In annual review, MVLA schools report shrinking achievement gap in key metrics

(Arya Nasikkar)

The achievement gap between Latino and white students at Mountain View–Los Altos Union schools shrank in two key metrics last year, school administrators told the board in an annual data review last month.

The district has long reported disparate achievement between its Latino, white and Asian students, and was in fact identified by the state as disproportionately referring Latino students to special education programs, something which the district must address in its state-mandated Comprehensive Coordinated Early Intervening Services plan.

But while the numbers tell a mixed story, December’s data review showed relatively large improvements made in two specific key areas — A–G completion and Algebra II grades — by the district’s Latino population.

“We’re seeing that our students are achieving at a high level,” said Los Altos Assistant Principal Fabian Morales Medina. “My colleagues were a little worried for our Latino students and … I was like, ‘You guys are crazy.’ When you look at the data compared to our state’s data, our Latino students are achieving [at a high level]. Does that mean that we still have room for growth? Absolutely. But our students [have access] and the ability to engage in an education.”

Both Los Altos and Mountain View administrators pointed to an increasing number of Latinos finishing Algebra II — which is “often the biggest challenge for our subgroups when accessing post-secondary education” — with a C or higher as evidence of success despite the pandemic. 

Last academic year, Latino students at Los Altos saw a 4 percentage point increase in C-or-higher Algebra II completion compared to the 2019–2020 school year, while their Mountain View counterparts saw a 17 percentage point increase; the gap between white and Latino students at Mountain View closed by 14 percentage points, and the gap at Los Altos by 3.

Associate Superintendent of Educational Services Teri Faught said that part of the Mountain View increase is because the system had previously counted students who didn’t graduate when compiling the numbers — this year it was changed to only include students who graduated.

“We did this to help us gain a stronger understanding of all of those who graduate,” she said in an email. “In doing some rough querying myself, I see that about 20-ish LatinX students did not graduate. If you add this back into the data, it makes the data between 19–20 and 20–21 a little closer.”

Los Altos High School: Algebra II completion with a C or better over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)
Mountain View High School: Algebra II completion with a C or better over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)

Both sites also saw improvement in A–G completion, which is the set of credits that determines eligibility for the University of California school system. Latino students at Mountain View saw a 13 percentage point increase, and their Los Altos counterparts saw a 3 percentage point increase; the gap between white and Latino students at Mountain View closed by 8 percentage points, while the gap at Los Altos widened by 4 — but due to gains made by white students, as opposed to a regression on the part of Latino students.

Mountain View Assistant Principal Jon Robell attributed the growth to flexible learning practices during the pandemic.

“Our teachers are thinking outside of the box,” Robell said. “We’re starting to assess in alternative ways. We’re starting to think ‘Okay, we need to do something different because we were forced to do something different [during remote learning].’”

Specifically, Robell said that online instruction forced teachers to “hone in on” essential standards and reevaluate certain assessments.

Mountain View High School Principal Michael Jimenez said that because the school’s administrative team is so new — all are long-time educators, but just recently assumed their roles — it’s hard to know exactly what’s driving the success.

“Something was happening before we got here that was making this successful, and I can’t tell you right now what it is,” Jimenez said. “I’m just not familiar enough with it yet. But whatever it is, we need to figure it out and continue that.”

Los Altos High School: A–G completion over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)
Mountain View High School: A–G completion over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)

Board member Sanjay Dave, though, cautioned against looking only at racial and ethnic groups as a whole, and instead suggested that looking at the subgroups within those racial groups is more productive.

“To be quite frank, I think we’re doing a disservice to the Latin community in the sense that we put that whole group in one,” Dave said at another data review session in November. “When you look at regular [education students] relative to everybody else, there’s a huge difference.”

Historically, Latino regular education students have outperformed the Latino demographic as a whole, in part because a disproportionate number of the district’s special education and English learners are Latino (“general education” excludes special education and English learners). 

Meaning, while there’s still an achievement gap between general education Latino students and their white and Asian counterparts, that gap is smaller than the one between the entire Latino population and counterparts. For example, last school year at Mountain View High, 93% of Asian students, 85% of white students and 45% of Latino students finished with a GPA over 3.0, but 57% of specifically Latino regular education students did the same. 

Subgroups within the Latino population at Mountain View High School that completed Algebra II with a C or better over the past four academic years. (via Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District)

Interestingly, C-or-higher algebra and A–G completion fell in the regular education Latino population at Mountain View, while English learners, reclassified as fluent English proficient students (students who used to be English learners) and socioeconomically disadvantaged students made large gains.

Still, though, regular education students outperformed the other subgroups in those metrics.

“80% of kids at MVHS do very very well, but I believe we can do 95% if we address the issues we’re looking at right now with our [English learners],” Jimenez said.

While the achievement gap shrank in A–G completion and Algebra II grades — among others — a few key metrics like graduation rate, freshman GPA and freshmen with no Fs saw a widening of the gap. Generally, though, the numbers tell a mixed story.

For example, at Los Altos, the gap between the number of white and Latino freshmen with a 2.0-or-higher GPA increased by 24 percentage points. But, at the same school, the gap between the number of white and Latino freshmen with no Fs widened by only 3 percentage points. 

And, the gap stayed constant when comparing the number of students in all grade levels with a 3.0-or-higher GPA. Mountain View reported similar trends in those three metrics.

Still, administrators reported resilience through the pandemic, and lauded the district’s teachers for their work through remote instruction.

“I think it’s a moment of pride, stepping back … and saying ‘Whoa guys, we are achieving at a high level, and it’s a moment for us to celebrate,’” Morales said.

The full data packets can be found here (Mountain View) and here (Los Altos).

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