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Educator questions test scores for Fallbrook High district

Rick Monroe

Special to the Village News

What is the truth when it comes to academics at Fallbrook High School?

When the Village News ran a story in early November that “High school test scores show improvement,” a district resident with an educational background, was compelled to write a letter to Superintendent Ilsa Garza-Gonzalez wanting more information.

“I was pleased to see and want to congratulate FHUSD’s student achievement gains,” the person, who wishes to remain anonymous, wrote in an email to the superintendent with a CC to the Village News. “I was also extremely pleased to read that FUHSD’s ‘data reflection cycle’ allows our teachers to assess progress and collaborate and establish agreements that they adhere to.”

“However,” the email continued, “beyond celebrating, it appears that the district’s student performance data deserves a deeper analysis. As such, please consider presenting your student performance data and important questions that appear below to your board and staff members.”

Attached to the email was a PDF file with nine questions.

Several weeks later, Garza-Gonzales responded to each of the questions by email, with a copy also to the Village News.

“As for the board,” the superintendent added, “I had already informed the board of your request and our plan to address the request.”

Contacted by the Village News about the superintendent’s response, the educator didn’t seem very impressed: “Ilsa provided a very generic response with outdated instructional practices that expect students to own the responsibility for improving their instruction. With the district’s winter break, I will be responding to her message after the holidays.”

The questions and answers, edited for space considerations and clarity, follow. The superintendent also included links to several examples that were not able to be linked here.

The nine questions

1. What attributes can be credited for English Language Arts gains from 2020 to 2022?

We are very proud of the gains that Fallbrook High School has made in ELA and the increased number of students in math who are scoring a 2 or higher.

Fallbrook High School began working on curriculum alignment, systematized goal setting, and collaborative planning with our teachers during the 2019-2020 school year with the support of Orenda Education (consultants). While the pandemic made the rollout of this work challenging, our district, schools, administration, teachers, and support staff understood the imperative to address student learning. The challenging environment prioritized the work.

With the upheaval that our students faced with school closures, virtual learning, hybrid learning and then returning to campus, staff recognized that then, more than ever, students needed to know essential standards and we needed to work together as a system to decide what those essential standards are and strategize how we can support student learning. Our administration, teachers, and support staff doubled down despite the challenges and focused on strategic instruction via collaboration with their colleagues to address those standards. We cannot say enough about the commitment from our staff at all levels.

Our scores represent our staff's dedication to our students and community. When districts had the option of using internal assessments or giving the Smarter Balanced Assessment in 2020-2021, our staff requested to give the state test. We saw gains in 2020-2021 and saw gains again in 2021-2022. Our ELA scores are higher than the county and the state, and we see less students scoring at the lowest levels in math. We plan to continue our systems work and collaboration with our staff. We are seeing the benefits for our students.

2. What actions are in place to support 40% of the students, 20% at the lowest level, performing below grade level in ELA? And is there a unified understanding of instructional expectations and effort among English Department members for supporting underachieving students?

The “systems work” that we frequently speak about has at its core the unified understanding of instructional expectations for all students, not only underachieving students. We have identified and frequently revisit the minimum skills that every student must learn and master in order to be college and career ready. Curriculum alignment includes a Data Reflection System that allows for frequent monitoring of progress towards this goal and includes a commitment of the teachers, by the teachers and for the teachers on the specific terms and practices they agree to employ and a system for ensuring that these terms and practices are, in fact, used. We refer to these as agreements.

Outside of instructional time, we offer tutoring before and after school. Currently, we are in the process of designing our schedule for next year which allows for learning integration within the school day reaching the students that need it most.

Support is communicated to parents in a variety of ways. Our principal communicates with students, families, and teachers on a weekly basis via a newsletter. In addition to Principal Jones’ weekly newsletter, there are parent engagement opportunities via School Site Council, English Learner Advisory Committees, Parent Night Information Sessions, Coffee with the Principal, personal phone calls, communication directly from teachers to parents and students, and counselor communication.

3. What conditions are contributing to 79.73% of the students performing below grade level in mathematics?

Although the progress may not be as readily apparent, we are proud of our progress in math as well as ELA. 2018-19 was our most recent year for data comparison in which a high percentage of students were tested. In 2018-19, 58% of our students were scoring a 1 on the SBAC in math, but in 2021-22 the percentage of students scoring a 1 decreased to approximately 54%.

Similarly, 21% of students were scoring a 2 in 2018-19, but that increased to 26% of students scoring a 2. We continue to strive to make gains in math, and we are beginning to see the fruits of our labor. While the 4% increase is students moving from a 1 to a 2, we hope that our continued focus on math will show gains by seeing an increase in students scoring a 3 or a 4 as our work continues. Like schools across the state, math is an area where students need support. The state percentage of students receiving 3s and 4s is 26.97%, so this is a focus not just at FUHSD, but across the state.

4. What actions are in place to support acceleration, vs. ineffective remediation, in mathematics? Is there a unified understanding of instructional expectations and effort among math department members for supporting underachieving students? How do you communicate that support to students and their parents?

We currently offer Warrior Way and tutoring support after school. Additionally, during summer school, we hire tutors, who are largely placed in ELA and math courses for additional support. Our Data Reflection System applies to all core subject areas, CTE, and World Languages.

There is absolutely a unified understanding of instructional expectations and effort in math. Our math department has collaboratively identified target standards for instruction and has committed to assessing students specifically on these targeted standards and engaging in strategy sessions to identify instructional practices to best support students. This has become a system in our math department, and part of this system involves teachers disaggregating student results to look specifically at underachieving students. The pathways will give you a glimpse of the different supports put in place to assure that all students receive standards-based math instruction. In addition to regularly scheduled progress reports, teachers communicate with parents in a variety of ways including but not limited to Google Classroom, personal phone calls, emails, and newsletters.

5. To what degree are the following improvement systems being addressed: Strategy, Metrics, Commitment, Behaviors and Culture?

All of the above are being addressed and are referenced in our Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP). The current work that is being done within departments is thoughtful, strategic, and includes strategies and metrics that are evaluated at the classroom, site, and district level on an ongoing basis throughout the course of the year. That system in and of itself demonstrates the commitment to student achievement at every level, which in turn impacts behaviors and school culture. Our staff has doubled down on their commitment to students. They began this work when the pandemic began and have continued this work throughout. Because of their commitment to this work, and their focus on the student experience, we have been able to take this work and look at other systems within our school to continually improve. Our staff and leadership team consisting of department heads, program leads, and administrators have used this systems work to address other areas of our school such as the bell schedule.

Curriculum and Guidance Alignment includes standards and alignment that prioritizes the most important standards to be addressed throughout the school year; rigor addressed through our common assessments and guided planning which serve to calibrate expected outcomes (effectiveness indicators) through a strong, progress monitoring system; design elements that address effective lesson planning, a schedule that maximizes student learning, and implementation of powerful, research-based teaching and learning strategies.

Our leadership team is committed to the process and to supporting teachers and support staff with implementation. This is achieved through common planning time for teachers and calibrated learning walks involving academic leaders from the superintendent to our assistant principals. Since much of the systems work that we have and will continue to implement is based on John Hattie’s “Visible Teaching and Learning” research, we focus all professional development on collective teacher efficacy, our belief system, and immediate, effective feedback. Our two systems, Curriculum Alignment and Guidance Alignment, both impact practice with curriculum design focusing on instruction and guidance alignment focused on student access. We understand and believe that we are responsible for establishing the conditions for learning. This, in turn, impacts behaviors and culture.

6. What can district leadership, including board members, do to improve student achievement?

Our Leadership Column is strong, and every leader is a vocal champion of the process we have in place. We have also experienced leadership stability that has greatly contributed to our gains. Our leadership team, including our board members, are supportive of the work that we have done to establish consistent and collaborative systems that focus on student achievement and the student experience by establishing targets for student learning and consistently measuring progress and collaboratively identifying instructional strategies that best support student learning.

Furthermore, board members commit to ensuring that our LCAP, which guides all that we do, is centered around ensuring that all children achieve in our district, that all children have quality and qualified teachers, and that all children have safe, healthy learning environments regardless of which school within FUHSD they choose to attend.

7. Why is there a Director of Curriculum for ELA Programs and no representation for mathematics in the Educational Services Department? What level of collaboration is in place with the feeder school districts?

We do not have a Director of Curriculum for ELA Programs. We have an Educational Services Director. The revisions to the job description and title were approved at the June 13 board meeting. The Educational Services Director is responsible for curriculum and instruction in all instructional areas.

We collaborate on an informal ongoing basis with both Fallbrook Union Elementary School District and Vallecitos School District. Our leadership team met with FUESD on Dec. 13 and plans ongoing communication and collaboration in January. We also meet with Vallecitos on a regular basis. In 2020/21, we began collaborating closely with Maie Ellis Elementary to support the dual immersion program which feeds into our Dual Immersion Pathway. This is accomplished through our Saturday Academy. Many of our extracurricular activities also collaborate with both districts and include middle school students in activities whenever possible.

8. Why is Mathematics test data unavailable for years 2019/20?

There is no test data for ELA or Math for the 2019/20 academic year due to the pandemic. The State waived the testing requirements that year. In 2020-2021, testing was not required but highly encouraged. That year, FUHS had a participation rate above 70% which was considerably higher than districts throughout the state.

9. What accounts for the 150-165 difference in students tested over time?

I would like to know specifically what period you are referencing to best answer this question. However, in 2020/21, FUHSD was one of the schools who chose to administer the SBAC, and FUHSD had a participation rate above 70%, which was higher than other districts throughout the state. If the comparison of numbers is from 2018/19 to 2021/22, we do have declining enrollment which also impacts the total number of students we have available to test in Grade 11.

Per the San Diego County Office of Education, our participation rate that includes all appropriate calculations, inclusion of exemptions and waivers, is most accurate through TOMs, which is the assessment system, and we are pleased to note that per TOMs, our participation rate in 2018-2019 and in 2021-2022 is above 95%.


Reader Comments(1)

gdonutman writes:

Huh, this person seems pretty uninformed for an educator. They didn't know the roles at the district level and didn't consider the timeline in their inquiry. I was glad to see the original story in the Village News and the update from Fallbrook with actual details. Keep up the good work Warriors! That growth makes a difference in the lives our children and the success of our community.

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