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Why is continuous improvement necessary?

It is a moral imperative to ensurethatall students are ready for life and employment in the 21st century. 

  • In the information age and global economy, education is the prerequisite to most careers in growth industries; therefore, all students should be prepared and have the choice about what kind of post secondary education they will pursue. Some will pursue two year and four year college degrees and others will enter apprenticeship and job training programs.  Students need to be prepared no matter, which they choose.
  • Even in the information age, students still must demonstrate proficiency in content in courses such Our mission requires that “all students demonstrate mastery of core competencies” and in order to fulfill that promise, staff must work together to identify these competencies, how to measure them, and must develop predictable, effective systems for students who need more time or support.
  • We have a professional responsibility to enhance our current instruction and assessment practices to meet recommendations outlined in current research and known best practices related to student achievement.
  • TUHSD has a persistent achievement gap – low socioeconomic and African American students have lower grades and test scores and are not likely to complete UC entrance requirements.75% of white students graduate from our schools eligible for UC entrance, as opposed to 30% of our African American students. Similarly, only 34% of low-income students are eligible for UC entrance, as opposed to 75% of non low-income students.(More information about the achievement gap is available in the TUHSD Achievement Report)
  • Minority students are significantly over represented in special education programs.

What work is currently being done to address these issues?

Professional staff members are working in teams to identify what all students should know and be able to do, to develop meaningful ways to measure student progress and systems to intervene when students need more time or support. 

  • Teachers have identified “program goals” for each course or series of courses. Program goals are what students should know or be able to do as a result of taking a course.  Administration has not told teachers what is essential in a course, teachers are collaboratively making decisions based on their content expertise and professional judgment.
  • Teachers are currently working on a meaningful system to assess students’ mastery of the program goals. These teacher-developed assessments will guide instruction and provide information about which students need extra help and which students are ready for enrichment.
  • Over the course of the next 18 months, site leaders, teachers and counselors will develop intervention plans so that students receive timely, targeted assistance when needed.

What is not true about the work in TUHSD?

  • The curriculum will be “cookie cutter.”
    • The truth is that teachers are determining essential skills that are important enough for all students to master. This will even out the playing field so that we know that when students finish one class, they are ready for the next.  Essential skills don’t make up an entire curriculum of a course.  Teacher choice remains for all other skills and activities.
  • Teacher creativity will be eliminated.
    • In fact, teacher creativity is essential to good instruction. Teachers will still be free to plan the activities and experiences that will move their students toward mastery of the program goals.
  • There will be fewer opportunities for high achieving students.
    • Again, just the opposite is true. The assessments will allow teachers to gather accurate information about student performance.  Students who have masteredconceptsshould be provided opportunities to problem solve and to apply the concepts to novel situations.
  • Our system has become “top down”.
    • Teachers working together in teams will actually flatten the organization. Teams have empowered to collaboratively create and agree upon program goals and assessments.  However, the “lone wolf” style of working by closing the classroom door and working in isolation is no longer an option.

The board and administrative team are committed to the Tam District mission statement;in fact, it is our moral imperative to ensure that all students are prepared for 21st century life.

We encourage our stakeholders to seek clarity about the true work of the district and not to be misled by those who seek to maintain the status quo.  Good schools are not the best we can do, and business as usual is not good enough.  We can ensure great outcomes for all our students by empowering our teachers to work in teams, to foster collaboration, and to learn from one another.  Our students deserve nothing less.

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For the past several years, about 96% of Tamalpais Union High School District revenue has been generated locally through property tax, parcel tax and foundation fund raising.  Community members are sometimes surprised to find out that only about 3% of our district revenue comes from state aid.  This very low percentage is the result of cuts from the state of California during the years of the recent great recession.

It is important for our parents, staff and community to understand that despite the reports in the media about increases to school funding because of a new law known as the “Local Control Funding Formula” or “LCFF”, Tamalpais Union High School District will not experience an increase in state aid.  The state revenue cuts we experienced during the recession will not be restored and our district will continue to rely almost exclusively on local funding. About 90% of the school districts in California will experience increases in state aid over the coming years due to the rather complicated new formula, which increases the amount of funding for low-income and English Language Learners.  However, TUHSD is one of about 10% of school districts in California that will not see an increase in state revenue as a result of the “Local Control Funding Formula”.

One positive aspect of the new formula is that TUHSD will be “held harmless” at our 2012-2013 state aid level.  In other words, the state cannot cut our funding even lower than they already have.

Another very interesting aspect of the “Local Control Funding Formula”law is that all districts, including those who receive no additional money, will be held accountable to the state laws through the creation and submission of “Local Control Accountability Plans”.  Although the State Board of Education has not yet released the specific template, TUHSD will need to create a written plan that will include details of how we are spending locally generated money to increase the achievement of our low income and English Language Learner students.  Fortunately, our district strategic plan addresses issues of student achievement and we already have plans in place to assist all students including those from low-income families and English Language Learners.

As more information about the “Local Control Accountability Plan” becomes available from the State Board of Education, it will be posted on the TUHSD website at

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Ask any almost anyone and they will tell you that completing college applications can be complicated and emotional for a variety of reasons.   Students often report that the most anxiety inducing portion of the process involves the ACT and SAT exams. Both are nationally administered, standardized tests that help colleges evaluate students for admission.  Both tests have been rites of passage for decades, but the landscape has changed and students can make a choice about which test to take.

Until recently, the college entrance test you took was based on your zip code.  Students on the east and west coasts typically took the SAT and students in the middle of the country usually took the ACT.  For most, there wasn’t much thought that went into the decision, you simply took the test you were told to take by the colleges in your geographic area.  Times have changed dramatically and almost every college now accepts either test.  In fact, colleges do not express a preference for one test over the other.

As illustrated in the chart below, more and more TUHSD students take the ACT every year and they are experiencing a great deal of success.

Grad Year English Score Math Score Reading Science Composite Total Tested
2010 26.3 26.2 26.1 24.6 25.9 375
2014 26.8 26.2 26.8 25.3 26.4 458


It’s also interesting to note that the California state average composite score was 22.2 in 2010 and 22.3 in 2014.  Clearly, TUHSD students are performing far above state average and of even more significance; our students’ performance is improving at a rate that far exceeds the state.

What is the difference between the two tests?

There are many factors that distinguish the two tests from each other, but briefly, the ACT is an achievement test that measures the content taught in school.  Success on the ACT is dependent on mastery of curriculum and therefore is closely tied to a student’s experience in their school.  The SAT is more of an aptitude test and it measures reasoning and verbal abilities.

The ACT has five sections:  English, Mathematics, Reading, Science, and an optional Writing Test.  The SAT has three sections:  Critical Reading, Mathematics and a required Writing Test.

How are the questions different on the ACT and SAT?

According the Princeton Review website, the ACT questions tend to be more straightforward and easier to understand on a first read.  The SAT may require more time to think about a question prior to the formulation of a response.  Furthermore, SAT penalizes for wrong answers, so guessing is discouraged.  The ACT is scored based on the number correct answers with with no penalty for guessing.

Is there is difference in the length of the tests? 

The ACT is 3 hours and 25 minutes including the optional Writing Test.  The SAT is 3 hours and 45 minutes.

How do students choose the best test?

The place to get great advice is from the TUHSD guidance counselors!  This blog post barely scratches the surface of the complexities of both tests.  Our counselors know our students on an individual basis as well as the ins and outs of both tests.  They can help a student assess their strengths and weaknesses and make informed decisions about the entire college application process.  Another great place to get advice is from the College and Career Counselors.  They have access to a variety of resources such practice tests, information about specific colleges and universities, as well as processes sign up to take tests.

More web resources:

The ACT:

The SAT:

Information on the 2016 SAT revisions:

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In an economy driven by technology, innovation and service, future success for our students will require both content knowledge as well as a set of underlying skills such as critical thinking, communication and collaboration.  Both common sense and research tell us that our students must be prepared for learning beyond high school whether it is in college, job training and apprenticeship programs.  But how do we ensure that all students who enter high schools are ready for their future when they are only there fo four short years?  The answer lies in both effective classroom instruction as well as effective intervention.

We know that all students can learn; however, some students need more time and more support.  In the past, many school systems waited for students to fail or fall far behind to intervene.  Summer school was offered when students failed or gave up and the student then was required to repeat the entire course regardless of content that had been previously mastered.   Special education was sometimes offered as a last resort when staff had tried everything they could think of to help and simply didn’t know what else to do.  These sorts of extreme measures are important for many students and absolutely necessary at times, but for many others success is possible if we intervene quickly and efficiently.

Imagine a school system where student outcomes are clearly identified, where there is high quality instruction in every classroom and where TIMELY intervention is available for EVERY student at the first sign of a struggle.  What if students didn’t have to wait for help until they had already failed?  What if students didn’t need to repeat an entire course, but rather just the portions that they had yet to master?  Wouldn’t this be a more efficient and effective system for students, parents and teachers?

The best intervention is prevention and so our most important work actually begins with a strong core instructional program in every classroom for every student.  Approximately 80% of students who receive a well taught, research-based curriculum should experience success as a result of instruction in the classroom.  Quite simply, this is the reason that districts should take the time to have teachers collaboratively create a common core aligned curriculum along with assessments methods to measure student growth and achievement.  Schools should also focus on increasing the quality of classroom instruction and ensuring that research based and proven methodologies are utilized.

The next step to ensure that all students learn at high levels is to create intervention plans to assist students who need more time or support to reach proficiency on skills and content.  Well-constructed intervention plans have the following characteristics:

  • Tiered support – some students need a little help and some need a lot of help.  Interventions should offer various levels of assistance based on the needs of the student.
  • Directive – interventions must be mandatory.  We can’t claim that our mission is to ensure that all students learn at high levels and then allow our students to “choose” to fail.
  • Administered by trained professionals – systems must be in place so that the professionals with the most expertise in a given area are able to deliver intervention.  This notion is based on a medical model.  If you have the flu, you can see the physician’s assistant, but if you have cancer, you need the oncologist.
  • Targeted – intervention is very specific to the student and the standard in which he or she needs assistance.  Using a reliable system of assessment in the classroom ensures that we identify specific areas of intervention.
  • Timely – effective intervention occurs promptly, not after an F grade has been given for the course.  Also, interventions should only be as long as needed; a student should not have to languish in intervention past the point where it is helpful.

If you would like additional information on effective intervention:

An easy to read article – “The Why Behind RtI” by AusitnBuffum, Mike Mattos and Chris Weber-click HERE

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Post high school planning, also commonly known as the college search – it’s a topic that can strike fear in the hearts of even some of the most seasoned parents.  We can spend countless hours wondering how to ensure that our students are prepared and trying to point them in the “right” direction.   As we all know, living in Marin also adds an element of pressure. It seems like everyone is talking about where their children are going, but have you ever wondered where the majority of our students actually end up?  Do you wonder how many of our students attend the UCs, CSUs and College of Marin?  How many students chose to go directly to a career?  There are so many post high school choices with something to fit everyone’s needs and yet, the conversation doesn’t always include the variety of options that are available.

As TUHSD, we are quite interested in our data regarding post high school preparation and college enrollment.   So that we could better understand the facts, wehave acquired previously unreleased data from the national college clearinghouse that allowed us to go beyondantidotal stories and the student self-reported data that we have relied on in the past.  Data from the clearinghouse reports the percentage of students who complete a degree in six years and so the most recent data available is for the class of 2007.  Here is the data in relation to some commonly asked questions:

How many TUHSD students enroll in college and how many of them earn a degree?

  • 80% of our graduates enrolled in college in 2007. Of those who entered college, 70% earned a degree in six years or less.
  • TUHSD students weremuch more likely than others to graduate within six years. The national average of students who enrolled in college and earned a degree in six years or less is 54.2%

How many TUHSD students either do not enroll or do not finish their degree?

  • For the class of 2007, 391 students (out of 955) or 41.2% did not receive a degree within six years.

Where do TUHSD students enroll in college?

The top five colleges of enrollment for the classes of 2007-2013 are as follows:

  • College of Marin – 832 students
  • University of California-Santa Cruz -239 students
  • University of Oregon – 171 students
  • University of California- Santa Barbara – 163 students
  • California Polytechnic State University – 162 students

Both parents and school staff are also quite interested in how well we prepare our students for post high school education.  Research is clear, one of the best predictors of success in college and career is access to a rigorous curriculum in high school.  Therefore, as a district, we regularly monitor many data points including but not limited to enrollment and success in Advanced Placement courses and numbers of students who take college entrance tests such as the SAT.  Here is what we know about recent trends regarding college readiness:

  • Over the past five years we have had significant increases in the number of students taking Advanced Placement classes, taking the exam, and scoring a “passing” grade or higher. About 30% more students now take a course and the exams and at the same time, our passing rates have increased by about 30%.
  • Over the past five years we have had a 100% increase in the numbers of low income students who take Advanced Placement courses and their pass rates have increased by 147%.
  • Over the past five years, the numbers of students taking the SAT has increased by about 4 %. Even more significantly,  the number of students of color who take the SAT has increased by 61%, and the number of low-income students taking the test has increased by 102%.
  • SAT scores for TUHSD students have increased .5% and 3.5% for low-income students.

As you can see, the data above tells us a story about our schools.  Our students are well prepared for college and career, but we can and will continue to improve what we teach and how we teach it.  If we are truly preparing the leaders of the future, we need to ensure success for all students, not just most students.  The data also tells us that we are improving preparation levels for ALL students, not just one or two small subgroups.

The clearinghouse data shows that by far, the most popular college choice for our students is College of Marin.  In fact, more students attend COM than the next four most popular choices combined.  It’s important to remember that COM is a great option and that the staff there has worked to improve their services to our students over the past several years.  In the end, there is no “one size fits all” for post high school and our best bet is to prepare our students so that they have a variety of options from which to choose.

Coming in the next blog – advice from seasoned parents about post high school transition and college search process.

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