OCDE teams with community partners to open a new Fit Kid Center in Santa Ana

This week, Lydia Romero-Cruz Elementary School in Santa Ana became the latest Orange County campus to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony for its brand new Fit Kid Center.

FitKidAs we’ve previously reported here, Fit Kid Centers transform empty classrooms into engaging health and fitness rooms that can be used similar to computer labs. Each offers 30 minutes of fun, DVD-based exercise sessions, rotating small groups of students through a half-dozen self-directed stations that hone motor skills and promote overall fitness.

The center at Romero-Cruz was made possible by OCDE’s Move More Eat Healthy At School initiative with funding from the multi-agency Orange County Partnership to Improve Community Health, which in turn secured a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Santa Ana Unified Superintendent Rick Miller took part in the opening ceremony, which also featured Principal Erica Graves and dozens of students. You can check out some of the action in the video below, courtesy of the Santa Ana Unified School District’s Media Production team.

OCDE has now helped install approximately 20 Fit Kid Centers throughout the county and distributed more than 1,500 classroom Fit Kits, which can be used by elementary school teachers to facilitate quality P.E. lessons with little to no prep time.

State education officials say 97 percent participated in new web-based assessments

California students posted a 97 percent participation rate on this year’s statewide English and math assessments, education officials announced Tuesday.

And the numbers were just as strong locally.

More than 250,000 Orange County students took the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, exams last spring, participating at a rate of 96.9 percent in English and 97.6 percent in math.

students in computer labThese rates are significant for a few reasons. For starters, almost all of the tests in California were taken on computers, meaning they were reliant on state and local efforts to upgrade schools’ Internet capabilities. These were also the first exams to reflect the state’s more rigorous standards in English and math.

“These numbers tell an important story,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said Tuesday. “They reflect strong support for our new standards among parents, teachers, students, and business and community leaders. The standards are a critical part of our plan to improve education in California because they emphasize skills that prepare students for 21st-century careers and college, such as critical thinking and problem solving.”

As we reported in September, Orange County students outshined their state and regional counterparts on the new assessments, with 53 percent meeting or exceeding the English language arts standard and 45 percent meeting or exceeding the standards in mathematics. When you combine the number of students who met or nearly met the standards, Orange County posted rates of 76 percent in English and 72 percent in math.

In California, 44 percent of students met or exceeded the English standard and 34 percent met or exceeded the standards in math.

In the news: Reaction to the new federal education law, environmental studies and more

Guess what? It’s Friday again, and we’ve got a week’s worth of education stories you might have missed.

  • OCEdNewsSix students from Washington Middle School in La Habra won a $10,000 prize after devising a plan to reduce water usage on campus. They’re now in the running for a $30,000 grand prize in the of the Lexus Eco Challenge.
  • Project Zero Waste, a partnership between OCDE’s Inside the Outdoors program and OC Waste & Recycling, earned a Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association.
  • Though a large percentage of preschoolers speak a language other than English in the home, preschool teachers often don’t have the training to teach English-learners.

U.S. Department of Education’s ‘Testing Action Plan’ calls for caps on testing

students in classroom testingIn an attempt to limit the amount of student testing, the U.S. Department of Education has released a “Testing Action Plan” that calls for a limit to the amount of time students spend on standardized tests — specifically, no more than 2 percent of classroom time in a school year.

In fact, the Department of Education is offering grants to assist states with streamlining and reducing assessments. But federal testing mandates are not changing, so it will be up to states and school districts to cut back on testing at the local level.

California has pursued this course before. In a statement released by the California Department of Education, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson stated, “In 2013-2014, we worked hard to obtain a double testing waiver that the federal government was reluctant to approve.”

The release cited California’s progress in eliminating testing in the second grade in English language arts and mathematics, as well as a variety of end-of-course assessments, including world history, geometry and integrated math. Recently, California suspended the California High School Exit Exam for the next three years.

Last spring, California implemented the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, that tests students in grades three through eight and 11 in English language arts and mathematics, along with administering science assessments in grades five, eight and 10.

While both advocates and critics of testing agree that too much time spent testing is an issue, it’s important not to lose site of the goal of testing in California. The data from standardized tests give teachers and administrators the feedback they need to modify, refine and differentiate instruction. Annual measures allow for a data-driven approach to teaching and learning and are an important resource that provides a measure of the efficacy of education reform efforts.

Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares reiterated in a prior Newsroom post, that educators are “recognizing the enormous potential of using these assessments to take instruction to the next level,” stressing the need for strong participation.

You can learn more about California’s standards aligned tests on the CAASPP website.

Orange County superintendent releases report outlining progress toward strategic priorities

Orange County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares has released a new report assessing OCDE’s progress toward meeting its eight strategic goals.

 “Measuring Up: Strategic Priorities and Key Performance Indicators” can be accessed by clicking here, or on the graphic below.

KPI ReportLast year, the Orange County Department of Education unveiled an ambitious vision, stating that “Orange County students will lead the nation in college and career readiness and success.” Along with that vision, the department developed a five-year plan that spelled out eight strategic priorities, along with desired outcomes and key performance indicators.

The idea is to use specific metrics to track the progress of OCDE’s programs and services, as well as the overall performance of Orange County students. This data will ultimately be included in comprehensive reports that will be available to the public.

In the meantime, Superintendent Mijares and OCDE have issued this more concise and user-friendly snapshot, which offers some of the top statistics and info-graphics for each of the eight priorities. 

The report highlights some promising signs, including the fact that O.C. students posted higher average scores than California on new English and math assessments aligned with the state standards. But the data also identify areas for improvement. Using this information, OCDE will be able to strategically invest its resources to enhance services that benefit students, parents and the community.

We’d encourage you to take a look at the report, and visit the OCDE website to check out the five-year strategic plan and learn more about the steps the department is taking to ensure students graduate from high school with the competencies needed to thrive in the 21st century.

10 things to know about the suspension of California’s High School Exit Exam

Last week, we reported on the passage of legislation that effectively suspended the California High School Exit Exam — and the requirement that students pass it as a condition of graduation — through the 2017-18 school year.

shutterstock_212539750The governor’s signing of SB 172 means school districts must grant diplomas to students who didn’t pass the CAHSEE but met all other graduation requirements, dating back to 2003-04 school year.

Although the law won’t take effect until Jan. 1, we’re here to provide answers to some frequently asked questions about the bill and what it means for local high school students.

Who is eligible to receive a diploma without having passed the high school exit exam?

Students who completed grade 12 in the 2003–04 school year, or in a subsequent school year, and have met all other applicable graduation requirements are eligible to receive a diploma.

What are “applicable graduation requirements”?

These include all local and state graduation requirements that the student was required to meet at the time he or she completed the 12th grade. Students are encouraged to work with their local school districts and adult education programs to determine their specific graduation requirements — and to meet them if they haven’t already.

Does this law include students in adult education programs?

Yes. Students enrolled in adult education programs in the 2003-04 school year, or in a subsequent school year, who have met all other graduation requirements, will be eligible to receive a diploma under this law.

When can eligible students get their diploma?

The law will take effect on Jan. 1, 2016, so districts can begin issuing diplomas to eligible students on or after that date. Just don’t expect to see many diplomas issued on New Year’s Day, as most offices will be closed.

Where can students go for information about receiving their diploma?

Eligible students should contact their school districts, county offices of education or charter schools where they completed grade 12.

Which school district is responsible for issuing the diploma for students who moved to an adult education program or changed schools to finish requirements for graduation?

Good question. Students should contact the last school or school district in which they were enrolled to request their diploma.

What do students do if the school they attended is now closed?

If that’s the case, the student should contact the local school district where he or she last attended school.

How will students know if all of their graduation requirements have been met?

The school district where a student last attended school will be able to make that determination based on the state and local graduation requirements that were in place when the student completed 12th grade.

If students completed all diploma requirements except for the exit exam before Jan. 1, 2016, what graduation date will appear on the diploma?

SB 172 doesn’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2016, so all diploma issuance dates will be on or after Jan. 1.

What happens after the 2017-18 school year?

That remains to be seen. The new law directs the state superintendent of public instruction to convene an advisory panel to give recommendations on the future of the exam and other alternative pathways to satisfy high school graduation requirements. We’ll report any new developments here on the OCDE Newsroom.

Meanwhile, you can get information and even more FAQs about the suspension of the CAHSEE and the implementation of Senate Bill 172 on the California Department of Education’s website.  

Irvine Unified reports highest math scores among state’s larger districts

Earlier this month, we shared the news that Orange County students posted higher scores on average than the rest of California after taking new English and math assessments.

Well, it looks like one O.C. district has posted the highest math scores of all large districts in the state — and the second highest English scores among the bigger districts.

IUSD 092215Approximately 74 percent of students in the Irvine Unified School District met or exceed the standard for mathematics, leading all school systems with student populations of 25,000 or more, according to Irvine’s own number-crunchers. Irvine Unified reports it placed second in English among large districts, with about 77 percent of its students meeting or exceeding the standard.

“I am incredibly proud of Irvine Unified students’ outstanding performance,” IUSD Superintendent Terry Walker said in a statement. “These results are a testament to our collective efforts and the special partnership between our hardworking students, dedicated families and talented staff.”

Irvine Unified has more information here, and the Orange County Register has a story here.

About 3.2 million students in grades three through eight and 11 took tests aligned with the new state standards for English language arts/literacy and mathematics in the spring. Results released on Sept. 9 revealed that 53 percent of OC students met or exceeded the English standard, while 45 percent met or exceeded the standards in mathematics. Statewide, 44 percent of students met or exceeded the English standard and 34 percent met or exceeded the math standard.

Administered through the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, the assessments were designed to measure depth of understanding, writing, research and problem-solving skills.

Each test consists of two parts: A web-based exam alters follow-up questions based on the student’s response to show which skills and content areas have been mastered. The other portion features performance tasks that challenge students to apply their knowledge and skills to real-world problems.

If you consider the number of students who met or nearly met the standards, Orange County posted rates of 76 percent in English and 72 percent in math. By contrast, the state rates were 69 percent and 62 percent.