School adopts “I’m college bound” attitude and uses plan designed to ‘stimulate student thinking and encourage student commitment’

Bay View Elementary students know they’re special.  But they might not know just how special they are in the eyes of local, state and federal education policy makers—their school is the first in Santa Cruz County to break free of “Program Improvement” status.

Under the Federal government’s controversial No Child Left Behind policy, the Average Yearly Progress (AYP) standards rise each year until 100% of all students reach “proficiency” on standardized tests by 2014; targets rise on the order of 12% each year.  When a school does not meet the target increase for two consecutive years, it falls into “Program Improvement” (P.I.) status, triggering consequences as mandated by Congress. In severe cases consequences can include replacing a school’s staff or shutting a school down altogether. Getting out of P.I. status via increased student performance requires Herculean leaps in test scores.

California has 2,241 schools in Program Improvement; just 116 exited this year through test score increases. Bay View Elementary School is one of those remarkable schools that exited Program Improvement status through the accomplishments of their students.

According to Diane Morgenstern, Santa Cruz City Schools Assistant Superintendent, “Few schools double, and then double again the ability of English learners to hit the target.  Bay View reached their goal through two key strategies:  By focusing on the whole child and shifting the culture from ‘kids who need to be fixed’ to ‘I’m college-bound’. The significance of exiting Program Improvement status while maintaining a full, rich curriculum — inclusive of the fine arts and sciences, is an accomplishment that cannot be overstated.”

Bay View Principal Dan Cavanaugh and his team took a very targeted approach, identifying students who were close to the “proficient” level on their standardized tests, and then looking closely at each child, their strengths and their weaknesses. Attending after school enrichment and intervention classes led by Bay View teachers became a badge of honor as students came to realize their full capabilities and embraced their accomplishments.

Cavanaugh provides an example, “We invited recruiters from San Jose State to talk to our English Learner Focus group.  They spoke about the benefits of a college degree, careers and salaries.  They delivered half of the presentation in English and half in Spanish.  Every single Bay View student listened intently and answered questions in both languages.  When I asked the recruiters, ‘How many of the college-age students you recruit can do the same in both languages?’ they responded, ‘Truthfully not very many.”  From that point forward our students began to think of themselves as bright and accelerated and we reinforced that message.”

Rather than adopt a pro forma program to improve test scores, the Bay View team chose to do what they knew would work best for their students.  “We were steadfastly resistant to outside experts trying to tell us how to improve. Instead, we developed our own schoolwide plan to address student improvement.  We’re going to see ongoing results, because we worked on the plan at every grade level, not just those being tested.  Our accomplishment is really the result of combining the use of accurate data on each student with classroom instruction designed to stimulate student thinking and encourage student commitment,” adds Cavanaugh.