Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) Department of Research, Evaluation and Assessment has recently announced the hiring of Dr. Clarisse Haxton as the district’s first Program Evaluation Coordinator on April 19. Haxton will be overseeing the school district’s efforts to examine and implement programs aimed to “improve all students’ opportunities and outcomes.”
Haxton is an expert on college and career readiness as well as elementary, secondary and post-secondary education. During her time as a senior researcher at the American Institutes for Research (AIR), Haxton worked as a quantitative analyst on a project analyzing trends of women and underrepresented minorities in the science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.
“She brings expertise on district and state-level program evaluations of college and career readiness, early warning systems and interventions, and other programs to improve educational equity and achievement,” Christopher Kolar, the district’s Director of Resarch and Assessment said. “Her experience and talent will be invaluable as we continue to work on our strategic plan and district goals to improve the academic careers of all PAUSD students.”
The position of Program Evaluation Coordinator and Equity Administrator was first discussed at a board meeting on June 9, 2015 upon request by the Minority Achievement and Talent Development Advisory Committee. Haxton will start her work at PAUSD during the 2015-2016 school year.
“My job, generally, is to make sure that all students in the district have equitable access to educational opportunities in the district. It’s in part about closing the achievement gap but more importantly, the focus is really on [creating] data systems and processes to help understand what are inequities in the system and to just make sure that all students are getting a similar educational experience or opportunities in the district,” Haxton said. “The district is very high performing and overall students get a very high quality education here… so it’s important to recognize that not all students are necessarily getting the same opportunities or experiences within the district.”
For her work here in PAUSD, Haxton will focus initially on two main projects: expanding Response to Intervention (RTI) in elementary schools and laning and course placement in secondary schools.
RTI is a model that is commonly being used in districts across the country and in PAUSD, the main focus of it is on elementary students. The system is aimed at improving the academic, social-emotional and behavioral experiences of students and involves a comprehensive three-step process.
“The first [step] is really just differentiating the instruction and trying to meet all students’ [academic, social-emotional and behavioral] needs within the classroom. Tier two is a focus where students who are identified as in need of supports in any of those three areas… are identified for interventions and supports,” Haxton said. “If those interventions still aren’t working to meet students’ needs to help them achieve or behaviorally succeed or be social-emotionally healthy, they are [classified as] tier 3, which is a more formal recommendation to special education services or more intensive services.”
RTI has already been present in PAUSD since 2011 so Haxton is looking to help improve the implementation and expansion of this process by supporting it with her data.
Laning and course placement in secondary schools is another aspect that Haxton is looking to better understand and improve. By studying student patterns and experiences, Haxton hopes that course placement in PAUSD will be improved.
“The laning issue and the difference in curriculum and students’ experience is something that the board has recognized. The lanes students are in, pathways that students choose throughout [middle school and high school], the times that students choose to be or are downlaned or uplaned and the relation that has on their performance in those [respective] courses are all things that we can look at based on enrollment and course grades,” Haxton said. “Hopefully, once we dig into this work, we can also understand students’ experiences… [and] challenges with deciding to downlane or uplane [due to students] wanting to have a rigorous experience in considering preparation for college. There’s specifically a big focus now on math so that’s where I’ll initially be helping look at data and support that work.”
In addition to providing equal academic opportunities, Haxton is also working to make sure that all students have a positive social-emotional experience.
“There’s also the [important issue of] social-emotional experience and counselors play a big role so it’s important to understand how to best leverage them as a resource and figure out how to best support them [with] my data to inform their practices and support students,” Haxton said.