Mijares: New online assessments will produce detailed feedback to refine instruction

From the Desk of Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools


Last month marked the start of a new era for public school accountability, as students in Orange County and beyond began taking online state assessments in English and math.

These tests, which are being issued in grades three through eight and 11, are aligned with recent changes to California’s instructional standards, and they look quite different from the bubble-in-the-answer paper exams to which many of us have grown accustomed.

Al MijaresIn fact, the newly established California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress uses computer-adaptive technology that adjusts questions based on right or wrong answers. Like the standards on which they’re based, these exams challenge students to think critically, draw conclusions and cite evidence. As a result, we expect to have more detailed information than we’ve ever had before to indicate which skills and content areas have been mastered.

These exams will give teachers and administrators the feedback they need to modify, refine and differentiate instruction, serving as an academic checkup for California’s schools. And because they’re computer-based, the results will be accessible more quickly than ever.

In recent years, California has instituted new standards, increased local control over funding and channeled more resources toward students with the greatest needs. These are impressive steps, forming the foundation of a comprehensive plan designed to help students thrive in college and in their careers. Naturally, it also makes sense to have measures in place to annually determine what students know and are able to do, thereby measuring the efficacy of our reform efforts.

Here in Orange County, district leaders are embracing the opportunity to utilize this data. Yet it’s important to note that the new state tests won’t initially allow for reliable year-to-year comparisons for the simple reason that they are so fundamentally different from previous versions. Instead, this year’s scores will establish a baseline for schools and districts to track progress over time.

We are, without question, witnessing a transformational shift in public education, one that will better prepare students for 21st-century challenges and fortify the American workforce by taking learning to a substantially deeper level. Naturally, some adjustments may be necessary, and even state officials are urging patience and persistence as we leverage new educational technologies and practices. But educators in Orange County and beyond are rightly recognizing the enormous potential of using these assessments to take instruction to the next level, and I would personally urge our families to assist by making sure local participation rates are strong.

This isn’t about quick fixes. This is about taking a thoughtful, data-driven approach to improving both teaching and learning. Most important, it’s about maximizing our available resources to ensure the students of Orange County are well-positioned for college and career readiness and success.

OCDE conference to feature education experts Michael Fullan and Trevor Packer

Closing the rigor gap, increasing graduation rates, reducing college remediation and fortifying the American workforce will be the focus of a special conference for Orange County educators next month.

Emerging-Gen-Invitation-#1-16MAR15Hosted by the Orange County Department of Education and Superintendent of Schools Dr. Al Mijares, “Equipping an Emerging Generation” will feature presentations by renowned academic experts Michael Fullan and Trevor Packer. The conference will be held from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 19 at the Hyatt Regency Orange County in Garden Grove.

“The themes that will be discussed hold universal significance across all grade levels,” Dr. Mijares said. “Michael Fullan and Trevor Packer have dedicated their lives to improving outcomes for students, and their messages are particularly relevant to teachers and administrators charged with implementing new standards and ensuring college and career readiness and success for all.”

Fullan is a highly-regarded researcher and a leading authority on the culture of change. An advocate of capacity-building and collaboration, he is widely credited with transforming the school system in Ontario, Canada, and in recent years he has been tapped to help bring systemic education reform — including a new accountability model — to California.

Packer is senior vice president at the College Board, responsible for leading and managing Advanced Placement, instruction and college readiness. Well-versed on the importance of rigor across all levels, he has been a featured speaker at the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans; the Change the Equation STEM Salon; and the University of Southern California’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice.

Educators from local schools, districts and colleges are invited to register for this event by clicking on the graphic above or visiting http://tinyurl.com/OCDEconference. While there is no cost to attend, the venue charges a parking fee of $8 per car.

The Hyatt Regency Orange County is located at 11999 Harbor Blvd. in Garden Grove.

Mijares: Dual immersion programs benefit English learners and their fluent-English classmates

From the Desk of Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools


The Orange County Department of Education’s vision is to prepare all students for college and career readiness, as well as lifelong success. Yet as technology and globalization make our world smaller, we must also look at our programs through an increasingly international lens.

Al MijaresThat raises an important question: How can we prepare our students to function and compete successfully across multiple languages and cultures?

Two-way or “dual” language immersion education, which clusters English-speaking students and speakers of a foreign language, is a good start. In fact, this strategy has gained traction in recent years based on its ability to promote bilingualism and biliteracy for students while narrowing the achievement gap.

Indeed, research indicates that by the end of grade six, students in two-way immersion programs develop proficiency in English as well as the target language. They also develop deeper bicultural awareness and perform at levels that are at or above their peers on standardized tests.

Studies show that English-learner students who participate in dual immersion programs at the elementary level are less likely to drop out of school, more likely to enroll in higher-level mathematics courses and more likely to pass the high school exit exam. Beyond the positive academic outcomes, two-way language immersion programs provide additional cognitive benefits, improving problem-solving skills, reading abilities, memory and overall mental flexibility.

Here in Orange County, we are both ethnically and linguistically diverse. More than 26 percent of our students are not yet proficient in English and speak a variety of the world’s languages, including Vietnamese, Korean, Arabic, Mandarin and Spanish. Our diversity is, without question, one of our greatest strengths. But we also know that meeting the academic needs of English learners poses great challenges.

Well-executed two-way language immersion programs hold extraordinary promise, supporting the academic success of English learners as well as their fluent-English counterparts. As we look to achieve our vision of college and career readiness and success for all students, two-way language immersion programs have the potential to build on the strength of Orange County’s diverse population and support our goal to prepare all students to successfully compete and lead in the 21st century.

For additional information, and a list of Orange County schools that offer dual-language immersion programs, I encourage you to visit our Dual Immersion & World Languages page on the OCDE website.

Outstanding OC school workers honored as 2015 Classified Employees of the Year

The Orange County Department of Education has announced the top classified school employees for 2015.

Established in 2008 by the California Department of Education, the Classified School Employees of the Year program annually highlights the contributions of employees who have performed exceptionally in support of public school students, from preschool through grade 12. Classified workers with a minimum of five years of service are eligible for the recognition, whether they serve at traditional schools, charter schools, district offices or county offices of education.

More on the selection process in a minute. Without further ado, the 2015 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year are:

Janelle CranchJanelle Cranch, a buyer technician who works in the district office at the Irvine Unified School District, has been a vital employee since 1989. Known for her customer service and leadership, her expertise is regularly sought after, and she has served in a variety of committees with IUSD.

Janelle is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done and inspires others through her level of commitment. From initiating a Red Cross Blood Drive to advocating for educational funding, Janelle is an active and engaged member of the community.

Described as a tenacious advocate for staff and students and an iconic leader, she serves as chapter president of IUSD’s California School Employees Association. Her commitment, compassion and work ethic have earned her a reputation as one of the most beloved and respected members of the school community.

Colleen Keegan LambColleen Keegan Lamb is a lead food services worker at Capistrano Valley High School in the Capistrano Unified School District. For 13 years, Colleen has been an integral part of her school, developing relationships with — and advocating for — the students she serves. Often arriving on campus before sunrise, she works diligently to ensure that more than 2,400 students and more than 100 employees receive daily meals in a safe and clean environment.

Touted as the “lunch lady we all wish we had,” Colleen is known for greeting students by name and checking in with them on school, sports and life in general. When conversations arose about the possibility of eliminating the breakfast break, Colleen voiced concern for the students who might have a difficult time getting a morning meal.

As a cancer survivor, Colleen demonstrated her spirit, courage and strength throughout difficult treatments and surgeries. She became a role model for students, having open conversations and donating proceeds from a fundraiser in her name to Breast Cancer Awareness.

Deborah MilovicDeborah Milovic is an attendance and health clerk at Taft Elementary School in the Orange Unified School District. Deborah provides encouragement to struggling students and is there to calm those who are injured or ill. Deborah goes to great lengths to find the resources that families need and has taken Spanish classes to communicate with families in the community.

An advocate for children, she has donated her services to the Assistance League of Orange, the Orange Chamber of Commerce and the Orangewood Children’s Foundation. She is always willing to volunteer for school events, from the Taft talent show to the community track meet. Most of all, she is eager to serve the students, parents, teachers and staff at Taft Elementary.

Her student-centered perspective is evident in her everyday interactions. She makes a lasting impression on those around her, and students frequently come back to the campus to share their appreciation for all she did to encourage them and make their lives better.

Alfredo PerezAlfredo Perez is the head custodian at Rea Elementary School in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District. After a decade of service at Rea Elementary, he is considered a patriarch in the school community. Known as “Uncle” to students on campus, Alfredo treats the children and staff as family, greeting them with smiles and genuine warmth. Alfredo makes a point of spending time with students at the lunch tables and considers it an honor to serve as role model and mentor.

As a parent of a kindergarten student at the school, Alfredo is involved in all aspects of the school and works tirelessly while exuding positive energy and optimism. Coworkers say his impact on the school community is tangible. He participates in Family Nights and is always first to volunteer to take work home and help with other school activities.

Virginia Tse-HoriuchiVirginia Tse-Horiuchi, an instructional aide, is responsible for teaching technology and maintaining the computers for 700-plus students and more than 30 teachers at Meairs Elementary School in the Westminster School District. Known as a “technology guru,” Virginia can install, maintain and troubleshoot every piece of technology at the school.

Committed to her professional development, Virginia is always learning and willing to share her knowledge. As a leader in her field, she is regularly called upon to support computer labs and train new hires throughout the district.

She actively participates in school activities and has been a volunteer coach of the Meairs Running Club. Virginia is respected and admired by both students and staff and is known for being patient and kind.

Donna WittenbergDonna Wittenberg is a driver trainer and transportation warehouse operations lead at the district office in the Cypress School District. Donna is responsible for planning and scheduling bus routes, as well as driving a bus, training bus drivers and overseeing the day-to-day operations of the department.

Donna consistently displays her ability to solve problems, analyze projects and develop safe routes for students. She is supportive and understanding of students, including those who require special considerations due to behavioral, learning or physical needs. She approaches her work with passion and compassion for the children she serves.

Dedicated to making the community a better place, Donna devotes extensive time to volunteer in campaigns that benefit students and families. Some examples include participating in the CHiPs for Kids fundraiser campaign, arranging to provide a district bus with the goal of filling it with toys for children in need during the holidays and coordinating the School Bus Safety Rodeo, involving bus drivers from all over Southern California.

“On behalf of the Orange County Department of Education, I wish to commend Janelle Cranch, Colleen Keegan Lamb, Deborah Milovic, Alfredo Perez, Virginia Tse-Horiuchi and Donna Wittenberg as the 2015 Orange County Classified School Employees of the Year,” said Dr. Al Mijares, county superintendent of schools. “These individuals truly exemplify the intent and spirit of this award, performing essential services with commitment, passion and attention to detail. We are incredibly fortunate to have staff members of this caliber working to support our students each and every day.”

A committee consisting of community representatives and educators selected this year’s Classified Employees of the Year in the areas of child nutrition; maintenance, operations and facilities; transportation; para-educator and instructional assistance; office and technical services; and support services and security. A total of 60 employees were nominated in Orange County, and judges evaluated each application based on a state selection criteria organized around four themes — work performance, school and community involvement, leadership and commitment, and actions that go above and beyond.

Each of the six Orange County finalists are now scheduled to be honored at the OCDE Board of Education Meeting on April 15, and they’ll be eligible to compete for recognition at the state level.

In all, there are more than 20,600 classified staff in the county, performing essential work in areas including transportation, security, food services, maintenance and operations and instructional assistance.

Mijares: Research suggests ‘grit’ plays a significant role in a student’s educational success

From the Desk of Dr. Al Mijares, Orange County Superintendent of Schools


In education, we often talk about the factors that contribute to academic achievement.

We talk about quality teaching, family support, high expectations and the role we all play in the success of our students. We dialogue about poverty, crime and how a lack of access to health care and basic services can stand as barriers to college and career readiness.

Al MijaresYet there’s another factor that research suggests is a major gauge of growth and development. In fact it’s a personal trait we know as grit.

In recent years, educators have increasingly focused on how academic performance is shaped by grit, which is generally defined as passion and persistence applied to long-term goals. It’s a concept that was first introduced by Dr. Angela Lee Duckworth, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

Duckworth’s research, forged in competitive environments including West Point and the National Spelling Bee, reveals that grit can be a significant predictor of success, even surpassing other desirable traits such as IQ, social intelligence, good looks and physical health.

In Chicago, she surveyed thousands of public school students with a customized questionnaire designed to reveal the presence of grit, and she subsequently monitored their academic progress. All things being equal, her grittier students were far likelier to graduate from high school.

In may seem intuitive that students with fortitude and resilience would be best equipped to overcome the obstacles that will inevitably surface in life. But how do we as educators and parents cultivate grit? Well, that’s where it gets a little less clear.

The truth is we just don’t know for sure. But Duckworth believes that capacity can be nurtured, particularly in those who have a “growth mindset.”

Growth mindset is another concept that emerged from decades of research, this time by the renowned Stanford University psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck. It’s the belief that people’s abilities can be developed and enhanced over time through commitment and hard work. By contrast, individuals with a “fixed mindset” believe talent alone drives success and that effort takes a backseat.

This is an important distinction, because too often our society subtly endorses the fixed mindset. In movies and television shows, the protagonists often are endowed with powers or hyper-intelligence, negating the need for hard work. When we praise actors and singers, we talk more about their natural talents than the long, difficult career paths paved with sweat, setbacks and determination.

Here at the Orange County Department of Education, we strive to promote the growth mindset, and we have countless examples to back it up. Every day, we see children and young adults who are able to overcome great obstacles and take control of their college and career prospects and their futures by way of focus and effort. They struggle, as we all do. But they persevere, and they improve.

To make sure all students gain the skills necessary to be contributors and, indeed, leaders of the 21st century, I believe it will take more than just talent. It will require great effort and grit, fueled by a growth mindset that permeates every classroom and home in Orange County.

We as educators and parents can set the tone by modeling these traits while consistently acknowledging and encouraging the limitless potential of the young people around us.