Drum roll, please: The 2016 state Common Core test results are now available for students in elementary grades 3 through 8 and high school juniors. Scores have gone up in this region, with English rising significantly and math remaining a tougher subject.
Statewide, nearly half of test takers, or 49 percent, were at or above grade level in English and 37 percent passed the bar in math in results made public Wednesday.
To put the statewide numbers in perspective, on the last state multiple choice test given in 2013 – a far easier and very familiar test of simpler standards – 56 percent of kids statewide tested as making the grade in English, 51 percent in math. The rough analogy, while not scientifically valid because they are such different measures, nevertheless suggests students are making up ground they lost when first asked to tackle the more challenging lessons of Common Core.
The 2016 test is the first Common Core measure that officially counts. Students took a field test of the Smarter Balanced system in 2014 and in 2015 scores were called only a baseline. These numbers, however, will figure into calculations of how well schools are doing and how effectively they are spending their money.
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“(We see) steady improvement as we learn the system, (but) need to be cautious about reading too much into these scores after only two assessment cycles on a tech platform,” Debra Hendricks, superintendent of the Sylvan Union Elementary District in north Modesto, said in an email.
“With a somewhat reasonable amount of feedback now in hand, we can now move forward in a more informed manner of analyzing and appropriately using the data within our district. It’s still very early in the game,” Aaron Rosander, Denair Unified superintendent, said via email. The Denair district was one of the few to see its scores slide slightly in 2016.
Some 3.2 million California kids in grades 3 through 8 and 11 took the computer-adapted tests, which shift questions depending on the taker’s hits and misses to pinpoint what they know. Students also have to do a practical task solving a real-world problem and answer essay questions, a major shift from the multiple-choice tests they replaced.
Testing went much more smoothly this year for Modesto City Schools’ 30,000 students, said Ginger Johnson, associate superintendent for educational services. Ironically, it was the state’s tech problems that caused the district headaches this year.
A California Department of Education letter of Aug. 23 notes Modesto is among “a small number of districts” the state has not released results sorted by student groups because of a quality-control issue.
The glitch means the district does not have a read on how its low-income, English learning or minority students did as a group, and might not until late September, Johnson said. “It is frustrating to me that we can’t pull the disaggregated data,” she said.
One widely anticipated issue failed to materialize. Less than 1 percent of students – 22,763 – opted out across California, despite a widespread campaign that met with greater success in other states, said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.
“This low rate of parental exemption indicates that our parents and students see the value of measuring the skills of all students against the same standards the same way, using one common yardstick, and one shared goal: learning,” Torlakson said.
What the yardstick showed in this region was greater focus on English skills, with those numbers starting the highest and growing the most.
In math, only 37 percent of students scored at grade level statewide, and counties in this region did significantly worse. Calaveras and Tuolumne counties had 32 percent of students beating the proficiency mark, trailed by Mariposa, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced, with 23 percent of children doing well in math.
“Our board identified literacy as a top priority, so we partnered with the Stanislaus County Office of Education and concentrated our training in that area,” said Waterford Unified Superintendent Don Davis. “This year, we’re investing in additional training in math instruction, particularly in the early grades, as the data show a real need in that subject.”
Among high schools, Ripon, Enochs, Waterford and Hughson topped the local list in math scores. Aspire University Charter, Gratton School, Knights Ferry School, Hart-Ransom Charter and the Hickman Community Charter District were the Stanislaus elementary math standouts.
“Our staff realized four years ago that the transition to the math standards and use of technology would be the bigger shift for our staff, students and parents. While we did not focus entirely on math, we spent more of our professional development time on implementing the shifts in math instruction,” said Hickman Superintendent Paul Gardner.
An Education Trust-West analysis of the data showed all student groups moved ahead, but Latino and black students remain the lowest-performing and improved less than other groups in math. That sluggish rise widens the gap between their scores and state averages, which the nonprofit called a disturbing trend.
“While the overall improvement in scores is positive, we need faster progress for all students, and swifter gap closure for our students of color, English learner, and low-income students. If not, it will be decades before some groups of California students are fully meeting standards and on track for college, careers, and life,” said the Ed Trust-West statement.
There are bright spots, however. At Empire Elementary, where basically all students qualify for free lunches, only 7 percent of third-graders hit reading targets last year, but as fourth-graders 23 percent of those kids were at grade level. Tempering that good news, however, only 6 percent had mastered math. Other grades also improved, and the district made gains in both English and math overall, said Andy Kersten, assistant superintendent of instructional services.
In Ceres, more than half their high school juniors passed the college-ready cutoff points, a projection that they will exit high school college-ready in reading and math, said Debi Bukko, Ceres assistant superintendent in educational services. She credited higher scores in English at every grade to a preschool-on push for literacy that the district began several years ago.
Salida English learners posted a 10 percent increase, a higher boost than their white schoolmates, said Salida Union Superintendent Twila Tosh. “We are very pleased with our English learners,” she said.
In the Stanislaus Union district in north Modesto, where low-income kids and English learners make up 70 percent of students, the scores rival those of wealthier districts like neighboring Sylvan, noted Superintendent Britta Skavdahl.
The district targeted English learners and schoolwide help for struggling students, with both groups showing better-than-average gains, Skavdahl said. The gifted learners program at Agnes Baptist Elementary also got to participate in more activities, with the school showing double-digit growth in numbers of students achieving above grade level.
Top rankings overall went to tiny districts and charter schools for the most part, with Aspire University Charter in Modesto and the Gratton School District by Denair tied for first with 60 to 62 percent of their students proficient in both subjects.
Summersville and Sonora high school districts, both in Tuolumne County, and Ripon Unified in San Joaquin all scored high in English skills, but had far fewer passing math. Summersville had the top single rating for a district, with 72 percent judged on par in English.
In Merced County, McSwain Elementary District got the best scores in both English and math, 60 and 39 percent proficient, respectively. Le Grand High School District and Merced River showed the greatest improvements, both posting double-digit gains over last year in math and English.
Among elementary campuses in the large Modesto City Schools district, the Wilson Jaguars showed the greatest improvement, with 7 percent more students proficient in reading and 10 percent more meeting the mark in math. Johnson credited Wilson teachers working as a team for the boost.
Beyer High had the most dramatic rise, with 22 percent more juniors proficient in reading and writing. The lexicon-linked leap meant 68 percent of Beyer 11th-graders met state standards in English. Math scores also rose 7 percent, to 29 percent proficient.
Modesto High matched Beyer scores in both categories, tying in district rankings for the silver in the English scores and the bronze in math behind Gregori High.
Enochs High took the gold, with 77 percent of juniors testing proficient in English and 42 percent equal to the task in math. Lakewood Elementary, which serves a high number of gifted students, proved its mettle in English (73 percent proficient) and math (63 percent).
Across Modesto City Schools’ elementary and junior high schools overall, however, only 27 percent of students made targets in reading and 26 percent in math. Its high schools, which include students from seven smaller elementary districts, tested at 58 percent proficient in English, 17 percent in math – both slight increases.
In other Stanislaus County districts, Hughson Unified showed the greatest gains among the multischool districts with 11 percent more students hitting a passing score in English and 5 percent in math.
Among the largest districts, Turlock Unified students posted gains in both subjects, with 44 percent proficient in English, 28 percent in math. Ceres Unified saw gains in English, rising to 39 percent proficient, and stayed at 20 percent doing well in math. Sylvan Elementary and Stanislaus Union in north Modesto both rose to nearly half of students reaching proficient in English and 35 percent in math.
Individual student scores are reported to parents by mail. In addition, California provides a dedicated website, http://caaspp.cde.ca.gov, where parents and the public can view and compare aggregated results among schools, districts and counties along with statewide results.
The California Department of Education provides a wide range of tools for parents at http://testscoreguide.org, a new website with grade-by-grade, subject-by-subject information; detailed online guides to use in analyzing results, and practice tests at every grade level in English.