RIM OF THE WORLD UNIFIED SCHOOL DISTRICT
Rim High puts a plan in place to combat low test scores
By Mary-Justine Lanyon
The ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic are still being felt, not just by Rim of the World High School but by other schools in Southern California.
At the Jan. 26 meeting of the board of trustees, Brian Willemse, principal of Rim High, presented the annual report on the state of the school.
The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) – the state academic testing program – had not been given since 2019 because of the pandemic and distance learning. The test – which is administered to juniors – is intended to monitor student progress and “ensure that all students leave high school ready for college and career.”
Rim High’s scores in 2022 for English language arts were low (26.8 points below standard) and the scores for mathematics were very low (124.9 points below standard).
When asked how these scores compare to the tests given in 2019, Superintendent Kimberly Fricker noted “it’s not fair to compare to 2019 because of the learning gap.”
Principal Willemse talked with his counterpart at Bear Valley High School, where he was formerly an administrator. “They had similar numbers,” he said. “We are treating this as baseline data.”
During his presentation before the school board, Willemse showed a chart comparing Rim High to several other similar schools. “I didn’t share this chart to absolve us of responsibility but to provide context,” he said in a meeting with The Alpine Mountaineer on Feb. 7. “I could have put in almost any high school in the county and it would be the same situation.”
The students who were juniors in 2022, Dr. Fricker noted, lost the last three months of their freshman year and the vast majority of their sophomore year. “They really lost two years of education,” she said.
The math test, for example, does not reflect just one year of assessed value – it is two courses at a minimum. “If you missed a good portion of either year, it makes sense that student would not do as well. The way we are treating it is as a baseline – this is where we’re starting.”
The question, Dr. Fricker added, is “what are we going to do from elementary school on up to address our students being able to perform higher.”
To put a positive spin on these test results, Dr. Fricker said these scores can serve as a “wake-up call as to where education at Rim should go. The question for Brian and me is, what plans do we put in place to go in a forward direction for student education.
“This was a unique time in education – a unique break. It allowed us to think differently about education. Maybe that was the purpose of COVID – a silver lining. It will serve to challenge educators: How do we reach kids differently, teach them differently, put those measures in place?”
“We want to focus on ‘first teaching,’” Willemse said, “ensuring first-time students are exposed to material in a high-quality manner.”
This is the first year, he added, that Rim High has had weekly Professional Learning Community (PLC) time. It involves common planning, developing common learning for students. The group of educators works collaboratively to improve teaching skills and students’ academic performance.
“At its core,” Willemse told the trustees, “the shared goal of every PLC is student achievement.
“We are leaning on our teachers,” he said, “relying on their expertise. They are in contact with the students every day. We are doing this strategically and collaboratively – it’s a well-researched approach. We are focusing our energy on that model. And, if the students don’t get the material, we’ll focus on intervention.”
“This is the first year of that intensive focus across the district,” Dr. Fricker noted. “There is alignment across the district. The elementary and secondary principals are working together.”
Standardization is key, she added. “It’s key so if one student is in a math class with one teacher and another student is in the same math class but with a different teacher, they learn the same material, have the same assessment.”
The question becomes, she said, “Why are your students succeeding and mine are struggling?” Someone has to adjust their way of teaching. And the teachers learn from each other.
“Teachers develop systems that sustain,” Willemse said. “Do we have curriculum and assessments in place so if a new person comes in we can continue that high quality of teaching? We want to equip new teachers with the ability to educate without missing a beat.”
During his presentation to the school board, Williemse was pleased to report the suspension rate at Rim High has been cut in half – from 14 to 7 percent.
And there is, he said, a “remarkable level of engagement” among the students in athletics, drama, band and clubs.
Why is that important? “Every student has a different reason why they show up at school,” Dr. Fricker said. “It’s important to have a variety of opportunities so every student finds their niche, so every student has a reason to show up every day.”
And that student who shows up because he wants to play football has to keep his grades up to play. “For any school, these additional programs are essential to ensure the buy-in of the student body is there. It’s particularly important at the high school level,” Willemse said.
Addressing Advanced Placement (AP) classes, the principal was pleased to report that more students have signed up to take the AP tests this year. “We could select the top students and put them in AP classes and have high scores,” he said. “We are attempting to increase the number of students in AP classes, understanding that will bring lower scores but will provide a broader subset of the student population access to rigorous classes.
“I would rather have 60 students in AP English with a mean score of 2 than 15 with a score of 4,” he said. “We want students to push themselves.”
“We want more students who are capable to try,” Dr. Fricker said. “If you want to push yourself, you should be able to. They will be more successful when they take college classes.”
And Willemse added that “the process is more important than the score.”
In the meeting on Feb. 7, he added the CAAASP test scores are “a problem we are aware of. We have a plan we are currently implementing. It’s a common problem across schools across the county. We have students in our classrooms today with learning gaps we are trying to address.
“We recognize COVID may be the root cause. Our goal is to move the high school and the entire district up to the performance levels the community expects.”
“As new leaders,” Dr. Fricker said, “we came in with fresh eyes. How do we use different perspectives to create solutions?”
This PLC plan, she added, has been well received by the high school staff. “It’s a welcome change.”
Dr. Fricker reiterated: “This is where we’re starting, not where we’re finishing. We’re deeply invested in making the schools shine, in giving our kids an equal opportunity.”