Written by Shannon Yang
Due to dissatisfaction expressed by Palo Alto Unified School District (PAUSD) students and parents in meetings and Strategic Plan surveys, PAUSD hired a firm to research two issues: course consistency in core classes and the direction of the district’s foreign language programs.
According to superintendent Max McGee, PAUSD is retaining a contract with Hanover Research Group signed by Associate Superintendent of Student Services Dr. Charles Young in November 2014. “We commissioned Hanover Research to do an objective study, to gather quantitative and qualitative data and from that, develop a series of findings and ideally even [compile] recommendations for what we can do to have more consistency,” McGee said.
The research project includes analysis of existing data as well as the collection of more data. “[Hanover is] conducting parent, teacher and student surveys,” McGee said. “They’re analyzing existing documents and they’ll conduct some small focus groups.”
According to the Gunn Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) survey, 28.4 percent of students disagree that grading is fair across teachers and courses. Similarly, 32.9 percent of students disagree that teacher quality and difficulty is consistent. McGee believes both of these are areas where the district can improve.
Another issue Hanover is looking into is the quality of the world language programs throughout the district. The Spanish and Mandarin immersion and the five world languages offered by Paly and Gunn specifically will be assessed.
The world language department is using proficiency-based guidelines set by the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Language and the College Board. “We evaluate students based on their ability to communicate based on the three modes of communication: interpretive, interpersonal and presentational,” world language department Instructional Supervisor Anne Jensen said.
Jensen noted that a placement exam ensures that immersion students are well incorporated. “We have a very extensive placement process,” she said. “We have them come and do a written and oral test so we can see where they best fit into our program.”
The department uses second language acquisition theory to continue an immersion-style experience in the classroom. “[One important practice] is immersing students in the target language as much as possible,” Jensen said. “The more opportunities kids have to speak, the better.”