Inquiry Cycle: The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District Board of Education relies on a collaborative inquiry cycle to improve student learning outcomes. Courtesy SMMUSD

The continuing discussion of how the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District can improve test scores of students was on the table during the district’s Board of Education meeting on Sept. 21.

The district’s Director of Assessment, Research and Evaluation, Dr. Stacy Williamson, provided the board with a Q1 Lag Metrics report, which highlighted key findings on performance metrics from the 2022-23 school year. The report is part of the district’s “cycle of inquiry,” with the Q1 report taking into account 2023 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) results as well as local assessments administered in spring of 2023.

In English Language Arts CAASPP test scores taken in the district this past academic year, 73 percent of district students either met or exceeded their standards, a decrease from 75 percent of students during the 2021-22 academic year. For math assessments, 57 percent of students met or exceeded standards, slightly down from 58 percent the prior year. A positive achievement came from CAASPP science exams, with 58 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards, up from 55 percent the previous year.

The CAASPP English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC) system, monitoring English language progress for students who have a primary language other than English, saw a two percent decrease in meeting or exceeding standards, from 40 percent in 2021-22 to 38 percent in 2022-23.

Areas of growth for the district to focus on, the presentation noted, were overall math performance as well as the percentage of Latinx and African-American students meeting standards in English Language Arts and math.

The board discussed the best practices to gain valuable insight into student performance outside of CAASPP assessments. The district continues to implement diagnostic assessments at least three times a year in every grade, named Star testing, to glean information on specific grade-level focus skills. In addition, the district’s inquiry cycles include campus leadership teams that meet to analyze, design, refine and implement learning plans on areas of focus.

SMMUSD Superintendent Dr. Antonio Shelton said that test scores are “only one piece” of what the district does for student improvement, and that the cycles of inquiry provide important communication to create “buy-in” with area stakeholders.

“We have the systems … to hone in on what we said we were going to do,” Shelton said.

School sites will also be adding instructional coaches to help with future achievement plans, with the coaches visiting campuses to aid in areas of need. SMMUSD board member Stacy Rouse said that they are attempting to be “systems changers” in their ongoing efforts, and “(knows) how hard that is” to accomplish.

The district will continue to implement Star testing throughout the year, and SMMUSD board President Maria Leon-Vasquez added that increasing performance in underrepresented students remains of paramount importance.

“I’m just hoping that we get more buy-in from everybody, between teachers and administrators, to understand the need for something like this,” she said.

Providing opportunities for underrepresented students was the forte of SMMUSD Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Jacqueline Mora, who passed away this month at the age of 46. Leon-Vasquez said during the first board meeting since Mora’s passing that the district lost a “crusader, a champion for equity and inclusion for all of our students, especially our most diverse and vulnerable students.” The board president also commended Mora for being an “initiator or supporter” in positive academic changes throughout the district.

“You are a tremendous loss, and the SMMUSD family will truly miss you,” Leon-Vasquez said of Mora. “I will miss you as a sister … I along with the SMMUSD family pledge to continue your work, our work, in the future.”

Shelton also shared his memories of Mora, saying she was “a sophisticated, classy woman” who was “a bright light to all who knew her.”

“She demonstrated the highest level of professionalism, pride and integrity,” the superintendent said. “I don’t know how she did it. Her composure never changed … she was the epitome of what a professional is supposed to be.”

A celebration of life for Mora is currently scheduled for the morning of October 14 at St. Monica Catholic Church.

Thomas Leffler has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Journalism from Penn State University and has been in the industry since 2015. Prior to working at SMDP, he was a writer for AccuWeather and managed...