Nevada County administrators explain why some school districts improve, others struggle with testing |

Nevada County administrators explain why some school districts improve, others struggle with testing

Seven Hills Middle School sixth graders studying in class. Nevada City School District's test scores have improved on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test over the past three school years.
Submitted photo by Monica Daugherty

School Districts

ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19

Standard met or exceeded

Nevada Joint Union: 68.43% 61.66% 68.82%

Ghidotti 100% 100% 100%

Chicago Park: 54.17% 45.16% 51.63%

Grass Valley: 43.64% 48.73% 47.84%

Clear Creek: 77.46% 66.95% 60%

Nevada City: 58.03% 61.67% 67.60%

Penn Valley Union: 51.82% 56.23% 53.83%

Pleasant Ridge: 54.25% 51.87% 48.29%

Twin Ridges: 39.62% 39.28% 43.75%

Union Hill:  37.50% 45.61% 50.24%

Charter Schools

Bitney Prep: 65.39% 25% 57.15%

Forest Charter: 49.55% 44.94% 53.10%

John Muir: 5.26% 4.73% 5.66%

Nevada City School of the Arts: 50.59% 51.71% 54.94%

Twin Ridges Home Study: 58.84% 46.66% 40.97%

Yuba River Charter: 64.85% 53.04% 53.04%

School Districts

MATH 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19

Standard met or exceeded

Nevada Joint Union: 38.97% 36.42% 39.25%

Ghidotti 96.88% 93.18% 81.26%

Chicago Park: 43.33% 42.74% 42.62%

Grass Valley: 39.74% 40.33% 37.87%

Clear Creek: 70.59% 61.02% 54.31%

Nevada City: 40.25% 48.39% 54.74%

Penn Valley Union 40% 45.15% 40.51%

Pleasant Ridge: 47.59% 41.95% 38.63%

Twin Ridges: 30.19% 18.75% 20.19%

Union Hill: 31.33% 42.26% 42.79%

Charter Schools

Bitney Prep: 19.05% 4.17% 25%

Forest Charter: 35.70% 33.51% 33.34%

John Muir Charter: .60% 0% .99%

Nevada City School of the Arts: 31.89% 35.11% 44.03%

Twin Ridges Home Study: 26.83% 20% 19.51%

Yuba River Charter: 53.33% 43.75% 34.75%

Statewide, the 2019 results of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) produced little change from the prior year.

In comparison with nearby counties, Nevada County itself performed better than Sutter and Yuba counties, but behind Placer and El Dorado counties, according to Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay.

In comparing schools and school districts to their performance in years prior, the Nevada City and Union Hill school districts fared significantly better than the previous two school years in both math and English language arts categories, with more students meeting or exceeding the standard.

The same is true for the Nevada City School of The Arts’ math scores.

Conversely, Twin Ridges Home Study Charter, Yuba River Charter School and Clear Creek School District all saw their math and English language arts scores drop over the same time period, with fewer students meeting or exceeding the standards of both categories.

For five years, the test has been administered for students in third through eighth grades, and 11th grade, to evaluate how they are doing on Common Core State Standards. The test specifically focuses on English language arts and math.

Despite the drop, Lay noted that the scores at Clear Creek, for which he formerly served as district superintendent, are still higher than state and county averages.

Although school districts and parents often use the test results to rank schools, the California Department of Education tries to dissuade such actions.

“The old shame-and-blame accountability of the past unfairly labeled and punished schools regardless of how well or how poorly student groups within a school performed,” said Scott Roark, California Department of Education Public Information Officer, a few months ago. “Students are more than just test scores.”

Struggling schools, said Roark, become eligible for differentiated assistance from the state.

Nevada Joint Union High School District Assistant Superintendent Dan Frisella and Yuba River Charter School officials agreed with the general sentiment.

“CAASPP is one measure among many,” said Frisella at a district board meeting. “It’s a glimpse, albeit an important one.”

Union Hill School District Superintendent Dave Curry said it allows a comparison across school districts to ensure students are keeping up with the pack.

“It tells us systemwide how our schools are doing,” he said.

Statewide, proficiency in math and English language arts scores rose about 1%, according to EdSource. The same reporting showed little progress in closing the racial performance gap, except for Hispanic students.

In California, about 50% of students met or exceeded the standard for English language arts, while 39.7% of students did so for math.


Administrators note a few important factors that helped boost math and English language arts test scores at their school districts.

Nevada City School District Superintendent Monica Daugherty spoke of the importance of consistently asking students a simple question: Do you understand the material?

“It’s a lot more check-ins” to see if students are getting the material or not, said Daugherty. As such, teachers conduct “exit questions” to ensure students understand what they are taught, she said.

Union Hill School District Superintendent Dave Curry agreed, noting the importance of individualizing material as much as possible, and catching students before they fall through gaps of learning.

Both administrators discussed the importance of developing relationships between students, teachers and parents.

“Those three people are coming together,” said Curry.

Daugherty said test scores are just one measure of student success, but they allow administrators to see things like improved emotional wellbeing in a number.

“We are raising students who are the whole person,” she said. “You don’t learn from a teacher that you don’t feel cares about you.”

Curry said his district has invested a lot in mental health, including full-time psychologists and aides.

“The reason people are going to want to take on a challenge is because they have an incredible amount of support,” he said.

Even school leaders whose new student cohort didn’t perform as well in comparison with their previous cohort agreed.

“If students feel safe and have positive relationships with teachers and peers, the climate for learning is ideal,” according to a statement from Yuba River Charter officials.

Clear Creek School offers a “very welcoming school community and learning environment,” said principal Carolyn Cramer.

Lay said a more involved school is particularly important as more frequently both parents are working to make ends meet and therefore have less time to spend with their kids on school material.

“We need to adjust at the schools,” said Lay. “We need to be helping families out.”

That has meant school staff adopting more responsibility, which doesn’t necessarily come with increased pay.

“In my 28 years of teaching, I’ve never seen anything come off a teacher’s plate. I’ve only seen things added,” said Lay, noting that such an understanding may have led to increased burnout rates and an expressed desire from the public to better fund schools.

A California School Boards Association May poll showed nearly six in 10 Californians support raising taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals for an increased $11 million for K-12 schools and community colleges on a possible 2020 ballot initiative.


Lay said Twin Ridges Home Study has seen changes in leadership — the instability possibly resulting in poorer test scores.

Yuba River Charter officials wrote that they expected scores to drop as the 2018-19 year was the first one where students had completed testing online rather than on paper.

Clear Creek School Principal Carolyn Cramer said the school district’s test results may have fallen due to an increase in enrollment over the years: “from 139 to 162 to 182,” she wrote in an email.

“We have been receiving students throughout all grade levels and various programs, such as home schools, charter schools, as well as other district schools,” she wrote. “We cannot know the rigor of their programs or what curriculum has been used. So, it may take time for students to adjust and become acclimated to our learning environment.”

The principal added that due to the school’s small class sizes, an increase in population “can affect our grade level percentages anywhere from 4-7%.”

Twin Ridges previous Interim Director Jen Sheffo couldn’t be reached for comment.

Lay said his office is open to helping struggling schools any way it can.

“We have a whole intervention program starting in January that the schools are coming in to help with that,” he said, adding that adequate changes must be tailored to specific schools.

“What may work at Yuba River Charter may not work at Twin Ridges or Clear Creek,” said Lay.

Daugherty and Curry have been encouraged to talk with other administrators about their school districts’ successes.

“We cannot force the schools to do that, but they all want to,” said Lay. “There’s no egos here. Everyone is wanting to improve for the students.”

Correction: The info box for this story misstated how Union Hill school district and Penn Valley school district have been faring in their English Language Arts scores over three school years. Union Hill has been improving its scores over three years. The Penn Valley school district’s scores increased slightly over that time. The Union regrets the error.

To contact Staff Writer Sam Corey, email or call 530-477-4219.

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