Extera School News - Fall 2018

A Message from the CEO

Greetings, Friends of Extera,
If you are looking for positive news to brighten your day, look no further. There is so much good news to share about what is happening at Extera Public Schools! The academic achievement of our students continues to rise dramatically as demonstrated by State testing measures. The feedback that we are receiving from high schools about former Extera students who attend their schools is outstanding. Our teachers continue to demonstrate their commitment to our school community, with 95% of teachers returning from the previous year. And, the creativity and talents of our students continue to impress us all.
In this newsletter, I invite you to take a few moments to read about some of the exciting events happening at our schools, such as our annual High School Fair and the "Cardboard Challenge" taken by our students in the 4th grade. You will also find an interesting interview with Christina Ung, our Testing Coordinator, who answers questions about testing practices and outcomes. Below are a few highlights of our students' impressive results in Spring 2018:
  • The percentage of students who performed at or above grade level in English language arts increased by an astounding 40%
  • The percentage of Extera students who performed at or above grade level in math increased by 31%
  • 40% of students who were classified as English language learners were reclassified to proficient in English in 2017-18
Those are definitely reasons to celebrate!
As we begin the holiday season, I would like to take this opportunity to express our heartfelt appreciation for your support of the work that we are doing to transform lives through education. Your gifts of time, services, goods, and financial contributions throughout the year are vivid reminders that generosity and goodwill are values that continue to thrive in the 21st century. You're helping to make it possible for us to provide excellent public education in the communities of Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles. On behalf of Extera students and their families, thank you!

Warm regards,
Dr. Jim Kennedy

The Results Are In!
Understanding Extera's Test Scores
an interview with Testing Coordinator Christina Ung

Christina Ung is a founding teacher of Extera Public Schools and currently serves as Testing Coordinator. We spoke with her about how Extera students did on the most recent Smarter Balance test, which was taken last Spring.

ESN: Before diving into data and results, what is an important thing to remember about testing?
Ms. Ung:  The first thing to remember is that test results are just one way of looking at the performance of a student or school. Each student is a robust individual with many talents and abilities, and no one test can define them or predict their future. At Extera, we look at the whole child and support all their needs, not just needs focused on testing.

ESN:  What do Extera's most recent test results say about the success of its students?
Ms. Ung:  Our recent test scores demonstrate that our students have been steadily growing and progressing in achieving proficiency in grade level standards. Each year, the percentage of students who meet or exceed grade level standard has increased. In Language Arts, for example, at EPS the percentage of students meeting or exceeding grade level standards increased by 27% last year; at EPS2 that increase was 40%. These are impressive results that show a strong trajectory of growth for students at Extera.

ESN: Compared to other public schools in the area, how much did Extera students improve from the prior year of testing?
Ms. Ung:   English language arts and mathematics are both areas of strength for Extera students, and we  continue to outperform the local district schools our students would otherwise attend. When we compared the achievement of Extera students to neighboring traditional public schools, our students came out on top in nearly every comparison and every sub group (such as English learners and students with special needs). 


ESN: What are areas of growth of Extera students this past year? What are areas of strength?
Ms. Ung:   Being situated in Boyle Heights and East Los Angeles, we have a higher concentration of students who come from homes where Spanish is spoken. As such, improving the percentage of English learner students who meet or exceed grade level standards has been a focus at Extera. Teachers attend trainings to add more tools to their teacher toolboxes for instructing English learners and use data to inform strategic grouping and differentiate instruction for English learners. We also provide a fun hands-on and academically rigorous English Language Development (ELD) model called "Tinker Time" for our 3rd-5th graders to help them develop language skills.

ESN: What steps are being taken to continue to improve student test scores?
Ms. Ung:  We are putting an extra emphasis on developing our teachers and making sure they have the tools necessary to support their students towards mastery of grade level standards. All teachers meet once a month to look at, understand, and use data collected on their students. In this world of immense data collection and usage, we also want to equip our teachers with the skills to utilize data to push student learning forward or find gaps that need filling. Our teachers also meet once a month to participate in a Professional Learning Community where they collaborate and learn from each other by sharing best practices around a selected topic. And, I continue to meet with our 3rd- 8th grade teachers once a month for a professional development series in which I train and coach teachers on teaching practices that can improve student academic achievement.
ESN: What are student attitudes toward testing? Are they nervous and anxious, or do they face the tests with confidence?
Ms. Ung:  I think every student has some butterflies in their stomachs come testing time. I know I do! However, we make sure that students are familiar and comfortable with the testing experience so when they take the real test in May, they are familiar with the technology and logistics. We want to avoid surprises for the students during the actual test.

Testing Coordinator Christina Ung with an Extera graduate.

ESN: Numbers, percentages, and data aside, what changes have you seen in Extera students' development since the Smarter Balanced test first began?
Ms. Ung:  Our teachers teach students a growth mindset, and we have really seen that develop since the Smarter Balanced tests began. Students understand that their brains are constantly developing and that development may happen at different rates or ways for different students, but that the goal for all is growing. Knowing that we are all "works in progress" really helps students understand their learning journey and that test scores are just road signs along that path, not the destination.

ESN: Do higher test scores actually translate into better long-term learning?
Ms. Ung:  The Smarter Balanced tests were created to test mastery of the Common Core State Standards, and mastery of the standards means a higher a degree of college and career readiness. The current tests haven't been around long enough to see correlations to long-term learning, but I think our preparation of our students and the growth mindset that we instill in them will support them as lifelong learners.

4th Graders Take the Cardboard Challenge!

4th Graders construct a cardboard game
Participation in the Global Cardboard Challenge has been a tradition of Extera's 4th graders since the video of Caine's Arcade went viral back in 2012. This past October, the event was celebrated across all of our campuses. It was so inspiring for our students to know that a hometown hero - a boy their age living in Boyle Heights - could ignite a global movement to celebrate the power of imagination that all kids have.

"At first, we wanted our students to follow in Caine's footsteps so they could engineer their own playable arcade games and take pride in their creations," says Jennifer Albrect-Ayala, who teaches 4th grade at Extera's Breed Street campus, and is a founding teacher. "Over time, we have incorporated other lessons to enrich the experience, such as how physics and force play into the design and strategy of their games, how artistic choices and aesthetics attract people to play our games, and how to run a business effectively by working with a team, utilizing individual strengths, scheduling shifts, and interacting with the public." 

Game day!

Some of the overarching lessons that are revisited by students throughout the process are metacognition practices, developing a growth mindset, and trusting their own creativity. That is, students are taught how they can make plans to accomplish a large undertaking, to reflect on their choices throughout the construction of their games, then revise their thinking when setbacks occur, and finally the importance of persevering through it all until they create a more polished product that reflects their creativity and is something they are very proud of.

Students are always fired up after watching the Caine's Arcade documentary and so they already come with a ton of motivation. Part of it is because they are excited to see someone who reflects them and who has had a lot of success for being true to himself. Most of their motivation though, likely comes from the very nature of the project -- they get to build their very own arcade game for others to play!

Mrs. Albrecht-Ayala and a student create a sign welcoming students to the big event on our Breed Street Campus

"I let them know that they are in charge and that I am only there to support them throughout the process, which I think is also fun for them," Albrecht-Ayala continues. "They get to be the boss and I become their production assistant! Watching them take the lead, running their arcade for their family, friends, and school community to play, and seeing them flourish because they had the opportunity to embrace their imaginations and use their creativity to come up with really exciting games is inspiring for us teachers to witness. Our students never cease to amaze us each year during the Global Cardboard Challenge, so they are actually the ones that motivate me!"

Extera's 3rd Annual High School Information Fair

The great room at Catholic Charities was abuzz on Saturday, October 20, as Extera Public Schools hosted our 3rd Annual High School Information Fair. Representatives from are high schools such as Esperanza College Prep, Collegiate, East College Prep, Mendez High School, and more, were on hand to provide school information to our 8th graders and their families.

"It's so exciting to have this level of participation from our students and families," said Mary Najera, Chief Community Relations Officer for Extera Public Schools, and an organizer of the event. "This event is a chance for families to explore the options that are available to them - to understand what each school can offer."

In addition to meeting and talking with students at information tables, school representatives were able to offer a live presentation to those assembled to better describe their programs in more depth, as well as answer questions. These other high school representatives were more happy than to take part in the information fair, as their experience with Extera graduates has been overwhelmingly positive. "One of our core values at Esperanza is Effort," said Rosa Alanis, Principal at USC Esperanza College Prep, "and the Extera kids just naturally have that. They are resilient and work really, really hard. So, I love Extera kids! And I want to continue recruiting kids from Extera because of that."

If you shop at Amazon, a fantastic way to support Extera Public School is to take advantage of the AmazonSmile Program. Each time you shop at smile.amazon.com Extera automatically receives 0.5% from each eligible purchase, at no cost to you. And it's easy! On your first visit to smile.amazon.com, simply select Extera Public Schools as your preferred charity from the list of non-profit organizations. Then, whenever you purchase products marked "Eligible for AmazonSmile donation," we will received a portion of the proceeds.

Extera Public Schools| 323.261.0059 | www.exteraschools.org 
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