Thinking About Testing

The Ides of March are upon us. Soon it will be May and students in grades 3-8, and 11 will be asked to do state mandated tests called the CAASPP which utilizes the SBAC. Folks should follow the links of the acronyms in order to learn what these tests aim to do. Basically, they ask students to go on the computer and respond to questions that test designers have created. There are less multiple choice type questions than in recent state mandated normative tests, rather, they ask students to type in their answers, do some true and false, and explain their answers in one way or another. They aim to assess whether students have met, exceeded, nearly met, or not met standards for skills and content knowledge that the common core standards  framework has determined should be known or accomplished at each grade level.

2016 is the second year these new tests have been administered and results provided to Californian students. These tests aim to provide information at the school level, class level, and individual student level. The tests are very rigorous while also adaptive. Adaptive, in this sense, means that the test questions change based on the prior answer provided by the student. Generally, if the child answers a question correctly it soon provides more challenging questions and if they answer incorrectly, they will soon receive a more basic question. The scores are reported both as scaled scores- a number in the 1000s and as levels; 4= exceeded standards, 3= met standards, 2+ nearly met standards, and 1= not meeting standards.

For Rio students, staff, and families, the District wants to express our encouragement for every child to do their best on each item and each test so that the tests can accurately assess what they aim to assess. We also want children to know that they should increase their levels over the course of their school years at Rio. This will indicate that they are improving and learning more about the standards the test aims to measure. Another and perhaps most important thing to think about these tests or any test, is that the test does not measure or assess what kind of person you are. Students should try their best, see what the results are, work to improve their skills, content, and practices in order to improve over time. The goal is GROWTH.

Students should also know that these tests measure some things and don’t measure others. The Rio School District is working on helping every child develop their 21st century learning practices; collaboration, communication, creativity, and caring. We are beginning to develop rubrics, performance tasks, and authentic assessments that provide students, teachers. schools, and families information about how their children are developing in relation to these aims.

Together, as school and community, we are setting our sites on improving as a learning organization that aims to help every child improve their learning at maximum possible rates and depths.

I am a son

I am a son of an orphaned son of immigrants and immigrants’ daughter.

I am a son of the low income class.

I am a son of high school graduates with no college degrees who raised children who all earned college degrees.

I am the son of truly wise and creative parents and grandparents.

I am the son of parents who loved children and loved family.

I am the son of all people.

I am the son of the earth and universe.

I am the son of the sun, stardust, carbon, recycled material and H2O.

I am a teaching son, taught by many sons and daughters.

I am a learning son.

I am a teaching son.

Teaching sons and daughters, who do you teach?

What sons and daughters do you teach?

Learning sons and daughters, who teach you? Which sons and daughters are your teachers? Your parents?

Along with all the nouns and content we aim to teach, and now in the 21st century, the verbs, skills, practices, processes we teach, what identities do we teach? who do we teach? What connections do we teach? What pursuit of connections do we teach?

I am a son of an orphaned son of immigrants and immigrants’ daughter.

I am the son of all people.

I am the son of the earth and universe.

vern and jackiejoan durante




Renaissance in Rio and Oxnard


Recently we have engaged in a series of visits of community members and staff to Rio School District classrooms and Oxnard High School District Classrooms. These visits have brought visitors from the business community, school community, city government and recently city government officials and educators from Kuanianen, Finland. It was great to host Jarkko and Anders on multiple days of visits, discussion, and planning. In these last few days it has become ever more present that Rio and the city of Oxnard are in a true Renaissance. A cultural rebirth. Visits to Rio classrooms, ACE Charter High School Classrooms, Rio Mesa High School classrooms, the Mexican Consulate, along with great partnership discussions with software designers, the Ventura County Office of Education, retired educators, and the city of Oxnard recreation department evidenced that the Oxnard plain is experiencing a great period of growth and innovation. Each of these experiences was rich in evidence of 21st century learning combined with deep commitment to children, family, community at hyper-local and hyper-global scales.

We want to thank all those who were part of this amazing few days of partnership development and learning and invite others from within our community and around the world to engage with our city, community and set of school Districts that are leading, innovating, and doing amazing things that aim at what Anders came all the way from Finland to learn about, and that is creating a City wide learning program or a “Smart City.” I realized, in the last few minutes of our world wind visit, that Oxnard is a smart city in a renaissance, rebirth, aimed at getting smarter and better in the 21st century. Match that with the beautiful weather, geography, and wonderfully diverse and beautiful people that live and come here, and the city that was born from agriculture more than 100 years ago is poised to shape its next 100 years through a process of hard work and learning that place its schools-from preschools to Universities at the center of an amazingly creative and dynamic human energy.052068

Why Art Matters?

This year the Rio School District has made a concerted effort to develop our Visual arts programs across our eight schools. In doing so, we hired two new outstanding art teachers who are working to develop art lessons and learning with students and teachers alike. This week we will hold our first art show of the year which we hope to follow up with our end of year show in May.

There are many great thinkers who answer the question posed by by this blog. Elliott Eisner, Daniel Pink, and many others are resources to describe why integrating arts into learning is essential as well as why art for art’s sake is equally a deep human need.

From my point of view, as a graduate of a Bachelor of Fine Arts program and a life long maker and lover of art, art is a basic element of what it means to be a human being. Not having arts in schools removes this basic element and steals the opportunity for students to experience and learn about themselves and their world. Art has existed as long as there have been humans. We can look to the caves of Las Caux or Rock art of the Chumash to see human’s expressive yearnings to use visual imagery to understand and communicate their understandings of their world, themselves, and their realities.

In the last few years I have found a treasure trove of creativity in the children and teachers of the Rio School District. Integrating the Arts in our daily learning activities has promoted children’s development of 21st century practices; communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, and caring. These practices are needed deeply to survive and thrive in our modern society even as they were essential for humans over the last forty thousand years of our existence. Some say, it is art, that separates us from the beasts, although I have seen some amazing artwork created by elephants and monkeys.

What does it take to be great?

21st century teacher

The leadership of the Rio School District is aiming at greatness. We are rallying our resources and energies to achieve great things. Our main function as a school District is teaching and learning. Along these lines we have established goals and narratives that aim to help every child develop their 21st century practices; collaboration, communication, critical thinking, creativity, and caring as well as their literacy in reading, writing, math, and technology. All in all this equates to hiring well and supporting our teachers in their development to become great teachers.

The picture in this blog post suggests some important attributes of a great 21st century educator. Along with these newer mindsets, we are aiming to support every Rio teacher in every subject area to become great teachers of reading and writing as well as great teachers of English language development for second language learners. This is what our Rio students need and what will qualify for Rio becoming great.

We are excited about the current year’s effort among our teaching staff who are engaging with new online professional development platforms, Redbird Learning and PADDLE, that are part of our developing system to support teacher learning and growth.

A “portrait of a graduate” is a new term for what school systems aim for in their students. Rio greatness will come from teachers and support staff working together to significantly increase the 21st century skills of our students as well as their basic literacy and command of the English language. This is our charge, our aim, and our enduring work.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was an American man that left teachers and students an endless legacy of learning for as long as there are schools , lessons, and the country we call the United States of America. In memory of his legacy, I often sing a song I wrote with classes as a way to talk and teach about MLK.

The lyrics go like this;

We are free free
We are free, free, free
We are free free
Thank you Martin Luther King

Black or white
Yellow, brown, red
Its not your color
Its the person instead

We are, are, are
We are, are, are

We are very proud
We sing right out loud
We are very proud
That Dr. King could help us out

We are, are, are
We are, are, are

Dr. King’s life is testament to many things in life. For students, I like to highlight what a great reader, writer, and thinker he was as well as how he lived and gave his life for the cause of Love and Peace.

MLK Day is a great day in my book.

Rio’s Teachers are Diverse Learners

Rio’s Teachers are Diverse Learners. Our more than 200 teachers are a diverse set of people. Almost a third are new to teaching and new to Rio. Many more have long experience in teaching and here working for the Rio School District. Our teaching staff are engaged as learners and this is a great model for their student learners. Leading by learning is the key as they work to develop innovations, knowledge and skills sets aimed at providing 21st century learning opportunities that yield excellent outcomes for students.

Rio teacher learning is diverse as well. It engages teachers with two online learning platforms; and #rioPADDLE which encourage teachers to collaborate and develop new knowledge and skill sets as well as mindsets aimed at providing world class 21st century learning opportunities for students so they can yield outstanding outcomes in their development as students.

This tremendous teacher energy put into learning helps make us a “world class” learning organization. Rio teachers are also learning that innovating, taking risks, learning new things, and growing independently and collaboratively can help students achieve things previously unseen. This blog post honors this energy and looks forward to its growth and development overtime.


The Rio School District actively engages its employees to develop themselves as staff members and people. We look to develop leadership in every employee as well as every student. Our school site leaders, our principals, are key players in the quality of our schools and the resulting student educational outcomes. Our principals include;

Rio Del Mar Elementary School   –    Dr. Scot Barlow

Rio del Norte Elementary School –   Mr. Jake Waltrip

Rio Lindo Elementary School       –   Ms. Veronica Rauschenberger

Rio Plaza Elementary School        –   Mr. Robert Guynn

Rio Rosales Elementary School    –   Dr. Ron Koenig

Rio Real Dual Immersion Language Academy –  Dr. Maria Hernandez

Rio del Valle Middle School         –    Ms. Joanne Davidson

Rio Vista Middle School               –    Mr. Matthew Klinefelter

These  educational leaders collectively have more than 170 years of service in education with an average of more than 20 years. They average nearly 9 years of teaching experience and more than 12 years as a school administrator. Still, our principals have only just begun to lead their current particular school with an average of 3 years leading their current schools. Our principal team is a very collaborative group of instructional leaders who are dedicated to developing the literacy skills of every child as well as the 5C’s; Communication, Critical Thinking, Collaboration, Creativity, and Caring.

Recently our leadership meetings included an interaction with Ed Hiner, former Navy Seal, who is helping us think about leadership. His book is an excellent read and you can learn more about Ed at  . Our leadership is comprised of scholars. We read books and articles and have recently taken up Improvement Science with the Carnegie Foundation as a means to improve three key areas of our organization; S.T.E.A.M. ( Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics), Reading, and English Language Development.

I look forward to the rest of the 2015-16 school year and beyond as I engage with and learn from our principal-leader learners.


Test Results, Learning, and Improvement

Last year was the first year California’s students took the new computer based SBAC test. Late this summer we received the results from the California Department of Education (CDE) and have been analyzing the data ever since. We look at various levels of the results and have been working to understand this baseline year information. In general, the results for the new SBAC reading test were similar to tests we use during the school year and to the former regime of state level standardized tests. The results for SBAC math, however, were lower than in previous years and on other assessments we use during the school year.

The CDE explains that we should not compare these assessment results to previous standardized results, still, we are tempted to do so. In examining this past year’s results we have noticed that the new SBAC math test seems to demand a higher level of English language proficiency in order to demonstrate student math knowledge and practices.

At Rio, we are most interested in learning, growth, and student engagement. Data from state summative testing is used for us to understand how our curriculum and instruction relate to the established California state standards. Formative assessments we use during the school year provide leaders and teachers with information about how student learning is progressing (growing). We use this information to adjust instruction and programs as needed.

Most importantly, we want children and teachers to understand that each child is an individual. They develop at different rates and in different ways. While test results can guide us by providing feedback about how children are learning, we also have many other ways to observe and engage with children’s development. Looking at children’s work is a great example of an opportunity for us to understand how a child is developing and also help us understand how we can help children with aspects of their learning challenges.

A child has their entire academic career to develop skills, practices, knowledge sets, and perhaps, most importantly, learn how to learn. We are dedicated to utilize test results and many other feedback from schooling to help each child achieve their full potential as learners.