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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.