Smallest district continues to see test score growth

Castaic Union School District Building. Dan Watson/The Signal
Castaic Union School District Building. Dan Watson/The Signal

Although they are the smallest district in the Santa Clarita Valley in terms of both total number of students and schools, the Castaic Union School District continued to see growth on their standardized test scores this past year.

Officially known as California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, the state’s standardized tests cover topics such as mathematics, reading and writing skills under the Common Core State Standards.

In both mathematics and English language arts, the Castaic Union School District surpassed the statewide average in both subjects with 61.15% and 46.17% met or exceeding statewide standards in English language arts and math, respectively.

In the state of California, 50.9% of third through sixth graders met or exceeded standards on English language arts, and 39.7% passed the math CAASPP.

Janene Maxon, CUSD assistant superintendent of educational services, said the district was happy to see growth. One particular area the district highlighted was their cohort growth, or a class of students showing improvement as they move through the grade levels year to year.

“We saw a lot of growth amongst all grade levels in both math and language arts,” said Maxon on Thursday. “Math has probably been one of our most difficult content areas in some grade levels just because of all the different shifts that were included, the different vocabulary.” 

“We finally feel like our kids are getting it,” Maxon added.

Maxon said the growth from 2017 to 2018 — which saw scores of 60.33% and 44.36% in English and math respectively — was possible through a number of factors, but highlighted two specifically: iReady and Universal Design for Learning programs.

Maxon said the iReady computer program allows for students to receive a diagnostic test that informs teachers where a student is in terms of the state standards. All students TK-8 are assigned “response intervention time” during the week where students can learn on their Chromebooks with the standards they’re struggling or thriving at.

“They’re working at their own pace, on their personalized pathway, which was designed by iReady,” said Maxon. “They can graph their progress, teachers are graphing their progress and schools are using it as a motivational tools.”

Maxon added that the time spent on the Chromebook is just part of the students’ time, and teachers are still giving students direct instruction. It is a time, anywhere from once a week to 45 minutes a day, that allows for “prescribed learning.” 

Teachers are also being trained in Universal Design for Learning methods, which involves teachers working with the “whole student.” Maxon said UDL is a framework that says one size does not fit all, and that the lesson does not stop at the lesson design.

“They’re looking at kids individually … they’re  making sure they incorporate ways in which the lesson is delivered maybe through using a lot of pictures, or a video or some kind of auditory type thing,” said Maxon. “Not every single student learns best by throwing a worksheet in front of them or having them ‘do the odds’ in a math book.”

“So, if anything, it’s supporting kids’ engagement,” she said.

Teachers, Maxon said, are also working more collaboratively in terms of how they can learn from each other; learn what methods work and how to implement them within their own classrooms.

“Because oftentimes teachers are in the classroom, the doors are shut and there are just great things going on that other teachers may be able to use to support them, or vice versa,” said Maxon. “I think we’ve just started reconnecting again.”

“Our Castaic teaching and support staff have been and continue to be diligent and so devoted in supporting students in their progress,” Maxon added. “They are a very hard working group of people. Who care so deeply for our students and families.”

For everything going right, though, the district has noted some challenges they are currently facing. In addition to ensuring all kids perform better on the writing by having a deeper understanding of the material, Maxon said the district is attempting to introduce their special education students to more general education classrooms.

CUSD students with disabilities scored 17.69% in English and 14.28% in math. The statewide average was 16.26% and 12.61%, respectively.

“I want parents to see that we’re really looking at their child, where they start from grade to grade and where we’ve taken them,” said Maxon. “Our goal is to make sure they leave at the grade level they’re at and ready for the next grade level…no matter where kids are you want them to grow and mastering that grade level’s standards.”

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