Study: Dropouts Decreased Through Middle School Transition

Middle and high schools can reduce the dropout rate by working together to plan the transition to high school, holding activities to familiarize students with the campus, and helping them feel connected to their new schools, according to a new report issued by the California Comprehensive Center at WestEd (WestEd is a California GEAR UP Partner and external evaluator).

“The transition from middle school to high school can be challenging for students,” California State Superintendent of Education Tom Torlakson said. “The good news is that some simple steps to make students welcome, can give them the confidence they need to stay on track and stay in school.”

The report, Making the Move: Transition Strategies at California Schools with High Graduation Rates, is designed to identify best practices among high schools and feeder middle schools.

The California Comprehensive Center at WestEd and its partner, the American Institutes for Research, worked with the California Department of Education to identify and gather information on schools with higher graduation rates than were statistically predicted for certain subgroups of students. The work of the Center is supported with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

Researchers then interviewed administrators and conducted focus groups at some of the high schools and feeder middle schools. The research helped identify programs and strategies that help middle grade students transition to high school and ultimately graduate in preparation for college and careers.

“Successfully transitioning students from middle grades to high schools is vitally important to California education,” said Tom Parrish, Managing Research Scientist for the American Institutes for Research. “Students crossing this bridge successfully are much more likely to stay in school and graduate.

This study identified successful strategies that include:

·       Creating opportunities for staff across school levels to jointly plan and collaborate;

·       Arranging activities for transitioning students to become familiar with the high school campus and culture

·       Ensuring all students feel connected to the new school;

·       Identifying students who are struggling prior to transition; and

·       Preparing timely and individualized supports for such students.

Researchers also found some prevailing themes in these strategies. For example, enabling collaboration among teachers, providing students with many opportunities for academic support, helping students feel connected to school, having a strong counseling program, maintaining high expectations for all students, and the importance of having a caring staff and caring environment.

“Steps like these are a central thrust of our Blueprint for Great Schools report,” added Torlakson. “That is, great schools know they have to meet the needs of the whole student—not just their academic needs—to give them every chance to succeed.”

For more information on Torlakson’s A Blueprint for Great Schools, please visit the California Department of Education’s Web site at

Schools to Watch Model Middle Schools Announced

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson today announced that four high-performing California schools are newly designated model middle schools in the Schools to Watch™−Taking Center Stage (STW™−TCS) program. Another 11 high-performing California schools will also retain their model middle grades schools status under the same program.

“I commend the students, their parents, teachers, and administrators, for their efforts in helping make these 15 schools models of excellence,” Torlakson said. “Their success is amazing, especially considering they are swimming against the tide of massive budget cuts, crowded classrooms, and school employee layoffs.”

The four newly designated schools are:

1.     Granite Ridge Intermediate (Clovis Unified School District, Fresno, Fresno County) is the fifth middle grades school in the district to receive the STW™−TCS designation. Clovis Unified is the first district in the state to have all its middle grades schools receive this designation. The school’s achievement gap has narrowed 37 points on the state’s standardized tests under Principal Norm Anderson’s leadership since it opened in 2008. Anderson was also recently named Fresno County’s Administrator of the Year.

2.     High Desert School (Acton-Agua Unified School District, Acton, Los Angeles County) is a small rural school. Administrators have worked very hard to turn their school around and close the achievement gap. Hispanic students’ scores on the state’s standardized tests have climbed 88 points in the past two years, while socioeconomically disadvantaged students have gained 81 points since 2007.

3.     Katherine L. Albiani Middle School (Elk Grove Unified School District, Elk Grove, Sacramento County) is the second middle school in the district to receive the STW™—TCS designation. The achievement gap of students has narrowed by more than 30 points on the state’s standardized tests since 2007.

4.     Olive Peirce Middle School (Ramona City Unified School District, Ramona, San Diego County) is a rural school. Students continue to make gains in all subgroups on the state’s standardized tests. The school has gained 53 points since 2007, while socioeconomically disadvantaged students have gained 71 points.

The redesignated model middle schools are:

1.     Castaic Middle School (Castaic Union School District, Castaic, Los Angeles County);

2.     Culver City Middle School (Culver City Unified School District, Culver City, Los Angeles County);

3.     Clark Intermediate (Clovis Unified School District, Clovis, Fresno County);

4.     Dartmouth Middle School (Union Elementary School District, San Jose, Santa Clara County);

5.     Gaspar de Portola (San Diego Unified School District, San Diego, San Diego County);

6.     McKinleyville Middle School (McKinleyville Union School District, McKinleyville, Humboldt County);

7.     R.H. Dana Middle School (Wiseburn School District, Hawthorne, Los Angeles County);

8.     Silverado Middle School (Dry Creek Joint Elementary School District, Roseville, Sacramento and Placer counties);

9.     Tincher Preparatory (Long Beach Unified School District, Long Beach, Los Angeles County);

10.  Toby Johnson Middle School (Elk Grove Unified School District, Elk Grove, Sacramento County); and

11.  Torch Middle School (Bassett Unified School District, City of Industry, Los Angeles County).

The STW™—TCS program identifies high-performing school models that demonstrate academic excellence, developmental responsiveness to the needs and interests of young adolescents, social equity, and organizational support. STW™—TCS model schools host visitors from California and around the world who are looking for replicable practices that will help them improve their middle grades schools and close the achievement gap.

In order to be named a STW™—TCS model middle school, school administrators must conduct a self-study evaluation and complete an extensive narrative application. Each site is then reviewed by a team of middle grades experts. In order to retain the designation, each school is re-evaluated every three years.

The 11 redesignated schools named today were reviewed in September 2011 and are among 32 others selected in previous cycles since 2003 as STW™—TCS designees. Castaic, Culver City, and Silverado middle schools have been STW™—TCS schools for nine years. Gaspar de Portola, McKinleyville, R.H. Dana, and Toby Johnson middle schools have been STW™—TCS schools for six years.

All of the schools will be formally recognized at the California Middle Grades Alliance annual luncheon on February 23, 2012, and during the California League of Middle Schools conference February 24-26, 2012. Both events will be in Sacramento. At that time, the schools will have an opportunity to showcase their accomplishments and network with other middle grades educators from around the state.

For more information about the Schools to Watch™−Taking Center Stage model school program, visit the California Department of Education Web site at If reporters would like to contact the school, they may download the contact information through our California School Directory at

Funding Restored to Time Saving Accountability System

SACRAMENTO—State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced today that the California Department of Education (CDE) has restored a time-saving Web tool to make it easier for school districts to create state-mandated School Accountability Report Cards (SARCs).

“The few dollars the state saved by eliminating this service were clearly outweighed by the time and trouble being shifted to California’s more than a 1,000 school districts,” Torlakson said. “I’m glad we’ve found a creative way to restore this tool, and I’m grateful to Ed-Data for stepping up to the plate to help us meet this need.”

SARCs contain valuable accountability information on schools to help parents and the public evaluate and compare their progress in achieving goals.

Deep budget cuts to the CDE forced the department to discontinue its SARC Web tool in 2010. The SARC Web tool conveniently provided districts with templates pre-populated with data on each of their schools. As a result of the cuts, local educational agencies were forced to fill out the forms manually—increasing the workloads at districts.

CDE responded to widespread concerns from around the state and found a solution by working with the Ed-Data Web site to restore the pre-populated SARC templates.

“The reintroduction of the SARC Web tool will help school districts save personnel time and money, and we’re capitalizing on our existing partnership with Ed-Data to provide this much-needed service,” Torlakson said.

For many years, Ed-Data had already reported much of the state-generated data that are required for the SARC. The Ed-Data Web site is a 15-year collaboration between the CDE, the Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, and EdSource.

The SARC Web tool and templates on the Ed-Data Web site are free options local educational agencies may use to help them prepare their SARCs. They are provided in English and several other languages. After downloading the pre-populated templates, school officials complete them with local data, and may then publish them in print or online.

For a sample SARC template, please visit the CDE Web site at 2010–11 School Accountability Report Card Template. School districts may access the SARC Web tool to download the pre-populated templates at Ed-Data Website(Outside Source). To find your existing local SARC, please visit County List – School Accountability Report Card.

4th and 8th Grade Students Continue Math and Reading Gains

SACRAMENTO—The latest National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results show California’s fourth and eighth grade students continue to make incremental gains in reading and mathematics scores, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson reported today.

The average scores of California students tested on the 2011 NAEP were statistically unchanged from 2009, but higher than in 2005 or 2007 in both subjects, continuing a long-term trend of steady progress. Average scores for California as well as the nation continue to place at the Basic achievement level, which denotes partial mastery of fundamental skills, although California’s average scores were lower than the national average. (NAEP scores fall into four categories: Advanced, Proficient, Basic, and below Basic.)

“Our students are still making progress, even as they swim against a riptide of crowded classrooms and deep budget cuts to our schools,” Torlakson said. “Asked to do more with less, students, teachers, school employees, and administrators have delivered. Imagine how much more they could accomplish—and how many more students would share in this progress—with the resources they deserve.”

The NAEP reading and mathematics assessments take place every other year and provide states with trend data that can be compared over time.

Because California is much more demographically diverse than the nation as a whole, assessment experts also look at the performance of student subgroups in making comparisons.

On the Grade Four Reading assessment, the average score for many student groups in California was comparable to those at the national level, and the average score for the male and African American student groups moved up to the NAEP Basic achievement level for the first time. Several grade four student groups have made gains in reading since 2005, including African American, Hispanic, Asian, and economically disadvantaged students.

On the Grade Eight Reading assessment, the average scores for most student groups in California were lower than those of their peers at the national level, although the African American student group scored comparably to their peers at the national level. Since 2009, economically disadvantaged students had a gain in average score, and their average score moved into the NAEP Basic achievement level for the first time. Similar results were found for the Hispanic student group, which has had a significant improvement in average score since 2007 and, for the first time, scored at the NAEP Basic achievement level. The African American student group scored at the NAEP Basic achievement level for the first time in 2009, and scored at that same level in 2011. Grade eight female students in California have also shown significant improvement in their average score since 2007

On the Grade Four Mathematics assessment, white, African American, and Asian students in California scored comparably to their peers at the national level while the Hispanic student group scored lower. The average score for English language learners (ELLs) moved up to the NAEP Basic achievement level, and the average score for white and non-economically disadvantaged students moved from the NAEP Basic achievement level to the NAEP Proficient achievement level. Additionally, there have been score gains for many student groups since 2007, including male, female, Hispanic, economically disadvantaged, and non-economically disadvantaged students.

Fewer gains were seen on the Grade Eight Mathematics assessment. The 2011 average score for most student groups in California was lower than at the national level, although the white student group scored comparably to their peers at the national level. While gains have been made by several grade eight student groups since 2005, the average score for ELLs has dropped.

In both subjects and at both grades, despite steady progress for many student groups, a significant achievement gap persists between white students and their Hispanic and African American peers. There have been no recent changes in California’s White-Hispanic gap, which in most instances continues to be larger than the national gap. Results from the grade four mathematics assessment show an increase in this gap since 2005. The large percentage of ELLs that California schools serve compared to the nation as a whole might be a factor in these differences.

For example, at grade four approximately 28 percent of the Hispanic students that participated in the NAEP in California were ELLs compared to 9 percent nationally.

For both grades and subjects, the score gap between California’s white and African American student groups is comparable to those at the national level. Results from the NAEP grade four reading assessment have shown a reduction in the gap between white and African American scores since 2005, with both student groups making score gains.

NAEP, also known as “The Nation’s Report Card,” is a national assessment that tests a representative sample of students in grades four, eight, and twelve in various subjects including reading, writing, mathematics, and science. NAEP provides a common yardstick for measuring student achievement nationwide, allowing for state comparisons. Results are released for the nation, states, and certain large urban school districts. There are no student- or school-level results. Reading and mathematics results for certain large urban districts are expected to be released later this year. Results from the 2011 science assessment are expected to be released in spring 2012.

Complete results for the 2011 NAEP reading and mathematics assessments are available online at the NAEP Web site: