– Part II
Second of two parts
Change is hard.
When the idea of the Freshman Teams and the A-to-G requirements were first unveiled at Sonoma Valley High School last year, there was a lot of skepticism and resistance from inside and outside the school community. But according to school Superintendent Louann Carlomagno, the need for change was palpable. The most widely accepted means of judging the success of a high school is the school’s API (Academic Performance Index). Sonoma High’s API for 2010-11 was 730. Schools are ranked in 10 categories of equal size, called deciles, from one (lowest) to 10 (highest).
Sonoma Valley High ranks in the fifth decile among all California public schools, and in the second decile among schools of similar demographics. Since 2006, this number is unchanged (all data has been confirmed by the district). According to Lynn Fitzpatrick, district director of curriculum and instruction, “We are actively looking at a number of initiatives, the Freshman Teams and the college prep requirements being among the first to be introduced, that we believe will finally budge our numbers upward.”
Fitzpatrick admits, “It is troubling that a large portion of our students are not passing the proficiency tests each year, especially given how hard our faculty works. That’s why we are looking at systems and structures, as well as instruction, to improve student outcomes.”
Change, she adds, “is uncomfortable, but we are at a point now where change is absolutely necessary in order to better serve the academic needs of all of our children.”
Some people might grumble that API scores don’t paint the whole picture. Another way to measure a school is based on the CST (California Standards Test) scores.
By this measure, half of all Sonoma High students are not proficient in any subject area tested. The scores range from 47 percent to 81 percent not proficient, depending on subject area. Among socio-economically disadvantaged students, the figure ranges from 65 percdent to 87 percent not proficient, depending on the area tested.
Sonoma Valley High School now ranks 811 out of 1,784 high schools in California. This data is collected by the National Center for Education Statistics and has been confirmed by the district.
Carlomagno watches these statistics closely. “There is no question that Sonoma High does a lot of things very well,” she insists, “we just can’t ignore the hard statistics by which Sonoma High is measured, particularly as we discuss how the school can weather the current and future budget cuts while continuing to strive to help its students succeed.”
Whether or not the Freshman Teams and new A-to-G curriculum will be a success is still unknown, but other early indicators are positive.
There were 59 total classroom behavior “incidents” among freshman in the first semester this year, versus 97 in the same period last year. “These numbers are important,” explained Vice Principal Kathy Summers. “Less infractions means more classroom time that can be dedicated to learning.”
Another positive statistic reveals that 68 percent of the freshman skipped no classes this fall versus 60 percent last year in the same time period. “The initial results indicate that there are more freshman showing up for school, staying out of trouble and doing well in school this year than last,” said SVHS Principal Dino Battaglini.
Over the past year, the district, Sonoma Valley High School teachers and the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation have devoted hundreds of hours to researching best practices at similar California high schools. They plan to institute additional changes, where warranted, in an determined fight to lessen the achievement gap at the high school and to ensure that all students leave the high school with a level of proficiency that will ensure their success in college and the work force. Further changes are expected to be rolled out during the 2012-13 school year.