rest of the world.  DJUSD is a small district that serves 8,600 students on 16 campuses.  [Compare that to Sacramento City Unified School District which serves 42,000 students on 75 campuses.]  Despite its small size, DJUSD has a number of magnet programs and offers a huge number of diverse “singleton” courses at the high school.  To maintain this huge amount of choice and variety takes human energy, commitment and money.  Between 2005 until recently, the District experienced huge budget cuts.  Coincidentally demand for AIM/GATE went up, as administrative support to GATE was drastically cut, the number of campuses with the program increased, and entrance criteria were continuously tweaked.  The effect of each change to the entrance criteria on the program, neighborhood program, or other magnet programs was not understood before the next one was implemented.  The effect of administrative cuts and eliminating the “two strand” instructional model were not understood, either.

      I think this School Board and administration are trying to get control of the bus after our very small District aggressively expanded the amount of choice and programs over  a number of years, followed by being in financial crisis mode for a number years.  I appreciate Sunder and Lovenburg.  I think they do represent different perspectives held in our community and they represent them pretty well. 

      1. quielo

        Thank you everybody for the information. Coming into Davis Edupolitics late I appreciate the information. The articles I read are always full of meaningless platitudes such as “we want to create a district that offers the best educational experience for every child”. This is meaningless as you can’t do everything for everyone, especially in a small district like DUSD.

        I tried to make a go of LAUSD but they have an institutional bias towards serving children who are not like my kids and have different needs. This plays out in dozens of ways but the clumilative effect is that my kids are not engaged and are not given material that equals their desire to learn. I then moved to a smaller district that has focused on getting kids ready for Ivy League colleges. Parents were not necessarily as well educated as here in Davis but they were mostly successful type “A” people and my kids loved the schools. Also I will note that the schools were well supported throughout the community as they, in a way, defined the community and supported real estate prices. A house in our district would sell for 50% above a house across the street in the adjoining district. Everybody donated to the schools foundation, especially real estate agents. While school board members would say the same “every student” crap parents knew what they meant, “we like ambitious students”.

        So what I am trying to figure out is which students get priority from which trustees. My kids like to go to school an like to learn and I don’t need to push them. I just want to make sure that their needs are accommodated and which trustees are likely to have my kids top-of-mind.







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