We always welcome your thoughts! Please feel free to comment on specific posts or send your comments to us at feedback@tamdistrict.org.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Smarter Balanced Assessments - Part One

What is the history behind these tests?
There has been a great deal of media coverage recently about state and national education issues and much of it can seem confusing and contradictory.  Many of these news reports use jargon and terms that can be unclear such as "Common Core Standards", "No Child Left Behind", and "Smarter Balanced Assessments".  As parents, we hear bits and pieces of these reports but not many of us have the time to wade through it all to put together the pieces of the story.
At our most recent Parent Advisory Council, we discussed these topics as well as the new mandated state testing that will be given to 11th graders for this first time this April.  Based on our discussion, the Advisory Council recommended that we create a series of communications about the new student assessment system including its connection to national and state laws.

The roots of our state assessment system go back to 1965
On April 9, 1965, the U.S. Congress passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty.  This landmark legislation allocated large amounts of financial resources to meet the needs of students from low-income homes.  For the first time, the federal government acknowledged that some students need more services to reach the goals that are set forth for all students.  The federal money allocated to schools for low-income students is sometimes referred to as Title I funding.  ESEA is a law with a limited lifespan and, therefore, has been reauthorized by Congress several times since 1965.  For more information about ESEA, click here.

No Child Left Behind was a new name for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act
In 2002, President George W. Bush reauthorized ESEA and renamed it the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).  The federal government created a new role for itself in public education through the mandate that all states have student assessment systems that expose achievement gaps between groups of students.  NCLB also included a series of sanctions for schools that did not meet student achievement targets, which increased dramatically each year.  In California, the STAR tests were created to meet the federal requirements.  Despite widespread dissatisfaction with NCLB, these tests were given in California until spring 2013.  At Tam District, our STAR test scores have had an upward trend for the past decade.  For more information click here.

Common Core Standards change the national dialogue
Part of the backlash against NCLB occurred because states adopted different standards for what students need to know and be able to do as well as different systems to assess student achievement.  The Common Core Standards initiative gained traction due to the frustration of inconsistent standards and testing systems.  The Common Core Standards are an attempt to nationally standardize knowledge and skills taught to all students.  Although the Common Core Standards have also been the topic of some controversy, they were written by educators and focus on using information and skills to solve real world problems.  Under Common Core, the same skills that have always been taught will continue to be taught and there is an increased emphasis on the application of knowledge.  Click here for more information about how Tam District has incorporated the Common Core Standards into the curriculum.

The new Smarter Balanced Assessment system will be used to test students on the Common Core Standards
This spring all school districts in California will assess students using a new system known as Smarter Balanced.  This new set of tests are aligned to the Math and English Language Arts Common Core Standards and will include both multiple choice questions as well as performance tasks that require students to apply knowledge and solve problems.  At the high school level, only 11th graders will be tested.  For more information about these assessments click here.

Data will be more useful than ever
The Smarter Balanced Assessment system is a mandatory requirement for all schools in California.  Test results will be available to schools, teachers and parents relatively quickly and the data promises to be more useful than what was received from the STAR tests.  Additionally, the inclusion of performance tasks will allow a new level of understanding of a student's ability to apply knowledge.  For sample performance tasks click here.

More information about Smarter Balanced Assessments is coming soon and will include:
  • More detail about Smarter Balanced Assessments including how they are scored and how information will be reported to parents.
  • Tips to help your student prepare for testing day.
  • Information about the variety of assessments given throughout high school.
  • Frequently Asked Questions about student assessment.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Message from Supt. Kimbrel & Board Pres. McCauley

Letter to TUHSD Community from Laurie Kimbrel, Superintendent

Dear Tamalpais Union High School District Community,
I have made a decision to leave my current position as TUHSD Superintendent effective June 30, 2015 because I have signed a contract to be superintendent in another district.
I have enjoyed working with the administrative team, staff, parents and community over the past seven years and by working together we have made a difference for our students.  A strong and forward thinking strategic plan has guided our work to ensure that all students have access to rigorous coursework and graduate ready for success in the 21st century.
Thank you to the Board of Trustees for their vision, direction and support over the past seven years.  I would also like to thank the administrative team who are among the most talented leaders in the state, if not the nation.  I have a great deal of respect and admiration for our teachers and staff who come to work every day with the unwavering belief that it is their collective responsibility to ensure emotional and academic growth for our students and for their willingness to be innovative, reflective and improve upon their own professional practice.  Finally, I would like to thank the parents and community members who have supported a strategic plan and leadership team dedicated to the continuous improvement of already great schools.

I firmly believe that there is a great deal of positive momentum in our schools and that our talented staff will continue to move forward on behalf of our students.  I look forward to continuing to work with the board, staff, parents, community and students to ensure a smooth transition over the next six months.


Laurie Kimbrel

Statement to TUHSD Community from Cindy McCauley, President of Board of Trustees
On behalf of the Tamalpais Union High School District Board of Trustees, I want to congratulate Dr. Laurie Kimbrel on this next chapter of her career and thank her for her vision and commitment to our community over the past seven years.
Under Dr. Kimbrel's leadership, we have made significant progress toward achieving our district mission and strategic plan.  All TUHSD schools have experienced improvement in student achievement and we are confident that this momentum will continue.  This district has a very dedicated and talented team of teachers, administrators, and support staff who will work to ensure that our great schools are continuously improving on behalf of all our students.
The average tenure for a superintendent is three to five years; we have been very fortunate to have seven consecutive years under Dr. Kimbrel's leadership.
Dr. Kimbrel and the board are committed to a smooth transition over the next six months.  This board is determined to execute a high quality search and an inclusive process in choosing our next superintendent.  We will keep the community fully informed about our progress in this search.
I personally wish Dr. Kimbrel all the best as she takes on this new career opportunity.
Cindy McCauley


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Message from President of TUHSD Board of Trustees

By Cindy McCauley, President of TUHSD Board of Trustees
On behalf of the Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD) Board of Trustees, welcome to the second semester of our school year.  During the final Board of Trustees meeting of 2014, I had the honor of being elected your Board President for this upcoming year.  Michael Futterman was also elected to serve as the Board Clerk.
So what exactly is the role of a Board of Trustees?  According to the California School Boards Association, the primary responsibility of a board is  to set direction for the district, to provide a structure by establishing direct policies, to support the staff in their work, to ensure accountability and to provide community leadership on behalf of the district and public education.
The District's mission statement and strategic plan guide all of our decisions as a Board.  Our students are prepared for leadership and success in the world beyond high school through access to rigorous coursework.  But we know that rigor alone isn't enough; our students must also be taught a set of "21st Century Skills" - creative problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, and communication.
In addition, we believe that it is our responsibility to ensure the growth of our students not only academically, but also emotionally.  The implementation of new site intervention plans and the development of a district-wide Wellness Program will support every student in reaching his or her full potential.
All five schools in the District have a tradition of great programs and great teaching.  Our administrators and staff strive to build on successes while continuously looking for ways to improve on behalf of ALL of our students by working together and sharing best practices district-wide.
TUHSD has made great progress over the last several years towards achieving our mission and strategic plan.  The leadership of our administration and the collaboration among parents, teachers and the Board is focused on student outcomes and is the foundation of success within the District.  Teachers have created measurable outcomes for each course.  Our District's leadership respects the professionalism of our staff and supports teacher choice regarding the methods they employ to meet these outcomes.  We should all be very proud of the recent improvement of our student performance data across all categories.
As Board President, I look forward to a very productive year as we support our administrators and staff as they continue to implement strategies and programs that make our mission a possibility for every student.
I invite you to attend our Board of Trustees meetings to see firsthand the incredible work and dedication to improvement which is taking place in our District every day.  The dates, times, and locations of meetings, as well as the meeting agenda, can be found on our website.  Please note that detailed agendas including presentations, documentation, and reports are posted on line the Friday before the Tuesday meeting so you will know what topics will be discussed at a particular meeting.
To learn more about the work going on in the TUHSD, please visit our website Tamalpais Union High School District and view our TUHSD Strategic Priorities.  On this page you will find our mission statement and student performance data in addition to our District's Strategic Priorities.

In the meantime, I hope to see you at a meeting or a school event soon.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Ask almost anyone and they will tell you that completing college applications can be complicated and emotional for a variety of reasons.  Students often report that the most anxiety-inducing portion of the process involves the ACT and SAT exams.  Both are nationally administered, standardized tests that help colleges evaluate students for admission.  Both tests have been rites of passage for decades, but the landscape has changed and students can now make a choice about which test to take.
Until recently, the college entrance test you took was based on your zip code.  Students on the east and west coasts typically took the SAT and students in the middle of the country usually took the ACT.  For most, there wasn't much thought that went into the decision, you simply took the test you were told to take by the colleges in your geographic area.  Times have changed dramatically and almost every college now accepts either test.  In fact, colleges do not express a preference for one test over the other.
As illustrated in the chart below, more and more TUHSD students take the ACT every year and they are experiencing a great deal of success.

   Grad     English    Math                                                         Total
   Year       Score     Score    Reading   Science   Composite   Tested
   2010       26.3       26.2        26.1          24.6          25.9           375   
   2014       26.8       26.2        26.8          25.3          26.4           458   
ACT scores range from 1 to 36.  The national average composite score is 21.  It is also interesting to note that the California state average composite score was 22.2 in 2010 and 22.3 in 2014.  Clearly, TUHSD students are performing far above state average and, of even more significance; our students' performance is improving at a rate that far exceeds the state.
What is the difference between the two tests?
There are many factors that distinguish the two tests from each other, but briefly, the ACT is an achievement test that measures the content taught in school.  Success on the ACT is dependent on mastery of curriculum and, therefore, is closely tied to a student's experience in their school.  The SAT is more of an aptitude test and it measures reasoning and verbal abilities.
The ACT has five sections:  English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test.  The SAT has three sections:  Critical Reading, Mathematics, and a required Writing Test.
How are the questions different on the ACT and SAT?
According to the Princeton Review website, the ACT questions tend to be more straightforward and easier to understand on a first read.  The SAT may require more time to think about a question prior to the formulation of a response.  Furthermore, SAT penalizes for wrong answers, so guessing is discouraged.  The ACT is scored based on the number of correct answers with no penalty for guessing.
Is there a difference in the length of the tests?
The ACT is three hours and 25 minutes including the optional Writing Test.  The SAT is three hours and 45 minutes.
How do students choose the best test?
The place to get great advice is from your student's TUHSD counselor!  This blog post barely scratches the surface of the complexities of both tests.  Our counselors know our students on an individual basis as well as the ins and outs of both tests.  They can help a student assess their strengths and weaknesses and make informed decisions about the entire college application process.  Another great place to get advice is from the College and Career Counselors.  They have access to a variety of resources such as practice tests, information about specific colleges and universities, as well as the sign up process to take tests.
More resources: 


Monday, November 3, 2014

Successful Completion of Refunding of 2006 General Obligation Bonds

Tamalpais Union High School District is pleased to report the successful completion of the refunding of its 2006 series of General Obligation Bonds.  Refunding of bonds is similar to refinancing a mortgage.  New bonds are sold, the old debt is paid off, and taxpayers benefit from the savings.  Historically low interest rates and the ability to enter the market quickly enabled the district to lock in $8.5 million of debt service savings.
This refunding represents the third time the District has been able to reduce debt service costs paid by our taxpayers.  The combined savings from each of our three refundings total about $19.9 million over the period from 2011 through 2031.  The 2014 refunding was extremely successful and represents about 43% of the overall savings from the three refundings.
As recently reported to our community, Standard & Poor's affirmed the District's rating of 'AAA' on all outstanding General Obligation Bonds as well as on the new Refunding Bonds.  Standard & Poor's cited the District's strong tax base, conservative approach to budgeting, strong reserve levels and strong management as key positive factors leading to the highest possible rating.
The 2006 bonds were originally approved by a two-thirds vote of the community in order to modernize and upgrade all five high schools.  Our students and community now benefit from world class learning environments at all five high schools.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Board Meeting Update

The TUHSD Board of Trustees is an elected, legislative body that is responsible for governance of our school district.  Many who have attended board meetings have commented that they can sometimes be difficult to follow.  Board meetings must comply with a specific and rather complex set of laws known as the Brown Act as well as Robert's Rules of Order and so, to the casual observer, these meetings can seem unusually formal at times.
Typically, board meeting notes and highlights are sent to district staff after conclusion of a meeting.  With regard to the meeting that took place yesterday, October 28, we think that parents may also benefit from a summary of the meeting, which includes an explanation of how a board meeting should work.  In particular, at yesterday's meeting there was a procedural error regarding public comment on the consent agenda.  The error was corrected during the course of the meeting, but it created a fair amount of unintended confusion, and for that reason we think it appropriate to discuss what happened and to take the opportunity to help educate District stakeholders both about procedural issues at public meetings, and to summarize some of the matters that were discussed.  
TUHSD Board Meeting Start Times and Locations - In order to enhance opportunities for attendance and participation by staff members, students, parents and community members, some board meetings have a late afternoon start time and others have an evening start time and meetings are held in various locations in the district.  All start times and locations are noted on board agendas.  All agendas are posted 72 hours prior to the meeting on the district website.
Closed Session - Closed session is a discussion among board members and senior District staff, and is not open to the general public.  The Brown Act sets forth the rules about what can be discussed in closed session.  Yesterday, the board began its meeting with a public call to order at 3:40 p.m. in the Redwood library and then approved the closed session agenda.  The general public was provided an opportunity to comment on any item on the closed session agenda at that point.  At this particular meeting, after the call to order, the board moved to a small conference room for closed session and approved personnel actions and discussed one matter of potential litigation.  The board then returned to the Redwood library for open session and reported that the personnel actions were unanimously approved.  Occasionally, the board has a second closed session at the end of a meeting.  When this occurs, it is for items that do not require a vote by the board.
Consent Agenda - The consent agenda is a component of the open session of a board meeting.  It is a tool used to streamline meeting procedures by collecting items into a group whereby all are passed with a single motion and vote.  The public should be provided an opportunity to comment on any item in the consent agenda.  Unfortunately, last evening the process was not followed in the correct sequence.  It was mistakenly stated that the public would be provided the opportunity to make comments after the vote on the consent agenda, under the next item called "public comment".  A member of the audience indicated that she believed this was in error and in response, staff immediately sought legal opinion about the correct process.  After receiving legal advice, the board sought to remedy the situation by reconsidering the consent agenda after additional opportunity for  public comment was provided.  Unfortunately, by the time the consent agenda was reconsidered, several members of the audience who wanted to comment had left the meeting.  In order to provide the public with another opportunity to speak to any issues of concern, the board approved only the time sensitive items which were a field trip, purchase orders and a job description for an IT Data Specialist.  Thus, the board ultimately did not approve, and postponed for a later meeting, the remaining items originally on the consent agenda, including the proposed management raises.  
Public Comment - This is the portion of the agenda where any member of the audience can speak to any issue not on the agenda.  Staff members, parents, students and community members can all speak.  Comments are limited to three minutes and the board cannot engage in dialogue because these items are not on the posted agenda.  
Discussion/Action Items - These items are listed in order on the agenda and are discussed one at a time.  The public may comment on Discussion/Action items after staff make their presentation and the board asks their initial questions.  Last evening there were several interesting discussions with lots of great supporting data.  If you would like more information about the items below, please see the full agenda at:   http://tamusd.csbaagendaonline.net/cgibin/WebObjects/tamusdeAgenda.woa/wa/showMeeting. 
Underlined items in the agenda are links to the full reports given by staff and also include relevant background information.
  • TUHSD Data Snapshot - The Senior Director of Curriculum and Instruction, presented a variety of student achievement data including state test results, SAT and ACT data, Advanced Placement program enrollments and test results as well as information about how many of our students persist and finish college within six years of enrollment.  Clicking on the link above can access the data accompanying the presentation.
  • Student Assessment Plan - The board heard an overview of the assessments currently used in TUHSD as well as some ideas about additional assessments that could be added in the future to gather more information about the proficiency and growth of our students and the effectiveness of our programs.  This was a discussion only, and the issue will be a future topic of conversation with staff, students and parents.
  • Tobacco Policy - The board discussed an update to the tobacco policy to include language prohibiting the use or possession of electronic cigarettes at our schools.
  • Bond Projects and Budgets - The board voted to approve what we believe will be the final projects and budgets for the 2001 and 2006 bonds.  Final projects include safety netting between baseball fields and tennis courts, installation of solar energy devices and restroom facilities on the Redwood football field.
  • Letter from Board of Trustees to Community - The board voted to take this item off of the agenda. 

Update Reports - There are two sections in the agenda that include update reports from a variety of staff and trustees.  Student trustees have an opportunity early in the meeting to give a report about what is happening at their sites.  Then, at the end of the agenda, the Assistant Superintendent for Finance and Facilities, the Associate Superintendent for Educational and Personnel Services and the Superintendent give brief reports of upcoming events.  Finally, trustees report any pertinent issues from district and county committees on which they serve.
Adjournment - Meetings end upon adjournment.
Please do not hesitate to contact me or any member of the Board of Trustees with questions about how board meetings work or about this meeting in particular.  As always, your input is welcome and appreciated.

Monday, October 27, 2014

AAA Rating Reaffirmed for TUHSD

Standard & Poor's Ratings Services has recently affirmed its 'AAA' rating for Tamalpais Union High School District (TUHSD).  The District's rating was originally upgraded from 'AA+' to 'AAA' in 2010.  According to the summary report from Standard & Poor's, the financial performance of the District has been consistently positive and rating reflects a stable and strong property tax base, significant supplemental revenue from parcel taxes and good financial policies and practices.  The report also commends the District for a "shift in its strategic attention to the costs associated with its projection of a multiyear enrollment increase trend".  TUHSD is one of only 17 districts in California and 71 districts in the nation to currently have a 'AAA' rating.
This rating was sought by the District in preparation for the refunding of its 2006 series of General Obligation bonds, which were approved by a 2/3 vote of the community in order to modernize and upgrade all five high schools.  Refunding of bonds is similar to the process of refinancing a mortgage and the District anticipates a present value savings to taxpayers of approximately nine million dollars.
Tamalpais Union High School District has a long tradition of conservative financial practices intended to maximize revenue on behalf of the students and community.  The Board of Trustees exercise oversight of all financial policies, practices and approves annual budgets and audits.