Test scores show region has way to go, especially in math

California released scores from spring testing, the first time the public has been able to see how students are doing on the computer-adapted tests that check progress on the harder Common Core State Standards. Overall, students did far better in English than in math, and students did progressively better by grade.

“The results show our starting point as a state, a window into where California students are in meeting tougher academic standards that emphasize critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical writing,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

The state as a whole did better than almost every district in this region, with 44 percent of students overall meeting English standards and 33 percent hitting the mark in math. The California Department of Education has parent guides available for elementary, middle and high schoolers.

“California’s new standards and tests are challenging for schools to teach and for students to learn, so I am encouraged that many students are at or near achievement standards. However, just as we expected, many students need to make more progress. Our job is to support students, teachers and schools as they do,” Torlakson said in releasing the scores Wednesday morning.

Sylvan and Salida elementary districts showed the best scores overall among Stanislaus County districts, with more than 40 percent of students at or above grade level in reading and writing, and about 30 percent meeting or beating math standards.

Sylvan middle school students did especially well in math, and English teaching clicked across the board, said Laura Wharff, district head of curriculum and instruction. “We recognize that math at grades 3 through 5 will be a continuing area of focus for us this year,” she said.

“As a beginning point in our transition to the Common Core and (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium) assessments, we are very pleased with the overall performance of Salida students,” said Salida Superintendent Twila Tosh. “We see this as a solid start to a new generation of education.”

Students are far more interesting, creative and multifaceted than what any one test result can describe.

Margie Bulkin, Tuolumne County superintendent of schools

Over half of Ripon Unified students, 54 percent, topped the bar in English. Ripon Unified, in San Joaquin County, also posted strong scores in math, with 41 percent of students hitting the mark.

Aspire University Charter School in north Modesto posted 59 percent proficient in English, 65 percent doing well in math. Aspire’s two other schools, Vanguard College Preparatory Academy and Summit Academy, also beat state averages. Stanislaus County’s other independent charter, Great Valley Academy, had 37 percent meeting English standards, 24 percent at or above the math standards.

Modesto City Schools scores were calculated separately for its sprawling high school district, which seven elementary districts feed into, and its own third- through eighth-graders. Its high school students did well in English, with more than half at grade level, and were in the middle of the Stanislaus County pack for math.

Modesto’s younger students, however, were the lowest scorers among Stanislaus County districts, with 1 in 4 meeting English standards and about 1 in 7 doing math at grade level.

“These results will serve as a baseline for improvement over the coming years. It takes time to master new lessons, strategies and curriculum,” Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able said Wednesday.

The high school scores reflect the district’s early switch to new strategies.

“At the elementary level, we identified areas of weakness – reading by the third grade and writing by the fourth grade – and designed this year’s professional development to address those needs,” Able said.

“One way families can help their students be successful is to talk with them. Improving communication skills, especially listening, will help students on the assessments and in their classrooms,” she added.

Patience, persistence and realistic expectations are key.

Mark Campbell, superintendent of Calaveras Unified School District

In Turlock, which fell in the middle of the county pack in both reading and math, Superintendent Dana Trevethan said she and testing director Marjorie Bettencourt consider the results a baseline.

“It appears our students are scoring higher in effective listening and communication skills vs. reading comprehension and writing,” Trevethan said Wednesday. In math, students seem to be explaining their process well, but need more grounding in applying math concepts and procedures.

Patterson Unified scores were “a mixed bag,” said Superintendent Phil Alfano. High schoolers did well, but younger students were slightly below the county average. This test is tougher, he said, in part because it is given on computers.

“The fact that testing is done online is changing how we deliver instruction to our students. We’re addressing the digital divide that has plagued our many students living in poverty by (issuing students laptops),” Alfano said.

In the Stanislaus Union district, Superintendent Britta Skavdahl said she was “pleasantly surprised” by the scores. “Results were much stronger than we would have guessed would be generated in the first year of a new testing system,” she said.

“This year, with both teachers and students having had a full year of the new curriculum instruction, it is flowing much more easily,” she said.

Among other districts, Hughson Unified held its own.

“We are pleased that overall we appear to be in the higher range of the comparison. We are looking at the scores as a baseline, and everyone’s job moving forward is to improve our scores,” said Superintendent Brian Beck.

Empire’s second- through eighth-graders have gotten computers this year, in part to improve scores next year, said Assistant Superintendent Andrew Kersten.

“In general, our scores are lower than the state and county scores, but they follow the same grade level trends,” Kersten said. “In mathematics, our scores are lower than we would like, and we anticipated this.”

In Calaveras County, Calaveras Unified Superintendent Mark Campbell said the results were still being analyzed. The data will pinpoint what needs to improve, but it is only one measure, he said.

“People shouldn’t overreact, but take a measured approach,” Campbell said.

“Much like we did in 1998 with content standards, it takes time to adjust program and instruction, and the student achievement growth will occur over time as well,” he said.

In Tuolumne County, Superintendent of Schools Margie Bulkin said given the switch to computer testing, she was pleased with the scores. “I’m frankly impressed with the results,” Bulkin said.

“Nonetheless, we have a lot to learn about using this information to support students in areas not previously traditionally measured, such as demonstrating effective communication skills and investigating, analyzing and presenting information, using appropriate tools and strategies to solve real-world mathematical problems,” she said.

“It’s an exciting time in education,” added Cathy Parker, head of Tuolumne County Office of Education instructional services.

It is also an important time for parents to stay informed, said California State PTA President Justine Fischer.

“Today’s assessment-scores release serves as the back-to-school signal for parents to get engaged in their child’s education as they are learning new, more rigorous academic standards,” Fischer said in a statement Wednesday.

“Decades of research show what we know: Family engagement is key to student success,” she said. “Parents’ engagement in children’s education matters more than their own education, income or ZIP code. Use your child’s assessment scores as an opportunity to get engaged and chart the course for student success this school year.”

The scores mean there is more work to do, especially for poor kids and English learners, said Debra Brown, director of education policy for the nonprofit advocacy group Children Now.

“These tests will serve as a gauge for schools and parents on where kids are excelling and where they may be struggling, as we have raised the bar on what we expect our kids to know,” Brown said. The higher standards will help close the achievement gap, she said. “We must not lose our momentum.”

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