My Daughter’s LAUSD Magnet is Making News: Other Latino students Deserve Opportunities to Succeed like this

I think it’s fair to say that standardized testing is, at best, only one measure of student academic potential and, at worst, is rooted in controversy and rote memorization.  The discussion around California’s adoption of the Common Core standard of “Smarter Balanced” tests is no different and school administrators, teachers, parents and students are struggling to understand the new academic expectations.

That said, I am still thrilled by the news released yesterday that my daughter’s small public school in Pacoima, Vena Avenue Elementary and Gifted Magnet, increased the number of students who meet or exceed their English language arts standard test scores by 22 percent over the previous year, and improved their meet or exceed math scores by 9 percent as well.

Why?  Several reasons, really.  It’s the first year my daughter participated in the testing program, and she transferred to Vena in January 2016 to become part of the Gifted Magnet program.  Her new teacher referred to the assessment test several times in the first few weeks, and my daughter came home asking, “What is this test they keep talking about?”  I was worried the school was “teaching to the test” and our girl would not get the challenging curriculum we had hoped for by transferring in the middle of her third grade year (I should add, at her insistence that she needed “more stimulation.”)

Wow, was I wrong.  She was more than challenged by her new coursework in English, reading, math and science.  She enjoyed her homework, which I admit was sometimes beyond me.  She worked on group projects daily, with different members of her class, learning how to collaborate and gaining social skills while tackling new academic topics.  In her after-school program on campus, she started coding in her computer class and came home excited to talk about her programs.  Yes, the testing still came up in class, and they took some practice tests, but it was only part of her new learning environment.

Her school is located in a working-class, predominantly Latino neighborhood, close to a major freeway.  I worry about her asthma every day, as she spends so many hours so close to a source of air pollution.  The students and families at Vena reflect the demographics of their neighborhood.  This is another reason I’m so happy about the rising test scores.  This is the kind of neighborhood school that some would expect not to succeed, because of those demographics.  The same kind of neighborhood where I grew up, in south Montebello.  The fact that these students are learning, growing and thriving in a challenging academic environment, shown by a number of factors  – including these improved Smarter Balanced assessment scores – makes my heart sing.

My daughter and her schoolmates are proving naysayers wrong, very wrong, if they write them off because of challenging socio-economic circumstances.  Their principal, Sonia Baron, and their teachers expect the best from these students – and the students are delivering, in a multitude of ways. She’s also benefiting from the LA’s Best after school program at her school which is also very important to me and other parents.

Shine on, Vena Elementary!  I am so proud and happy to be part of your educational family, and am very lucky my daughter is one of your own.

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Jerilyn Lopez-Mendoza

Jerilyn Lopez-Mendoza

Jerilyn Lopez Mendoza is an environmental attorney. She grew up in Montebello, where her parents still live, and is a proud graduate of Montebello High School, Stanford University (where she earned a bachelor's degree in American Studies) and UCLA School of Law. She is currently a President Barack Obama appointee to the international Joint Public Advisory Committee of the Commission on Environmental Cooperation, which monitors continental environmental impacts of NAFTA. She lives in the San Fernando Valley with her husband and precocious 8 year-old daughter.

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