CVESD Students Outperform Peers in State Testing Results

Baseline is set for test results aligned to new, more rigorous state standards

When California updated its standards and built matching assessments (tests) to shift student learning toward more complex skills, it was assumed there would be a learning curve for everyone involved. While that certainly held true, it also turned out that students in the Chula Vista Elementary School District did better at meeting the challenge than most peers in the county and state.

CVESD students outperformed the state average by double digits, and significantly outperformed the county average in every grade level tested last spring in English Language Arts/literacy. In Mathematics, District students overall outperformed the county average and significantly outperformed the state average. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson on Wednesday unveiled the results of the new online assessments, which were administered to about 3.2 million students.

“These results tell me that our teachers and staff, in collaboration with our administrators, believe that all students can achieve academically,” said CVESD Superintendent Francisco Escobedo, Ed.D. “Our schools worked hard to ensure our learning environment meets the challenges of the 21st Century.”

Although an achievement gap persists between English Learners and the District’s overall student population, the gap is narrower in Chula Vista than in many districts elsewhere in the state and county. District leaders are looking to replicate the successes of individual schools.

One such success story is Myrtle S. Finney Elementary, a Title I school that is located just a five-minute drive from the international border with Mexico. Overall, about 60% of students at Finney met or exceeded standards in English Language Arts. Finney’s English Learners significantly outperformed the average for their peer groups at the District, county and state levels: 37% of Finney EL students met or exceeded standards in English Language Arts.

“As benchmarks go, this is a good starting point,” Escobedo said. In third grade, for example, about 53% of Finney’s ELs achieved or exceeded standards. That is outstanding, Escobedo added.

Finney Principal Olivia Amador-Valerio credits a “collection of approaches” that went into the hard work of teaching.

“The first one was a realization that our purpose is to teach students how to think,” she said. “Once we took a closer at what that would entail, we realized that we needed to provide our students with tools to be able to interact with complex text (reading materials) at their grade level. …Students are interacting with a blended approach of fiction and non-fiction. Our students have learned how to apply tools to make sense of the readings. Our teachers have learned to really refine their questioning of students during that reading experience, to assist student in deepening their understanding of the material.”

Amador-Valerio likes to use the phrase, “Read like a detective, write like a reporter” in describing her students’ approach to English Language Arts.

Finney Elementary is being looked to as a model for best practices.

Finney Elementary is being looked to as a model for best practices in the teaching of English Learners.

“We spent a lot of time as a staff breaking down the whole reading experience for students,” Amador-Valerio said. “We realized that reading, in addition to providing meaning, includes a lot of moving parts in any given passage: from the way the text is presented, to word choice, to how the words are assembled, and how paragraphs transition from one topic to the next.”

Finney staff members knew that the strategies to help English Learner students gain understanding actually helped all students in enhancing reading comprehension.

The state’s education officials, meanwhile, noted the baseline scores reflect, in part, the rigor of the state’s new standards.

“The results show our starting point as a state, a window into where California students are in meeting tougher academic standards that emphasize critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical writing,” Torlakson said, in prepared remarks. “California’s new standards and tests are challenging for schools to teach and for students to learn, so I am encouraged that many students are at or near achievement standards. However, just as we expected, many students need to make more progress. Our job is to support students, teachers, and schools as they do.”

Preliminary figures indicate that less than 1 percent of California students did not take the assessment as a result of a parental exemption. That shows, Torlakson said, a high level of commitment to the new standards among parents, teachers, students, and community leaders.

Thurgood Marshall Elementary Principal Scott Woodward noted the support at his campus, whose students overall shared top billing with Arroyo Vista Charter as the highest performing in the District. “What really stands out to me is the full buy-in and collaboration with teachers, staff, parents, students—we all have worked really hard collaboratively to dig deep and understand what the standards are asking us to do,” Woodward said. “The most exciting thing to me is that my staff now says, ‘Just wait until we really figure this out.’ That attitude of always striving to be the best that we can be is a great model for our kids, and is one of the reasons our students did so well.”

Marshall Elementary had the highest performing Grade 3 students in the District, with nearly 76 percent meeting or exceeding standards in English Language Arts, and the highest performing Grade 5 students, with nearly 82 percent meeting or exceeding standards in ELA. (In overall results, it should be noted that Marshall edged out traditional academic powerhouse Heritage Elementary by less than 1 percent for the top spot in the District.)

While there has been considerable hand-wringing at the state level about California’s tepid results overall, some CVESD schools and grade levels did exceedingly well. A blistering 82 percent of Ella B. Allen Elementary Grade 6 students met or exceeded proficiency in ELA; and 65 percent of Allen Elementary Grade 6 students met or exceeded proficiency in math. Approximately 69 percent of Liberty Elementary Grade 5 students met or exceeded proficiency in math, which was the best math performance of any grade level in CVESD. Overall, however, students at Anne and William Hedenkamp Elementary can call themselves the District’s math champs: 62 percent of Hedenkamp students met or exceeded standards in math. (Update: Discovery Charter School’s Grade 4 students achieved 70.1 percent overall in math, the highest of any grade level of an school in the District.)

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2 Comments on “CVESD Students Outperform Peers in State Testing Results”

  1. Neil MacGaffey October 25, 2015 at 1:49 pm #

    Great article. There is one correction that should be made. Discovery Charter School’s 4th grade achieved 70.1% overall in the CAASPP math test, which is actually the highest of any grade level in any school in the district.


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    […] sheds some light on why he thinks his district outshone others in recent state standardized testing. He also discusses his district’s English-language […]

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