Oct. 18, 2012
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
For the sixth year in a row, students in Ojai’s public schools have, on average, scored better than their Ventura County and California counterparts on the California Standards Tests. Standing out in particular were the students at Matilija Junior High School, whose combined test scores for English and math jumped 14 points from 2011. “It’s their highest ever,” said Ojai Unified School District (OUSD) superintendent Hank Bangser. “Fourteen points in one year is remarkable. Great compliments go to (former principal) Emily Mostovoy and (assistant principal) Javier Ramirez.” Current principal Bill Rosen explained that the school’s scores have risen by over 110 points since 2002, and that students’ scores in other areas also increased this year. “In history, we went up 12 points,” Rosen said. “In science, we were 8.4 percent up. Those are amazing jumps … in three of the four core areas, our numbers rose significantly.” That fourth core area — math — saw a bit of a dip in scores this year, but Rosen said the Matilija staff is already making adjustments. A Core Algebra class has been added for “middle ground” students. “We called different schools in the county to see what they are doing with math … they asked us what we are doing with kids (in the middle) who are too smart for Pre-Algebra but are struggling with Algebra. That’s why we created Core Math Algebra,” Ramirez told OUSD board members at Tuesday night’s meeting. “This is all very data-driven,” added Rosen. “Where do you place the kids to get them the help they need?” If a student has a learning disability in English, he may have trouble reading word problems in math class, Rosen pointed out. “So that teacher is going to deliver the information differently” to that student. Also helping boost students’ math learning: an additional Algebra 1 class, which lowered the number of students in each classroom. “We’re grateful to 100 For Ojai Schools for their donation, which allowed us to add that additional Algebra 1 class. Not only did it help them (math students), it helped lower class sizes in every area. Probably all of our eighth graders will feel that.” Nordhoff High School At Nordhoff, students with disabilities saw the biggest drop in scores. But, said principal Greg Bayless, those numbers can be misleading. “Since this group is consistently small, year to year scores can be more volatile.” Scores for these students went up by 41 points in 2011, then went down by 49 points this year, Bayless explained. As a whole, Nordhoff students improved their scores by about five points this year. They had been about that far behind the county average. But the brightest spot for Nordhoff this year was its jump in English language arts scores, with a 6 percent improvement in the number of students considered proficient in 2012. A drop of 10 points between 2009 and 2011 prompted a reworking of several areas at the school, said Bayless. One noteworthy improvement, he said, was the emphasis on reading and writing in all subjects. “English teachers taught the rest of the staff ways to promote literacy in all classes, not just core academic classes,” Bayless said. English teachers also offered second semester “grade bumps” to students with improved scores. Another positive for Nordhoff were the scores from its Latino and socio-economically disadvantaged students, who posted dramatic improvements of 36 and 29 points, respectively. Bayless says much of the credit for those increases is due to the school’s Associate Teacher program, in which high-performing juniors and seniors tutor struggling students in more than a dozen subjects. He called the program extremely successful, with English language learners, Latinos and students with disabilities benefitting the most. Also helping boost the scores overall for Nordhoff: a boys-vs.-girls competition. Former Rangers will recall that, in the school’s alma mater, there is a line that goes, “and your mighty men;” traditionally, the girls will replace the line by singing, “mighty women.” Bayless and his fellow administrators and teachers agreed that, each year, they would formally change the line of the alma mater to “women” should the girls score higher overall and keep it as “men” should the boys do better. “To get kids competing in different ways like that tells me you know your school,” said OUSD board member Kathi Smith. Elementary schools On the whole, Ojai’s elementary schools results “were not unexpected,” said Marilyn Smith, director of elementary curriculum. “The API (Annual Performance Index) was similar to the mean over the past five years.” Summit saw a significant improvement of 36 points, but because of its small size, increases and decreases can be large from year to year. “Results are very sensitive,” Smith pointed out. “Only 39 pupils tested.” All other OUSD elementary schools improved upon their 2011 scores except Meiners Oaks, which dipped one point, and Mira Monte, which dipped 12 points. While Smith didn’t directly attribute this to the increasing number of students who fall into the socio-economically disadvantaged category, rapidly changing demographics can be difficult to keep up with. In the last five years, the number of students in that category jumped from 31 percent to 44 percent in Ojai elementary schools — and OUSD faculty are working to address their needs. “It is important that we educators learn to improve our effectiveness with people from all socio-economic backgrounds,” Smith said. Along with those students, fifth graders across the entire district seemed to struggle with math this year, with only 48 percent of them hitting their proficiency targets for 2012. “It was a very unusual dip,” acknowledged Bangser. “We had most of the same teachers (as in 2011). They didn’t just have a bad year all together.” Smith said the principals are looking into the problem. Like her counterparts across the district, Smith pointed to budgetary constraints as a big challenge to continual improvement. “Our biggest challenges are shrinking dollars and large class sizes,” she said. “Our current second grade students, for example, have had large class sizes since kindergarten. It may take a few years to see the impact of this.” OUSD faculty members are working on their Single Schools Plans for Student Achievement, which directly address the problems identified by the standardized testing. These will be presented to the OUSD board later this year, but many strategies are already being implemented, Bangser said.