News reported last week listed Liberty Union High School District as being the worst performing district in the East Bay, but closer examination of the statistics showed that LUHSD's scores were being compared to districts that serviced both elementary schools and high schools. After comparing LUHSD strictly against other high school scores, statistics show that while the district was still low, it was not the lowest.
"Obviously I said 'yikes' when I first heard those figures," said School Board Member Ray Valverde. "We were expecting something of a drop, but not like this … the board will meet with the superintendent and demand a plan of action."
Thirteen percent of Freedom High School students scored proficient or above in math on the 2006 STAR test. Liberty High came in at 15 percent and Heritage High students ranked in the 23rd percentile.
LUHSD Superintendent Dan Smith believes there is a number of reasons for the drop in scores.
"We are certainly concerned about these numbers, but we have to look at the overall scores for the past years to get a better picture," said Smith. "For two years, the focus has been on Algebra I, and we believe that focus will certainly pay off in higher test scores … perhaps we will have to do the same with geometry."
School board candidate Yolanda Pena Mendrek senses there might be another reason for the lows scores. She wonders if maybe last year's quickly implemented new school schedule at Liberty and Heritage high schools might be part of the cause.
Called the 4x4, the schedule is an accelerated collegiate model with up to four classes taught per semester. With 88-minute daily classes, students receive a year's worth of instruction in one semester. But while this schedule allows them to push ahead, it can have its drawbacks.
For students who learn at a slower rate, or struggle with a particular part of a class, the 4x4 can be rough. In addition, fall semester students have had a full year of school by the time the STAR test rolls around, while those only halfway through the year when test time arrives are put at a disadvantage.
"The thinking, of course, is that students can get more credits in a regular year with this 4x4 program," said Mendrek. "But I'm not sure that it is all that successful, and may even be part of the reason for the lower test scores at Liberty and Heritage. Many students cannot grasp the concepts quickly enough, and some of the students who have certain classes in the second semester haven't even learned all the material before they take the test …We can't just throw this all at the district; we need to look at all aspects."
Smith doesn't tend to think that the 4x4 schedule is the reason behind lower STAR scores. He said that the district did take a look at the new program as a possible factor in the lower scores, but found little evidence to support that theory.
"We thought about that, too," said Smith. "But our initial reviews did not show a significant difference in students that took math the first term versus those that took it the second term. Also, while Liberty didn't score that well, Heritage (which also has the 4x4 program) did. So I'm not sure it's significant."
Freedom High School Junior Luke Edwards thinks the low scores might just be a simple case of student ennui.
"You know, it's tough; a lot of students don't try very hard because they know that the scores don't affect them personally," said Luke. "It's not unusual for kids to just fill in the bubbles without trying. I think there should be an incentive for students to score well."
While there is no official word yet regarding the reasons behind the drop in this year's STAR math scores, down from 20 percent proficiency last year district-wide, Smith says the immediate plan is to continue to study the data before making any determinations.
"We have gone over the information again," said Smith. "And over the next month or so we'll continue to look at