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California students continue gains on test scores

August 31, 2012 | 10:00 am

DATABASE: Look up the latest test scores and demographics for any California school

California students continued making strides on standardized English and math tests based on results released Friday, but fewer than half of the students in Los Angeles are performing at grade level.

In all, 57% of California students scored as “proficient” or better in English and 51% in math. In the L.A. Unified School District, those numbers were 48% in English and 45% in math.

“In less than a decade, California has gone from having only one student in three score proficient to better than one student in two,” state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement. “That’s nearly 900,000 more students reaching proficiency now than in 2003 — a remarkable achievement that represents real, sustained improvements in learning.”

DATABASE: Look up the latest test scores and demographics for any California school

Torlakson observed that gains were achieved despite lower state funding for public schools.

A gap persists, however, between white and Asian students when compared with their black and Latino peers. And, a similar gap separates students from higher-income families and low-income households.

The overall figures also mask a sharp disparity between the lower grades, where students earn much higher scores, and the upper grades. In L.A. Unified, for example, 63% of elementary students test at grade level or better in math, but only 30% of students do so in middle and high school.

L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, meanwhile, found much to celebrate.

“I am incredibly pleased with the progress over time,” Deasy said. He added that the test results should be understood in the context of broader progress, including a reduction in suspensions, better attendance and more students passing the state high school exit exam.

Deasy’s contract calls for improved test scores, among other provisions, and he is pushing to link part of teachers’ performance evaluations to their students’ scores.

Deasy said he was both happy and relieved at gains in English, which outpaced the state. Last year, L.A. Unified began a new reading program in elementary schools, and he had worried that the adjustment could have initially dragged down results.

Among the most-improved schools were those where officials took aggressive and controversial action.

Last year, for example, officials reorganized four middle schools, requiring the staff to reapply for their jobs.

At the time, teachers, union leaders and at least one school board member criticized the moves as unfair and pointed to research showing that such instant makeovers have a mixed record.

But after one year, the trend is upward, with each school improving in English and math. Burbank Middle School in Highland Park is the apparent star of the group, with one-year gains of 14 percentage points in English and 11 percentage points in math.

DATABASE: Look up the latest test scores and demographics for any California school

That doesn’t, however, settle the controversy. Burbank also has the best three-year track record of improvement and two of those three years were with the prior staff—80% of whom are gone.

The achievement gap correlates strongly to family income, but not entirely, which officials cited as a cause for ongoing concern. In math, black students with higher family income tested below white students whose families are at the poverty level. And Latino students whose families are not poor barely surpassed white students from low-income families.

Statewide, about 4.7 million students took the tests near the close of the 2011-12 academic year. The scoring trend also was positive for tests in subjects other than English and math.

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--Howard Blume

Photo: Mario Covarrubias, a sophomore at Banning High, contemplates an answer on the California STAR exam. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

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