When Jessica Rishe gives tours of Santa Monica Alternative School House to prospective parents, she regularly explains that students don’t receive grades. There are narrative report cards, family conferences and end-of-unit celebrations, the principal tells them, but no traditional performance metrics.
It’s a major differentiating variable for SMASH, a K-8 campus in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district, and one that Rishe believes offers important context in understanding how the school stacks up against others in the district and across California.
SMASH is on a list of 1,000 low-performing schools in the state, a registry mandated by the Open Enrollment Act. The list allows parents to transfer their children from schools on the annual list to other campuses.
SMASH is the only SMMUSD school on the list, which is based on 2013 tests. The state education department is using old data for this year’s list as it begins making calculations based on results from newly implemented state tests. The state recently ditched the STAR system for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress.
Parents reviewing the list of low-achieving schools “should know that many changes have occurred” since its creation and that caution should be used in decisions made based on it, according to the state education department.
SMASH landed on the list for its Academic Performance Index score of 812, better than the state figure of 790 but significantly below the district’s score of 865. Rishe noted that her school’s score is merely an estimate due to its small student population (228 in 2013-14, according to state data) and low rates of participation in state testing.
“SMMUSD officials are confident that SMASH is an excellent school that is surpassing the academic and social-emotional needs of our students,” Rishe said.
According to the new state testing system, the results of which were released last year, SMASH students are performing well relative to their peers in the district and across California.
About 77 percent of SMASH test-takers met or exceeded the standard on the English language arts section of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, better than the rates for SMMUSD (68 percent) and the state overall (44 percent). And 62 percent of SMASH students met or exceeded the math standard, outperforming children in SMMUSD (57 percent) and California (34 percent).
Founded in 1973, SMASH aims to incorporate alternative and unconventional approaches to education and assessment. Students engage in project-based learning, side-by-side reading evaluations and analyses of written work as well as mindfulness sessions and other social-emotional development exercises. The curriculum “builds upon student interest,” according to the school’s website.
Prospective parents can sign up for tours by contacting SMASH office manager Janice Wold at 310-396-2640 or email@example.com. Applications are handed out after tours and due March 18. The school uses a computerized lottery and wait lists for admissions because interest exceeds capacity, Rishe said.