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By Breeana Greenberg

Fewer students at Capistrano Unified School District schools required intensive and strategic support during the 2021-2022 school year, according to formative assessment data that district officials presented to the Board of Trustees last week.

The report, which also found that there was a decrease in the number of students receiving D and F grades, was based on the first full year of CUSD’s multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS)—an academic plan to provide support to students struggling to meet certain benchmarks.

Across kindergarten through fifth-grade levels, the number of students requiring intensive and strategic support decreased from the beginning of the school year to the end of the year, while the number of students requiring only core support grew throughout the year.

“This is a snapshot,” Associate Superintendent Dr. Gregory Merwin said. “Our elementary teachers are using more than this … to assess our student’s progress, but for us to get a snapshot districtwide, this assessment allows us to do that.”

Intensive support is meant to address K-5 students with scores well below early literacy benchmarks based on DIBELS, or Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills. Students requiring strategic support received scores below benchmark, but above the threshold for intensive support.

Students who receive core support are hitting at or above the DIBELS benchmarks.

During the presentation, school officials also touched on data gathered from i-Ready, an online assessment tool that provides teachers with an indication of their students’ progress. This is the first year that the district has i-Ready assessment data available for both literacy and math for middle school students.

“For teachers, it’s identifying those students that are struggling in specific standards and then it’s creating a map for them, and it creates a map for parents that’s so key,” Trustee Krista Castellanos said of teachers having access to the i-Ready data.

By the end of this past school year, there were 425 fifth-grade students who needed intensive support, Executive Director Meg Ervais explained.

“This information will be utilized immediately to position students for intervention and support classes in middle school and tutorial support within the first weeks of school,” Ervais said.

Fifth-graders’ formative testing data will now be in the hands of their sixth-grade teachers for the first time ever, Merwin explained.

“This tool (i-Ready) has never been in place before, where now sixth grade can have that, starting the year … that’s a really exciting thing that they can hit the ground running in sixth grade, and they already know these students,” Merwin continued.

According to the 2021-22 data, from sixth to eighth grade in both math and literacy assessments, the number of students placing early-on-grade level or mid- or above-grade level grew from fall to spring semester, while the number of students placing below-grade level decreased.

“It is now visually clear that students are making progress across grade levels and subjects,” Ervais said. “However, while significant progress was made, there is a clear need to continue to improve our systems of support for our students who are not yet working at grade level.”

“We are focused on shoring up systemic intervention with training, which starts in our professional learning academy before the school year even begins,” Ervais continued.

According to Ervais, students who completed testing at home performed better across the grades and subjects. This year, all testing was done at the school site, Ervais said.

For middle school, the number of students earning D and F grades decreased each quarter from the 2020-21 school year to the 2021-22 school year.

Similarly, the number of F grades for high schoolers decreased between the two school year; however, the district saw a slight increase in the number of students receiving D grades.

“While we know some of the students receiving F’s did then become students receiving D’s, we want to see both numbers trending down more significantly,” Ervais said. “Which would be the focus of our work for this coming school year, including the work on grading practices and the use of common formative assessments tied to specific intervention strategies in class and during tutorial.”

Preliminary state standardized test scores are coming in; however, final test scores will not be available until the late summer or early fall. CUSD staff will be back to present the Board of Trustees with the final test scores once the data is available and will share how the state testing results are correlating with the district’s formative assessment results.

Staff will also return next February for a mid-year update on the academic data.

Breeana Greenberg

Breeana Greenberg is the city reporter for the Dana Point Times. She graduated from Chapman University with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Before joining Picket Fence Media, she worked as a freelance reporter with the Laguna Beach Independent. Breeana can be reached by email at

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comments (1)

  • Total BS kids are doing worse than 10 years ago and it was bad then especially now with covid lockdowns. The superintendent is despised by the rank and file she appoints who she likes not the best candidates for positions. I know this to be a fact my spouse use to work there in administration and it is very dysfunctional organization especially at the top she had to leave the toxic workplace and people just recently have been leaving droves!

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