Academics at RVC

Academics and Inquiry-Based Learning

"Tell me and I forget, show me and I remember, involve me and I understand."

- Benjamin Franklin

This old proverb is a guiding principal at Ross Valley Charter. Collectively, we strive to inspire curious minds and collaborative environments for our students so that they can achieve deeper learning and acquire 21st century problem solving skills.

In a recent Edutopia piece on Inquiry Based Learning (collaborative and project based learning), it was found that active-learning practices, such as Inquiry, have a more significant impact on student performance than any other variable, including student background and prior achievement.

At RVC, our inquiry-based learning approach provides a creative and engaging environment that is not focused on test scores. Our students learn to collaborate, ask questions, and express their knowledge in different ways, while teachers engage students’ natural curiosity and desire to learn. This approach lets students build skills that standardized tests don’t measure — the behaviors, attitudes, and social-emotional skills that set students up for success in school and in life. And clearly, in taking a test.

RVC students explore history
Marin in 1850

Diverse by Design and Committed to Educational Equity

Ross Valley Charter is diverse by design.  From our beginnings we have worked to create a school that is much more diverse than the district in which we are located, because we believe that experiencing diversity from a young age is critical to the quality of both academic and social emotional learning in our school.

Diverse elementary school in Marin image

As a diverse by design school, Ross Valley Charter has also focused on equity in academic achievement.  And we have the results that show that this focus is working.

Although we don’t focus on test scores, we realize they offer us and our community valuable information about our program and how it can be improved.

Academic Success and Equity

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) tests and the California Science Test (CAST) are given each spring and are a standardized measure of how students are performing. Below are results from 2022-23 in English Language Arts (ELA) and Math CAASPP tests for grades 3, 4, 5 and the California Science Test for grade 5 for two important demographic subgroups.

Accelerated learning in Marin image

Comparing total aggregated scores of schools does not have much meaning since these averages are almost always heavily influenced by the percent of low income students in the aggregate. In Marin, as in most of the country, there are elementary schools with fewer than 10% low-income students and schools with greater than 90%. We believe that comparing the results of each subgroup separately is the best way to compare student achievement.

The two charts below average results from Spring 2023 to show percent of students scoring at grade level or above on ELA, Math, and Science for low-income students and not-low-income students in grades 3, 4, and 5 for RVC, the Ross Valley School District, Marin, and the State.

RVC non-low-income students perform equivalent to RVSD and Marin averages.

But RVC performs considerably better with low-income students. With 45% of low-income students at or above grade level, RVC ranked #2 among Marin elementary schools on the average of ELA, Math and Science State testing.

Diversity and academic success image

*Marin percentages include the 21 Marin elementary schools which had the minimum number (11) of low income students taking the three tests, required to report a score. Individual elementary school scores can be found at the bottom of this page.

Achievement Gap in Marin County

The Low-Income Achievement Gap measures the difference between the low-income and not-low-income students’ percentages achieving grade-level scores averaging the three tests. Across California, the gap in those scores is 33%, exceeded by Marin County at 38%. RVSD was at 34%. RVC has achieved the County’s third lowest gap of elementary schools at 22%.

CAST test results feb. 2024

We believe that our entrepreneurial approach to education is responsible for these results. Research shows that active-learning practices, such as inquiry, have a more significant impact on student performance than any other variable.

At RVC, our inquiry-based learning approach provides a creative and engaging environment. Our students learn to collaborate, ask questions, and express their knowledge in different ways, while teachers engage students’ natural curiosity and desire to learn.

California Science Test As A Barometer for Equity

There are California science standards for every grade starting in Kindergarten, but these are only tested in grade 5 with the California Science Test (CAST). CAST tests 6 years of standards in one 5th grade test and focuses on investigation, problem solving, communication and collaboration skills. As a result, CAST results are an excellent barometer of the ability to apply both ELA and math skills to real world situations.

For non-low-income students, the percentage of RVC 5th graders scoring at grade level is similar to our comparison groups, with RVC at 64%, RVSD at 66%, Marin at 61% and statewide at 52%.

But our low income students have comparatively outstanding scores on the CAST. This is a clear demonstration of how our inquiry approach, which integrates science standards in every grade, impacts learning in this subgroup.

55% of low-income students in our school scored at grade level on this test, putting us in a tie for #1 elementary school in the County for this subgroup. This compares to the county and state average of 20% and RVSD average of 32%. Only 3 elementary schools in Marin scored above 25% in this subgroup.

The chart below compares CAST scores on this test for low income students for elementary schools who had at least 11 students in this subgroup taking the test.

Low income student achievment gap image

Data Table

Below is a table that shows the individual Marin elementary school low income student scores and number of students taking each test, and this same information aggregated for the Ross Valley School District, Marin, and the state.  This data comes from the CAASPP and CAST data bases which can be found here  For data for years before 21-22, RVC is listed under the name SBE-Ross Valley Elementary, because we were authorized then by the State Board of Education.