Palo Alto High to students: If you take state tests, we’ll give you free stuff

While the Palo Alto School School District is extremely well regarded — its two high schools are ranked best in the Bay Area by Niche —  the district is a low performer in one area: Getting students to take state assessment tests, especially at Palo Alto High.

So now the district is offering incentives, which one site calls “bribes,” at the school in an effort to boost participation numbers.

In an email to parents published by the Paly Voice, Superintendent Don Austin said that all juniors at Palo Alto High will be required to take the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. But, while he’s said participation is mandatory, there remains an opt-out to the test, which is a prime reason the school is offering incentives to take the test.

To opt out, parents submit a written request to school officials to exclude his or her student from any or all parts of the CASPP.

The email forwarded to Palo Alto High parents by assistant principal Tom Keating offered the following incentives:

“Through a raffle, students will be able to win student parking permits for the 2019-20 school year (which usually cost up to $100), athletic passes for the 2019-20 school year, 2018-19 yearbooks or VIP parking passes to the 2019-20 graduation ceremony.

“Regardless, all students who complete all of the testings will win one item of Paly ‘swag.'”

Besides the possible prizes, the Palo Alto High assistant principal cited other possible student benefits, including a seal of biliteracy and the Golden State Seal Merit Diploma, and the added benefit of providing valuable data and feedback for teachers, schools and the government.

The strategy has been used before; according to Palo Alto Online, incentives were offered in 2018 as well.

But can this turn around the extremely low test taking rate at Palo Alto High?

“Last year, only 40 percent of Paly juniors completed the test, compared to the 95 percent required participation rate,” the superintendent told parents in a February 28 email, cited by Diane Ravitch’s blog.

Why don’t students want to take the state tests? In an article in Palo Alto Online, one student said he and many classmates “chose to opt out this spring to use the two days to sleep, catch up on homework and studying.” He also “did not see any major benefits” for taking the test.

“The school said we use this test to compare data amongst the students, but we already have other standardized tests and measurements to compare students. Ultimately, many people did not have true incentives to take the test and would rather have the time off.”

This post was originally posted at https://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Palo-Alto-school-offers-students-free-stuff-to-13757227.php.

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