Opinion: Laguna Beach USD Not Quite Living Up To The Hype

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By Steve McIntosh

When Supt. Jason Viloria was hired in 2016 with only 11 months of associate superintendent experience, board members talked about his focus on STEM and how great his “practice of using outcome as a learning experience” sounded. Let’s take look at how good Viloria’s expertise with STEM is working. 

Viloria has touted in local publications, as well as on the district digital sign, that “LBUSD is the No. 1 rated district in OC, on Niche.” I looked at Niche. They are basically a Yelp-type, for-profit website that even has real estate ads on it. I dug in and find out just how they rate districts and schools. They base it on 50% written reviews along with 50% test scores. The 15 reviews about LBUSD, are mostly from early 2000s, but there are a few “suspect” reviews from the last couple of years. As a paid member of Niche, one of the perks is that all the District’s positive reviews are automatically at the top of the list. The district itself, looks pretty good shown this way.  However, if you go a little deeper and look at the High School, which is the pinnacle of education in Laguna, you find a different story.

It seems The Superintendent and the Board Majority are not doing all that well with some of their STEM emphasis, let alone, the much lauded “Math Pathway” program and all after hiring an accountability and assessment administrator.

Niche.com Data on Laguna Beach High School

State Test Scores:

Percent proficient – Reading: 75%

Percent Proficient – Math: 56%

Percent Proficient is the percentage of students that scored at or above proficiency levels on their state assessment test (CAASPP)

I spoke with Eric Zilbert, administrator of psychometrics and data at the California Dept. of Education, concerning the accuracy of these CAASPP tests.  He explained, given our 11th grade class sizes of 250 to 300, the margin of error is plus or minus six to 12 points.  This is truly an embarrassment, for our “high-performing district.” 56% math proficiency?  Is this just another outcome to use as a “learning experience?” However, in this case, it comes at the expense of our kids!

For a comparison, look at Palo Alto High School on Niche.

Percent Proficient – Reading: 82%

Percent Proficient – Math: 82%

Here is some additional data on Laguna Beach High from USNews.com. 

College Readiness Index

U.S. News calculates these values based on student performance on state-required tests and internationally available exams on college-level coursework (AP® exams).

College Readiness Index: 52.2/100

A score of 52.2 out of 100 does not seem particularly good.

US News uses the number of students taking AP tests as part of their ranking criteria.  Since AP class participation in turn gets the schools and district higher rankings, perhaps this is another reason Viloria and the Board Majority, phased out Honors classes, which compete with AP classes for students.   

Blue Ribbons, Gold medals, and all the School accolades, really do nothing for students. However, these awards look good on administrator’s resumes and performance reviews, and result in additional compensation.

I think this data is a very telling regarding the focus and performance of the Board Majority and Viloria. It’s really time to stop emphasizing and chasing ratings, over real academic achievement.

The upcoming board election has basically come down to two philosophies. If you think the Board/Superintendent are performing great, you don’t care about free exchange of ideas and speech, and are impressed by this data, then vote for 30-year, totalitarian board member Jan Vickers and supposedly “data-driven” PTA mom Kelly Osborne. 

If you do not like the covert work of the Board and Superintendent, want change, open communication, fairness, freedom of ideas and speech, with authentic, experienced voices for the kids, parents and teachers, and would like to see a focus on academic achievement, and the Arts, vote for Amy Kramer and Sheri Morgan.

Lastly, shame on those who want to turn this into a political position! None of these four candidates are basing their campaigns on their voter registration. To say so is just ridiculous!

Steve is a parent of a recent Laguna Beach High graduate and a longtime Laguna Beach resident.

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