Shaky Math Doesn’t Help Local Schools

This week’s education column was written by Chris Stampolis, a West Valley-Mission Community College trustee. — Editor

Thank you to Joseph DiSalvo for inviting me to author this week’s column. I appreciate the opportunity to share some thoughts about public education in Santa Clara County.

Next Tuesday, Jan. 31, is the deadline to apply to be hired as Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools. This new leader must have courage to identify and publicize real solutions to our county’s ethnic and socioeconomic gaps in math and English student proficiency and to support those solutions with verifiable data.

Last week’s SJ2020 Algebra awards revealed that many staff members at the county office are concerned more with agency politics than with diligence and student achievement. The bureaucracy was the big winner when retiring Superintendent Dr. Charles Weis wrote, “No algebraic equations or even complicated process was used to identify the recognized schools.”

Even after county staff learned of significant miscalculations, leaders of several low-performing middle schools were rewarded with certificates, applause and photos with Dr. Weis and San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed. These schools now have their self-submitted best practices publicized on the county website as equal with actual achievers, regardless of statistical Latino student achievement. This silliness should stop. The community should not spend public money to emulate low proficiency.

So why does the Santa Clara County Office of Education (SCCOE) now encourage the study of four middle schools that have less than 15 percent of 8th grade Algebra proficiency for Latino students?

When reviewing student success, one can analyze the performance of all 8th grade students or just those who are enrolled in Algebra 1. Notes from the SJ2020 steering committee meeting of Sept. 15, 2011, show the decided metric was to be completion of Algebra 1 by the end of 8th grade. However, when running the numbers, staff neglected to include the 60 percent of local Latino 8th graders enrolled in General Math, a level below Algebra 1. At several awardee schools, even lower percentages of Latino students are enrolled in Algebra 1 and test results for those in General Math are poor.

Staff instead reviewed a subset of data and announced awards without discussing the issue with the elected Board of Education. Then, after realizing they goofed, staff members not only refused to correct the error but also sent out multiple media releases seeking publicity. Top performing schools should be commended for best practices, such as extended class time and Saturday sessions. But the county website now treats all these schools equally—regardless of competency.

The response from Superintendent Weis?  “These scores do not reflect the total population of students in 8th grade and may well be a restricted and selective sample,” he said.

In 2011, 47.8 percent of Santa Clara County’s public school 8th graders demonstrated Algebra 1 proficiency, but with wide ethnic gaps:

20.4% of Latino students; 23.6% of African-American students; 55.6% of “white” students; 78.0% of Asian-heritage students (including just shy of 90% Algebra 1 proficiency among Chinese-heritage students).

When one uses overall numbers— as should have been done to start— the awarded middle schools show a startling range of Latino student proficiency for Algebra 1 in the 8th grade. Several other schools would have been included in top rankings, such as Rolling Hills, Renaissance, James Fisher and ACE Charter. Cheer some below, but not all:

KIPP Heartwood: 86.9%
River Glen: 56.0%
Solorsano: 45.1%
Brownell: 41.7%
Fischer: 40.4%
Luther Burbank: 35.1%
South Valley: 35.0%
Quimby Oak: 15.3%
Cabrillo: 14.6%
Moreland: 13.4%
Sunnyvale: 12.1%

The first priority to build community trust must be that public school administrators honestly and transparently share data about student proficiency. More so, when someone makes a calculation error, don’t sweep it under a flurry of media releases and knowingly deceptive happy talk.

To close the achievement gap, first we must close the trust gap. The community should expect county superintendent applicants to discuss this kerfuffle honestly with the hiring board over the coming weeks.

Chris Stampolis, parent of two elementary age sons, serves as an elected member of the West Valley-Mission Community College District Board of Trustees and as a California representative on the Democratic National Committee.


  1. I’m surprised Chris Stampolis did not identify himself as the spouse of County Board of Education member Anna Song (who is Superintendent Chuck Weis’ boss).  Shouldn’t we ultimately hold Anna and the other board members accountable in this situation?

  2. Wow Chris..  What a turn of philosophies here..

    real solutions to our county’s ethnic and socioeconomic gaps in math and English student proficiency and to support those solutions with verifiable data.

    And just a few weeks back (sorry, too lazy to look for the link now) you were saying that there wasn’t an ethnic gap, that “ethnic” students in affluent areas scored higher than their counterparts in less than affluent areas.

    Hell, you even did a nice job of providing data, and citing your references.

    Care to explain the sudden shift in ideals here?  My faith in you (or Abe’s) ability to lead the county education has diminished significantly.

    Did brosef promise someone a favor?

  3. As we’ve been telling educators, board members, and people like Chris Stampolis:

    “In 2011, 47.8 percent of Santa Clara County’s public school 8th graders demonstrated Algebra 1 proficiency, but with wide ethnic gaps:  20.4% of Latino students; 23.6% of African-American students; 55.6% of “white” students; 78.0% of Asian-heritage students…”

    Not sure why Chris uses sneer quotes around white, but the diverse white American students are falling into the middle of the success rate for Algebra 1 proficiency.  It doesn’t seem to bother him, but it means that the diverse white American students are scoring 35.2 points ahead of Hispanic American students, but 22.4 points behind Asian American students.

    This is especially interesting because so many educators pompously declare that the achievement gap is between the diverse white American students and the Latino & African American students, but we see once again that it is a Big Lie.

    No wonder the diverse white American parents are choosing charter schools, private schools, and weekend tutoring to find an adequate and competitive level of education for their children.

    Latino and African-Americans may well consider seeking charter schools, private schools, and weekend tutoring for their children, as well.  The public schools aren’t serving some major demographics well at all.

    • You raise a good point. Why are the educrats only obsessed with closing those ‘achievement gaps’ in which white kids are ahead? It doesn’t concern them when white kids lag far behind Asian kids.
      It seems racism IS alive and well. Our entire public education policy is founded on it.

    • No sneer intended at all.  I’m glad you pointed out the differential and I encourage discussion on this point.  There’s only so much room in a 600-word target column.

      The gap between white and Asian-American students bothers me too and the data exists to assess differences in socioeconomic and other backgrounds.  I personally am of mixed European heritage and I agree a cumulative 55% is not good enough.  I included quotes because of the very broad catch-all that “white” covers, including lots of people whose skin color tends towards bronze.  Your points about looking at multiple achievement gaps are well-taken.

      In Santa Clara County, 463 white 8th grade students were listed as socioeconomically-disadvantaged for the 2011 STAR test.  Of those students, 106 were proficient in Algebra 1 at the end of 8th grade – equal to 22.9 percent.  Of the 4091 white 8th grade students classified as “non-socioeconomically-disadvantaged,” 2416 were proficient in Algebra 1 at the end of 8th grade – equal to 59.1 percent.

      However, a real statistic to note is proficiency on the 8th grade General Mathematics test.  Sixteen percent of the non-socioeconomically-disadvantaged white 8th graders took the Gen. Math test.  Fully 56% of those white 8th graders scored advanced or proficient on the Gen Mathematics test – meaning they are ready to study Algebra 1 in high school.  And even 32 percent of the socioeconomically-disadvantaged white students scored proficient or above on that test.  Among Asian-American 8th graders in General Mathematics, 47% scored proficient or above at that level.

      Further, even among 1122 socioeconomically-disadvantaged 8th grade Asian-American students, more than 76.6 percent enrolled in Algebra 1 or higher, and more than 59.2 percent were proficient or above in Algebra 1 overall – basically the same proficiency as the non-socioeconomically disadvantaged white students.  That’s about two and a half times as many socioeconomically-disadvantaged Asian-heritage students than socioeconomically-disadvantaged white students.

      So, yes, Minority White Community, these numbers merit much closer review as well.  I am grateful you encourage everyone to consider the full range of proficiencies and challenges.

  4. Why bother trying to characterize a student as this or that?  20 years ago the Merky News reported test scores by WHITE and MINORITY meaning Hispanic since there was such a small number of black and Asain students in SCC.

    Now you will notice that the same Merky News breaks it out in WHITE ASAISN & MINORITY and of course the “minority” students are the poor downtrodden who are discriminated against.

    We have a large illegal population in SCC – how large? who knows, it is UN PC to ask those things.  The illegals (not mentioning any group) are largely non english speaking and only here for the plentiful jobs that Amercians don’t want (and lots of good ones too) and to recieve all the good things this country obligingly hands out.  These are poor people and as such move often.

    This creates a huge turnover in our public schools, as much as 30-35% in a classroom.  The parents being illegal, for the most part, don’t bother with formalities such as requesting transcripts to take to the new school – they just show up. Which creates significant burden and extra expensee (testing, etc) for the new school.

    For a teacher/school it is like this:  “what happened to Student A, he/she hasn’t been here for two weeks.  Are they coming back?  Should we hold a place? What about the records?”

    “Oh a new student B just showed up, what level does he/she read, comoutate, etc at and where to place the student?”

    This is a big education/political elephant in the room and it is not addressed.  There is a reason.

    If anybody wants to read racism into this, go ahead.  But first read the whole thing.

    we have illegals persons here with their children to “do those jobs” and also use the faux liberal excuse of humanitarian caring.  Which is BS.  All this does is create a permanent underclass – make it bilingual so they don’t have to learn English and thus never achieve – – give them more social benefits than taxpayers recieve and then make sure they vote for – – well which ever party has been running this state for the last 40 years.

    So now which side truly deserves the racist tag?

    • Hugh, the numbers are known…studies in Santa Clara County show that approximately 15% of those students enrolled in our county’s elementary and secondary schools are here without permission. 

      One reason it is covered up and denied is that educators fear that support for parcel taxes would dwindle if voters became aware that the money is for this category of students…in exactly the same way that the county parcel tax was defeated last year which was to raise hospital money for young people who were not eligible for federal or state support, namely the same population as in your question.

      A sensible way to view the problem of public expenditures for services would be to use the lens of reciprocity.  That’s the concept that nations and states use to allocate benefits to citizens of other nations and states. 

      It applies to water rights, property ownership rights, visitation rights, citizenship rights, and so on.  Immigration (whether legal or illegal) is the only benefit that isn’t measured or reported by reciprocal standards.

      Let’s say someone from Poland or Ireland chose to enter California with three children, none of whom have followed legal requirements to be here.  An entirely legitimate question would be:  what benefits does Poland or Ireland provide to American children of any ethnicity? 

      If the other country does not even allow legal visitors from the USA to own businesses, invest in mining enterprises, or send their children free to schools, then the USA should reciprocate in every way.  Easy rule to follow.  Vote NO on parcel taxes if reciprocity cannot be shown.

  5. What is the overwhelming need to push Algebra beginning in 6th grade and trying to make students proficient by high school? I have heard the drum beat that our students need to compete in the high tech world, but truly, how many students will actually obtain positions that require higher math skills? We are setting students up for failure when introduced to concepts before they are intellectually ready. Lets face it, those kids that have the aptitude and drive to succeed in math and other subjects are readily identified by middle school. Instead educators and politicians have decided to drive that square peg in the round hole. We get a group of achievers, who are often from a family culture that understands the importance of education, and these students will succeed. The remaining students become disillusioned, disruptive, and apathetic.
    Parents who have high achieving children and can afford the tuition leave for private schools. These schools, with high graduation rates and college acceptance rates, are often the schools that provide the workforce that public schools used to prepare.
    What the public schools have created is a form of segregation. Those who can, leave for environments that are safe, nurturing and provide educational opportunities for success. Public schools continue with erratic policies, unproven educational methods and a bureaucracy more concerned with equality by dumbing down content, rather than providing different paths for success based upon students ability. Public schools will educate the winning 10% but too often the remaining students will be left without the necessary education and life skills to succeed.

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