Sonoma Valley Unified School District has high graduation rates, but low test scores
The Sonoma Valley Unified School District has a 92.8% high school graduation rate, exceeding the state average of 87.4%, yet it was rated “low” on English language and mathematics in 2022, according to California School Dashboard data released this month.
This was among the key findings released about the local school district on the dashboard, an online tool that shows how educational agencies and schools are performing in relation to state and local indicators in California’s school accountability system. The data seems to suggest that many SVUSD high school students are graduating with insufficient skills, but the district’s acting superintendent, Dr. Elizabeth Kaufman, says the situation actually is more complex.
“It depends on how we measure student learning,” she wrote in an email. “While a state assessment administered in grades 3-8 and 11 is a helpful metric to determine how our students perform in comparison to other students at the state and county level, it is not directly connected to instruction.”
She said that students need passing grades to progress toward graduation, and grades are comprised of multiple ways of determining learning and understanding.
“As our system continues to work on developing high-quality, rigorous core instruction, we also look at ways to ensure our instructional content and ways of measuring student learning are calibrated across sections of the same course or classrooms at the same grade level,” she wrote. “This work has been underway in Sonoma Valley for several years, with our focus on identifying common standards, developing proficiency maps and creating common assessments of student learning.”
Dawn Mawhinney, director of educational services, gave a PowerPoint presentation on the dashboard findings at the Dec. 13 Board of Trustees meeting. She said that because the pandemic interrupted the statewide data, collection and accountability systems, the 2022 dashboard marks a restart of the systems. Only 2022 ratings are provided this year, which will be considered a “base” year. Annual comparisons will again be available once 2023 data is finalized late next year.
The 2022 dashboard ranks school districts and schools on a five-point scale, from 1 (very low) to 5 (very high). In addition to the English language, math and graduation categories, the dashboard provides chronic absenteeism, suspension rate and college/career ratings, although the college/career rating is not included in the 2022 report.
As a district, SVUSD was rated low on English language arts, low on mathematics, medium on English language learner progress, high on suspension rate and very high on absenteeism. These ratings are identical to those of the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District — a nearby and similar-sized district — except for in suspension rate, in which Cotati has a medium ranking.
English language arts and math
After the meeting, Mawhinney said that the district’s low ratings in English and math were to be expected.
The 2022 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress report, issued by the California Department of Education in November, showed that 36.8% of students met the state standard (standards are set by the California Board of Education) in English language arts in 2022, compared with 42.3% in 2019, and that 19.9% achieved it in math, as opposed to 26.8% in 2019.
Based on the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments and the California Alternate Assessments, which are used to determine dashboard ratings and are taken annually by student in grades 3- 8 and 11, local students scored 35.1 points below the state standard in English language arts, while statewide, students scored 12.2 points below the standard. In math, Sonoma students scored 88.2 points below the state standard, compared with students scoring 51.7 points below it statewide.
“It is not a surprise that the pandemic and distance learning had a negative impact on student learning,” Mawhinney wrote in an email. “Scores in SVUSD trend with those of other districts across the state and with students across the nation following the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Kaufman wrote, “In addition to the impact of the pandemic, we have had disruptions to student learning due to school closures from fire and smoke.”
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