The Palo Alto Unified School District requires all students from grade three through eight and all juniors to participate in the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress or Smarter Balanced Assessments.
While participation rates for these assessments are usually near or at 100% for all elementary and middle schools in the district, they land dozens of percentage points lower for PAUSD’s high schools, especially Paly. In 2017 and 2018, only 16% and 19% of Paly students, respectively, participated in the CAASPP. Paly’s participation only recently crossed the 50% mark, landing at 51% in 2019.
One major reason behind the low CAASPP participation rate at Paly is that while the federal government requires all students to be assessed, California EdCode allows parents to provide an exemption for their child, so many students are excused from the exam. Last year, 25.2% of eligible students in PAUSD were exempted from the exam by a parent or guardian.
However, The Campanile thinks all juniors ought to participate in the CAASPP because it upholds the reputation of Paly, allows programs for minority student groups to continue to be well-funded and is an opportunity for students to skip prerequisites or earn individual awards.
Participation in the CAASPP is crucial more than ever this year, according to PAUSD Research, Assessment & Evaluation Director Chris Kolar and Assessment & Evaluation Manager Janine Penney. California has implemented a new accountability system that significantly impacts districts with low participation on the CAASPP.
Specifically, if Paly does not meet the state-required 95% participation rate on the CAASPP, California assigns every student who did not take the CAASPP the lowest possible score, or Lowest Obtainable Scale Score, until the total participation of the school reaches 95%.
This new policy would drag down Paly’s average student score on the CAASPP. A low average score reflects poorly on PAUSD’s California Schools Dashboard, which reports data on public school performance. The dashboard is also “highly accessible and visible to colleges, the community, and the public,” according to a letter from Paly principal Adam Paulson and Gunn principal Kathie Larence that was sent out to juniors’ families.
As a result, low participation significantly harms the academic reputation of PAUSD.
Furthermore, according to Penney, the California Department of Education could reduce or pull Federal Title I & II funding for schools or districts with low CAASPP participation rates.
These funds are used by the district to support vulnerable groups such as socioeconomically disadvantaged students and English learners. For example, Title I & II funding help fund reading specialists in elementary schools.
Participation in the CAASPP also directly affects students. The CAASPP is a prerequisite for individual honors including the State Seal of Biliteracy and Golden State Seal Merit Diploma. It is also a College Readiness Indicator — students who achieve a certain score can skip placement tests or introductory courses for California State University schools or specific community colleges.
The Campanile commends the measures that both Paly and Gunn are taking to encourage juniors to take the CAASPP since last year, including providing incentives such as free school gear and raffles for prizes such as parking permits.
Already, the district has seen a significant participation increase over the past two years. Paly’s participation rate for juniors climbed from 19% in 2018 to 51% in 2019, while Gunn’s rose from 62% to 74% during the same time span.
We urge students to play their part and act in the district’s and their own best interests by attending the CAASPP exam. We hope Paly can make another leap in participation this year and finally reach the minimum required threshold of 95% participation.