Letters for December 1, 2011

Letter of the week
SCUSD unhappy with ‘Fail’

Re “Fail” by Cosmo Garvin (SN&R Feature, November 17):

As a whole, the story “Fail” is riddled with errors, incidents of unfair or misleading reporting, and one-sided accounts.

Never in this long story about the priority schools did Mr. Garvin mention the staggering data that led these schools to be selected as such in the first place. Instead, he suggests that Superintendent [Jonathan] Raymond “drew on” his background at the Broad Academy to select these schools, which is not based in fact. The data used to select these schools has been public since the day the program was launched.

Mr. Garvin was quick to point out that principal [Felisberto] Cedros from [Hiram W. Johnson High School] declined an interview for the story, but failed to use any information from his lengthy conversation with the Oak Ridge [Elementary] principal. Rather, he allowed former staff members and an unnamed source from that school to cast aspersions without any printed response.

In the story, Mr. Garvin describes an inaccurate analysis of school testing data and cites this research as evidence that the growth at priority schools is overstated. In fact, the data presented by the district with regards to [California Standards Tests] score growth is the same model used by every school and district in the state of California. While he suggests that an analysis of individual student performance is more accurate, he offers no research defending this assertion nor does he speak to any expert who can defend it.

In actuality, the state compiles data that way for a reason: There are too many variables at play for individual students as they progress from one grade to another including, among other factors, different subject matter with differing degrees of difficulty. Experts at the state of California believe that a more accurate way to measure school growth is to track growth of a single grade at a single school, year over year. Comparing apples to oranges in an effort to manipulate data to serve a particular agenda is intentionally misleading.

In this long story, Mr. Garvin didn’t speak to a single student, parent or community member about the work being done at these schools. I would think that those voices would be critical in developing a well-rounded, balanced account of this work.

Finally, I’m perhaps most troubled by the fact that there was zero acknowledgement of the extraordinary hard work put in by students, staff and parents alike at these sites to improve schools that were previously unsuccessful by any measurement. Attendance at these schools is up, behavior-related suspensions are down and parent engagement is at an all-time high; facts that Mr. Garvin omitted. To assert that the achievements accomplished at these sites are a result of playing with numbers as opposed to countless hours of passionate hard work on behalf of the students and parents these schools serve is disrespectful, to say the least.

Gabe Ross
chief communications officer
Sacramento City Unified School District

Editor’s note: Ross contends the story is riddled with errors but does not name one. In his reporting on test scores, Garvin took the data and asked a simple question: On average, did individual scores at the priority schools improve? At half of the schools, they did not. The relevance of test scores is debatable, but the local press shouldn’t be expected to just repeat the district’s claims about test-score gains uncritically.

He’s willing to speak up

Re “Fail” by Cosmo Garvin (SN&R Feature, November 17):

Just a few corrections:

First, Hiram W. Johnson High School did not get an extra half hour per day last year, nor did we receive extra pay. If we were supposed to, then I am owed quite a bit of money!

Second, looking at cohort scores from year to year probably won’t be useful for another couple of years (in math, at least); last year was the first year that pre-algebra was not offered, and so many students who should have been in pre-algebra were placed into a regular Algebra 1 class. I do think that looking at the same student group is a valid and useful way to measure results, however.

Third, like it or not, the test scores at Hiram Johnson were pathetic. I am still not satisfied with them. I think any person looking at the test scores objectively would have agreed. Plus, we were totally failing certain demographics; the African-American test scores were about half of the other subgroups before last year. We made a significant gain in that subgroup, and I, for one, am fairly proud of the work we did toward that goal.

Fourth, the fact that H.J., prior to last year according to [Sacramento City Unified School District chief communication officer Gabe] Ross, was not making an effort to get credit-deficient kids into credit-recovery programs should have caused extreme outrage. Our goal as teachers is to give students the best possible chance for success, and locking students into a schedule that makes it impossible for them to graduate is deplorable.

Finally, I take personal offense to the notion that I am somehow complacent or unwilling to speak up if I disagree with an administrative move. I think people who know me will agree that I stand up for myself and for what I believe in.

Mike Moore

Fair is not equal

Re “Fail” by Cosmo Garvin (SN&R Feature, November 17):

I want to start by applauding the teachers, administration and staff at schools like Ethel Phillips [Elementary School] for their dedication in ensuring that their students receive a quality education. I am also a [Sacramento City Unified School District] teacher and am very disappointed with narrow, one-sided perspective given in this article.

It is important to remember that fair is not equal. While all schools should applauded for maintaining a high level of achievement, the simple fact is that a large handful of our schools are/were failing our students. Poor teaching, lacking administration and narrowed vision of curriculum, an issue that can also be seen at many non-priority schools as well, is what the priority-school reform has attempted to remedy.

I realize that this is coming at a cost for other schools in the district, but it can be argued that the long-term benefits can outweigh the short-term discomforts. Each priority school is working on a three-year plan. That plan also means a three-year increase in the yearly budget.

From what I understand, once those three years are up, priority schools will go back to the standard yearly budget. It will up to those teachers and administration to continue the success they have already begun—success that will hopefully be measured with the same level of respect as schools that have maintained a high level of success without the need of district intervention.

The status quo is clearly not working for every school. Reform is needed. Reform is not easy.

Nicole Quinn

Laughs, not relationships

Re “Chasing the laugh” by Raheem F. Hosseini (SN&R Arts&Culture, November 17):

As a Jewish standup comic who has been performing on the local scene for nearly two years, I am now wishing I would have been present at Po’ Boyz Bar & Grill the night you reported. I believe the Jews to be the founding fathers of American comedy, and are now becoming unnoticed in the local trend of urban comedy that is quickly displacing the more traditional “baby boomer” humor. I would like to think my comedic presence would have swayed your article in a more positive direction. However, having said that, I felt your article was honest and hurtful, or should I say hurtful because it was honest.

Steven Samuels