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California student test scores show moderate gains

August 15, 2011 |  1:39 pm

Students at Cahuenga Elementary

California students posted moderate gains on test scores released Monday, continuing a trend of recent years.

The results for the Los Angeles Unified School District also mirrored past years: Gains were higher than for the state overall, but scores still fell below the state average.

Overall, 54% of California students scored "proficient" or above in English-language arts and 50% scored proficient or better in mathematics, the best results since the program’s inception in 2003.

In L.A. Unified, proficiency in English language arts increased from 41% to 44%. In mathematics, from 39% to 43%.

District officials hailed the results in the wake of budget cuts that have made academic progress more challenging.

“These results are a result of their amazing hard work,” said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, referring to teachers and other staff. “We are at our highest point in student achievement.”

These relative positives come with caveats.

For one, the scores at the high school level, the culmination of the K-12 system, continue to lag sharply behind elementary school performance.

In other words, huge numbers of students who appear to be on track as young children fall far behind as they get older. And those who drop out entirely aren’t even around to be tested toward the end of high school.

In L.A. Unified, fewer than 20% of high school students scored proficient or better in general mathematics, algebra, geometry and Level 2 algebra.

Another persistent issue is the achievement gap separating Asian and white students from Latino and black students — although these groups saw gains.

Statewide, 76% of Asian students and 71% of white students were proficient or better in English, for example, compared with 42% of Latinos and 41% of African Americans.

In math, the numbers are 76% for Asians, 61% for whites, 41% for Latinos and 34% for African Americans.

Compared with past years, the statewide gains are moderate, and they are almost certainly inflated by the transfer of more disabled students to a different testing system.

The transfer might be appropriate for these students, but the effect is to remove many low-scoring test-takers from the pool and thus boost the percentage of students scoring as proficient.

L.A. Unified estimated its scores rose less than 1 percentage point by removing some disabled students from the testing population. State officials did not provide an estimate for the statewide effect.

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-- Howard Blume

Photo: Students at Cahuenga Elementary in Los Angeles in 2006. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

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