Testing times at
Meiners Oaks School
By Bret Bradigan
Because a total of four students
did not take tests designed to measure their progress - one student
in 2002 and three in 2003 - Meiners Oaks Elementary School failed
to meet the 95 percent participation rate required by the No
Child Left Behind Act and has been designated a "Program
That means the school - despite scores on its annual tests that
cleared the bar for its crucial Average Yearly Progress - must
take certain steps to get off the list during the next five years
or risk a range of sanctions starting with revising the school
plan and ending with state takeover.
Ojai Unified School District administrators, presenting the results
of a variety of test scores from the past school year, said they
plan to appeal the designation, noting that their records show
177 students took the tests, not the 164 shown on the AYP scoring
- putting the school comfortably ahead of its 95 percent requirement.
Part of the problem reaching that 95 percent was due to special
education students, said Jarice Butterfield, OUSD assistant superintendent,
who said many parents "didn't want their child tested,"
including "13 or 14 special education students not taking
the CAPA," a test designed to measure life skills, rather
than academic achievement, in which students are tested at the
level of their functioning, rather than by grade level.
A conflict arises between the federal Average Yearly Progress
program that requires 95 percent participation and the state,
which allows parents to opt out of having their students tested,
said Jim Berube, also a district assistant superintendent, who
teamed up with Butterfield on the presentation.
Generally, they noted, the Ojai Unified School District outperformed
their peers at both county and state levels, except in isolated
areas. All told, students took an alphabet soup of acronym-abundant
tests, such as STAR, CST, CAPA, AP and SABE. The results of these
tests are compiled and used to measure the school's progress.
Fifth graders fell short of state averages on the California
Standardized Test, with 35 percent testing at proficient level
or better, and 35 percent exceeding that mark at the state level.
Those same fifth graders, however, did better than the state
on English Language Arts scores. Most CST trends were up across
the board, with the exception of the fifth-grade math scores,
third-graders in English Language Arts and eighth-grade English
And more and more district students
are taking the high road, with participation rates, and pass
rates, improving in Advanced Placement tests at Nordhoff School.
In 1995, there were 78 students signed up for the college-level
classes. In 2003, 184 students were signed up. Pass rates have
fluctuated from 60 percent in 1996 to 84 percent in 1998. In
2003, the pass rate was 70 percent.
Board member Dr. Pauline Mercado expressed concern that Meiners
Oaks Elementary School was being unfairly vilified. "I do
have some problem with being designated the same as schools with
low test scores. It doesn't make sense."
The issue brought to fore the only board dispute of the night,
when board member Bob Unruhe said that the proliferation of testing
was a distraction from teaching. "Schools are becoming factories,
students are becoming test-taking machines, and teachers testing
Board member Kathi Smith said, "I totally disagree with
everything you just said," noting that in her experience
as a parent of district students, plenty of good teaching, and
learning, was occurring.
The meeting, presided over by
Rikki Horne in the absence of Tim Peddicord, got started on a
positive tone, with two presentations.
In the first, six students from Nordhoff High School - Leticia
Ortiz, Claudia Martinez, XXXXXX - who were selected as Wallis
Annenberg Scholars at the University of Southern California -
spoke about their month-long seminars in which they took college
courses and lived as full-time students.
Counselor Janice McCormick proudly
noted that all six received As and Bs in their courses, qualifying
them for a stipend and a laptop computer. The students, who briefly
spoke to the board about the program, shared dorm space with
32 other scholars from around the country and took classes in
everything from parliamentary procedure to robotic design. One
student said the experience changed her mind about attending
Ventura College and formed her desire to attend a four-year university
Smith told McCormick, "Ojai's very proud of the little group
you got here."
Next up was Dr. Marty Fujita, who spoke about the debut at Topa
Topa Elementary of the "Food for Thought" Healthy Schools
Project, in which a group of 13 parents, nutritionists, teachers
and farmers have brought to the school a "garden-based learning
program." The program includes a salad bar at the school
on Fridays, stocked with fresh produce, locally grown. Fujita
said the program was patterned after Bay Area whole foods promoter
Alice Waters' and her idea of an "edible schoolyard"
where children learn nutrition and good eating habits. Eventually,
the group would like "Food for Thought" to cover its
Unruhe said he had had a Friday lunch at Topa Topa. "It
was a delicious lunch and kids were really excited about it,"
Jim Churchill, a local farmer and partner of the project with
the Community Alliance for Family Farmers, said early indications
are that kids eat 20 percent more often on salad bar days. The
goal, he said, is to go from 220 students eating lunch in the
cafeteria on average, to 300 with another 60 parents and adults
on those designated days.
Heidi Whitman, who, in addition
to serving on that "Food for Thought" project, was
representing the Ojai Educational Foundation, said that the grant
deadline for this school year was coming up on Sept. 26. The
OEF donated $14,000 last year for 17 teachers.
Kevin Horswell, a senior at Nordhoff
High School, got off to an energetic start in his first meeting
as student representative. Besides commenting, from a students'
point of view, on nearly every issue before the board, he gave
a detailed report on student activities. Thanking the board for
the opportunity, he said, "You are actual people you can
interact with, and a lot of students don't get that."
Among the updates and information
presented, he said students wanted a ping-pong table for lunch
period recreation, and that they were making plans to set up
a student center in the old administration as soon as the $6.5
million construction project was complete and the administration
was moved into their new quarters. He also said that the fireworks
show was returning for this year's Homecoming Game, though next
year, because of the new track, no floats would be allowed after
In other business, a number of
agenda items were breezed through, including modifications to
the Nordhoff construction project, letters of intent for bargaining
with employee representatives, funding the Gifted and Talented
program for $26,000 and accepted two generous donations - one
for $12,000 from Lyn Chernis and Dr. Robert Morris for the College
and Career Center at Nordhoff, and $7,500 from Charlotte Bronstein
for anti-bias training. Horne made note of the continuing generosity
of the donors, and said it was her privilege to spend time every
day with Bronstein, a long-time school supporter who is extremely
The three-hour meeting concluded
with a brief report from Superintendent Dr. Tim Baird. He said
that the district managed to come up with enough money to spare
elementary physical education classes, thereby eliminating the
necessity for teachers to take an unpaid furlough. He also said
that enrollment was down 111 students from last year, but that
was less of a decline than predicted, and that the installation
of the new phone system was complete and that new staff directories
would be soon distributed.
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