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Math placement program numbers show ups and downs for PUSD

Ninth-graders improve the most, sophomores' passage rates dwindle among district's results

The numbers are in from Pleasanton Unified School District's ninth-grade math placement program and are mostly satisfactory, but results do show some areas for improvement.

The school board pored over the findings during their Tuesday night meeting, where an annual report and update were presented by district staff. A related update on the secondary level mathematics cohort for teachers and administrators was also given that evening, including a two-minute video featuring classroom interviews with district faculty about their experiences with the cohort.

The objective of the math placement program is to "establish a fair, objective and transparent protocol that serves students entering grades 6-12", and ensure students are placed in the appropriate math classes.

Ninth-graders improved the most last year at passing algebra 1 on their first attempt, compared to all students from grades seven to 12, according to the district program report. Freshman students experienced an 8% increase at successfully completing the course compared to other grade levels. Overall, more students are enrolled in honors mathematics courses this year than last and most went on to either geometry or algebra 2 after passing algebra 1.

All grades increased in passage rates to 91% for the 2017-18 school year, up 4% from the 87% threshold in 2016-17. Intervention specialists, tutoring support and summer school blended math learning classes were cited as helping factors in schools' success.

But 10th-graders had a 32% decrease in passing algebra 1, which became a focal point of discussion among trustees. African-American, Hispanic and American-Indian students experienced the greatest disproportionality of passage rates compared to Asian, Filipino and white students as well, along with students identified as English learners, disabled or socioeconomically disadvantaged.

Ken Rocha, director of secondary education, said "that's an area we want to dive deeper into" for figuring out solutions to serve those students. Trustee Jamie Yee Hintzke asked if there was also a correlation with students struggling to read or if any attempts were made to identify them among those who failed algebra.

"We're looking at multiple measures," Rocha said, including a "more systemic approach" to evaluating students' overall academic profiles to discern any need for early education intervention.

Trustee Steve Maher wondered whether classroom sizes played a part in the decreased passage numbers, which Rocha replied they are "in the range of 30" students in each.

"Maybe we can offer smaller class sizes," Maher said.

Odie Douglas, assistant superintendent of educational services, said those plans are already being tested.

"What we're experimenting with this semester is students ... have smaller class sizes" in courses they must retake, Douglas said.

District officials said they will continue conversations with teachers, counselors, administrators and parents about student math placement and academic performance. They also plan to push for more classroom time with intervention specialists in the 2019-20 school year and have teachers continue to pursue professional development.

In other business

* Trustees unanimously approved $350,000 to buy new instructional materials for AP Macroeconomics, AP Psychology and AP U.S. History. The one-time cost covers hardbound textbooks and online access to digital curriculum until 2026.

* Board members mulled the potential purchase of new furniture for classrooms at Lydiksen Elementary School, where a pilot furniture program was implemented this past summer, but did not make a final decision Tuesday.

If approved, more furniture will be ordered throughout the district for all "newly opened elementary classrooms only." The fixtures would be paid for by Measure I1 bond revenue and delivered just before the 2019-20 school year. Outfitting each classroom will cost $16,500 to $21,000.

Maher noted the school's older furniture in the report costs about a third of the new pieces, while Hintzke questioned what type of material was used and whether it would hold up to a student stabbing one of the chairs with a pencil. The board will vote on the purchase at its Feb. 26 meeting.

* Pleasanton Middle School will receive a face lift this year after the board authorized a contract for $653,213 to replace the aging HVAC system in eight buildings on campus. Most of the work will be paid for using $553,733 of Measure I1 revenue, and deferred maintenance funds would cover the rest.

* Trustees considered how to spend a $456,462 grant from the California Department of Education. The one-time fund must be used by Nov. 1, 2021, and serve "pupils identified as low-performing on state English language arts or mathematics assessments."

"I assume we're adding services because we're not shifting the budget to this," Trustee Mark Miller said, adding that "we'd potentially see additional reading and intervention specialists" like those for the math placement program.

The board has until the end of the month to develop and submit a plan to the state for how the money will be used to improve the students' academic success.

* The formation of a Board Budget Subcommittee is one step closer to finalization; the group will have oversight of the district's budget, financial priorities and give policy guidance and make recommendations to the school board. The subcommittee will include trustees Miller and Joan Laursen, with Maher serving as an alternate. Administrators will draft committee bylaws and present them to the board for approval at its next meeting.

* Five of the six Citizens' Bond Oversight Committee members were unanimously approved to serve another two-year term.

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