Principals put in the hot seat over test scores of Hispanic and low-income students

Daily Post Staff Writer

Principals of two Palo Alto elementary schools told the school board last night that they have improved test results for low-income and Hispanic students. Instead of being congratulated, they were met with skepticism by board members, who asked why the students were so far behind in the first place.

Eric Goddard, principal of Barron Park Elementary School, and Marcela Simoes de Carvalho, principal of Escondido Elementary School, told the board that their schools have raised test scores for low-income and Hispanic children. Their data showed that test scores were higher for low-income and Hispanic students in fourth-grade than they were in third-grade.

But Todd Collins, vice president of the board, said the students were too far behind in third-grade given that many of them have been in the district since kindergarten. He said the presentation by the two principals “buried the lede” by glossing over the fact that about 80% of low-income third-graders at Escondido aren’t meeting English standards while about 70% aren’t meeting standards for math testing.

More than 60% of low-income third-grade students aren’t meeting English and math standards at Barron Park.

Collins said he wants data on students who are both low-income and Hispanic since the report yesterday presented the two categories separately.

Trustee Melissa Baten Caswell said the school board has been having the same conversations about the achievement gap since she was first elected 12 years ago. She said it’s like “moonwalking” because every time Palo Alto seems to be making some improvements, scores drop again.

Overhauling the district’s approach

Baten Caswell suggested that the district might need to overhaul its current strategy and research new methods that have worked for other school districts.

“You’re trying so hard, I do want to celebrate your passion,” she said to Goddard and Simoes de Carvalho. “I’m just asking if you’ve thought about sitting back and asking if we’ve gone about the whole thing wrong.”

The two student representatives on the board critiqued the low sample numbers in the report. They pointed out that there are around 10 to 30 low-income or Hispanic students in each grade at the two schools, meaning the scores could be affected by just a couple of kids at each school.


  1. What does this say about what teachers teach, as opposed to what families teach? What happens in the classroom for six hours every day? Apparently, not much.

  2. The board member’s and trustee’s response to these principal’s reports leave me almost speechless. Years and years of research show that real change in test scores and performance cannot be achieved by short and late intervention. Of course these Palo Alto students have not been able to improve to the level of the privileged children in other Palo Alto schools. Trustee Melisa Baden Caswell is correct. Of course we have these same problems with performance year after after year!! Real change would require attacking these issues in a comprehensive and consistent manner over many years. I have no hope that PAUSD would attempt or follow through with such a plan but here are some of the actions that any educated person knows would be required:
    Public, high quality preschool from 3 years on for all low income students in the district
    Support and education for low income parents from 3 years through high school
    More teachers assistants in the classroom.. for starters
    you know the drill- and I’m sure many of you know more about what’s required I am not an educator just a very puzzled member of our community.
    Ours is one of the most privileged districts in the US. We have the resources to effect these changes. Will these ideas or anything like them be implemented? Of course not. The real priorities are to keep test scores high so that we look good. The real priority is to continue to cater to a population of students who lead such enriched and privileged lives that we could place them in a cow pasture for 6-9 hours a day and they would still be over achievers.

  3. This issue of underachievement may have more to do with what’s happening at home than anything that can be done at school. If parents don’t emphasize the importance of studying, there’s not much a teacher can do. At some level, we need to accept the fact that some families don’t believe academic achievement is important. Once we accept that, we can stop devoting so much of our resources to closing the “achievement gap” and focus on the education of ALL students.

  4. How unfortunate, it is that the School Board has chosen to scapegoat the Principals rather than the key factors that impact success, failure, attitudes, motivation, respect, and responsibility (to name a few) including:
    = Parental influences, including guidance and inspiration, preferably by both parents.
    = Social-cultural influences.

    The case has not been made to blame the Principals. Those who scapegoat others need to look at themselves in the mirror and be honest.

  5. There is great work being done in San Mateo County on this issue. It’s called The Big Lift and there has been a lot of money to focused on what it takes to raise scores and a ton of research and evaluation to support what works. Perhaps PAUSD should look around and see what’s already happening!

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