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Standards and Standardized Testing and What They Mean at Da Vinci Schools
Da Vinci Schools eNewsletter
September 15, 2010

Da Vinci Science Full Report
Da Vinci Design Full Report

California's mandated standardized test scores were released on Monday. Da Vinci Schools' scores reflect both strengths and opportunities. We will continue to study the results to learn more about how to improve instruction at Da Vinci. We'd like to take the opportunity in this article to present the test results in the context of instruction at Da Vinci, and give you an idea of how educators are dealing with standardized testing and college readiness.

Da Vinci Test Results in Context

We are proud of our students: Of the deep learning, growth and innovation we see our students exhibiting in their real-world projects, digital portfolios, exhibitions and Presentations of Learning; of their willingness to take risks and to learn from their mistakes in front of their peers; of their 97% attendance rate - our students value school.

On the Language Arts section of the California Standards Tests (CSTs), Da Vinci students from both schools performed exceedingly well with 84% of 9th graders and 76% of 10th graders in Science scoring proficient or advanced on the state's standards. Da Vinci Science Language Arts scores were, in fact, the highest in the South Bay. Design students scored 66% proficient or advanced in Language Arts. We plan to analyze these results carefully to improve instruction.

Our math scores were also good, and reflect the challenges of integrating students prepared in 95 different middle schools into a single math program. In math, the majority of our students performed at the basic level or higher. Most middle and high schools separate students into different math classes based on ability level. At Da Vinci, students are provided differentiated mathematical instruction (meeting all student needs within one classroom) within the Engineering (math and science) class. The state offers high schools a choice of Algebra or Integrated Math. We opted to have all students take the much more difficult Integrated Math test, which may not have been an appropriate measure of their learning. In either case, we must and will improve math achievement at both schools in the coming year, and our teachers will focus on this goal.

Our 10th grade Science students, the only ones eligible to take the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), did exceptionally well (95% passed English Language Arts and 94% passed Math). Da Vinci students scored on par with students from other high performing South Bay school districts.

API-Academic Performance Index-reports the academic performance and growth of schools on a variety of academic measures. One of these measures is the CAHSEE. Since only Science had 10th graders in the 2009-2010 school year, only Science got "credit" in the API for CAHSEE scores. These 10th graders, the only ones eligible to take the CAHSEE, did very well, which resulted in an increase in the overall API score of Science by over 30 points. This accounts for much of the discrepancy between the API scores of the two schools, Science at 807, and Design at 693.

Education and Evaluation at Da Vinci: The Bigger Picture


"When I compare our high schools to what I see when I'm traveling abroad,
I am terrified for our workforce of tomorrow."


-- Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder --


At Da Vinci, we do not "teach to the test." We focus on those skills and standards we believe serve our students best in the long term. One of the dangers in relying too heavily on these test scores is the tendency to focus on statistics and not on preparing students for college, work, happy and productive lives, success in their careers, and to be engaged citizens.

Gates, who has become one of the world's leading thinkers on education reform, calls America's high schools broken and obsolete. "Even when they're working exactly as designed - they cannot teach our kids what they need to know today." Gates and many others believe that the optimal learning environment is when rigor, relevance and relationships are all accounted for and appreciated within the classroom. At Da Vinci Schools, we agree that these new "Three R's" are the key to lasting and substantive school improvement.

Evidence confirms that students excel in school when they see a value in what school has to offer them. When learning is rigorous, relevant, personalized and interesting, students are more motivated, have higher attendance rates, and graduate and attend college in higher numbers. Finally, although rigor and relevance are keys to meaningful student learning, this learning cannot occur in the absence of meaningful relationships. At Da Vinci, our students and staff learn with and from one another in a caring and supportive community where everyone is known, seen and valued.

Success in the 21st century requires new skill sets - the ability to use multiple forms of media, to interpret and evaluate information, to come up with new ideas, to find different ways to solve problems, to see opportunities, to motivate and inspire others, to work cooperatively with diverse people from across the globe. We think that since it lacks the ability to measure deep understanding of concepts, standardized testing alone is an inadequate measure of this kind of authentic student progress. We want our assessment of student achievement, and assessment of our teachers, to reflect the student mastery of content, critical thinking, communication, teamwork, creativity, effective presentations, producing beautiful work, and the healthy social, emotional and physical growth that students need for future success.

How We Measure Success

Our vision is that all students graduate as collaborative, informed, resourceful and reflective individuals who are college-ready, career-prepared and community-minded. We will know this vision is fulfilled when students come back years after graduating and tell us about their success as career professionals. To students to that point, we are measuring achievement on an ongoing basis, using multiple measures to assess what students can do with knowledge, through projects that foster value real-world connections and career-preparedness, such as internship completion, college class enrollment and completion, and successful application to college. Students are expected to graduate with course work beyond their A-G (University of California entrance) requirements. We will continue to look at standardized testing as part of the picture as well, including state mandated testing and other nationally normed tests such as PSAT and SAT scores.

Our school's success will also be measured in part by these test scores, by number of students getting into, and eventually completing, college. Another success indicator for our school is how many students place into college level classes by their junior year, and how many successfully complete and place out of remedial classes, daily attendance, and the satisfaction of our parents, students and staff. At Da Vinci, we focus on measuring data that supports students to build college persistence skills (time management, study skills, note-taking strategies, goal setting) so that they eventually graduate with at least a Bachelor's Degree.

While the debate continues about how best to evaluate students and teachers and what makes teachers successful, we find ourselves asking other important questions - What is success? What does it mean to be well-educated? What are the goals of schooling? What are the 21st century skills that students must know? These are questions we are addressing in our strategic planning process. We welcome your input.

On the Right Track

Da Vinci Design and Da Vinci Science both were recently awarded a four-year term of accreditation by the Western Association of Schools & Colleges. WASC Executive Director, Dr. David Brown, noted several important areas of strength at Da Vinci Schools: we have developed a system to serve students with different learning needs; we have a clear sense of purpose and direction; parents and students feel valued and connected to our schools; our students are happy and productive; and our teachers have positive attitudes about students and their learning, providing students with high levels of self-confidence.

As new schools, we have accomplished some great things, and we will continue to reach higher. We must make sure that all students graduate from high school and complete college with the 21st century skills they will need to succeed. Despite the standards and testing agenda all around us, we must keep in mind that critical thinking, creativity, initiative, curiosity, problem-solving, compassion, skepticism, the innovative use of knowledge, and other similar virtues are the real premium commodities in today's world and the essential skills that Northrop Grumman and Belkin and other leading companies value most.

 

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