Alex Herrera
Special to the Sun

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February 28, 2012
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My Turn: Truckee Elementary draws academic strength through diversity

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Too often, trying to dispel stubborn myths can turn into an exercise in futility. But sometimes, the reality of a situation is so plain to see that correcting perception becomes a simple matter of communicating a few, basic facts. Such is the case when setting the record straight about Truckee Elementary students’ scholastic achievements.

On the basis of the 2011 results for Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR), Truckee Elementary School has been designated a Program Improvement school. It’s an often scrutinized label that belies the reality of TES, one of a vibrant and diverse community school, steered by passionate teachers who continue to develop bright, high-achieving, and confident students. And ironically, it also obscures the truth about standardized testing results … that TES students actually produce some of the best test scores in the district.

The fact is in 2011, Truckee Elementary’s English-Learner sub-group ranked first in English Language Arts (ELA) and second in mathematics (out of four reporting schools). And the English-Only sub-group ranked second in ELA and third in math (out of six reporting schools). That is, both sub-groups’ scores ranked near the top in the majority of tests, and they were above average in all tests. Yet TES retains PI status, while schools with lower performing sub-groups do not.

The reason? Many schools, including several in this district, are exempt from meeting progress goals set forth by the No Child Left Behind act, either because they do not receive federal Title 1 funds, or because their sub-groups are not deemed large enough to be considered “numerically significant.”

Truckee Elementary is fortunate to receive Title 1 funds other schools don’t. These substantial, incremental dollars alleviate some of the pain caused by cuts in ever-tightening budgets. And as both the largest and most diverse elementary school in the district, we have more than just a handful of students in our sub-groups. As a consequence, Truckee Elementary is measured, while other schools with lower-performing sub-groups are not.

At Truckee Elementary, we don't believe any school should be measured solely by test scores. Standardized tests do nothing to reflect a child's social development, aspirations, dedication and self-esteem, factors that predict success in the real world at least as well as test scores. The strength of our school lies not in STAR rankings, but rather in the skills, passion and can-do attitude of our staff, the dedication and diversity of our student body, and the inexhaustible energy of our parents.

Still, when it comes to the unavoidable reality of mandated, standardized testing, scores do matter. And our school is not shying away from the challenge. Scores for our English Only and English Learner students sit near the top of their categories. Our school will continue to work hard to drive scores up even further, eventually dropping our Program Improvement status. That not only means maintaining the strength we've developed in core disciplines like mathematics, but in helping our English Learners close the achievement gap.

Truckee Elementary's diversity is its greatest strength, not its weakness. TES is — and will remain — a quality school our staff, students, parents, and the entire community can be rightfully proud. However you choose to measure, there’s simply no basis for any perception to the contrary.

Alex Herrera is co-president of the Truckee Elementary School PTO.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Feb 28, 2012 03:09PM Published Feb 28, 2012 03:08PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.