Students Gain, but Still Lag

Duke Helfand and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times, August 16

Although California public school students showed promising gains on math and English tests last spring, less than half were proficient in the two subjects and unable to meet the achievement goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind education law, the state Education Department reported Monday.

Students in grades two through 11 have steadily increased their test scores over the last four years, progress that officials attribute to a strong focus on academic standards in classroom instruction.

The pace of the students’ improvement, however, has not come quickly enough for all schools to keep up with requirements in the federal law—a looming problem particularly for campuses that serve predominantly Latino and African American students, whose test scores remain far below those of their white and Asian peers.

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In some of California’s largest urban school districts, including Los Angeles Unified, last year’s sixth-grade classes saw math achievement levels decline over the two previous years, the analysis found.

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• As students move up to the next grade, smaller percentages of them reach the proficient level in math. For example, 56% of second-graders met that target in math last spring, but only 40% of sixth-graders and 17% of 10th-graders also reached the proficient mark.

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• The wide achievement gap between racial and ethnic groups has changed little, if at all, over the last five years. Sixty-five percent of Asian students and 51% of white students were proficient in math last spring, compared with 27% of Latinos and 23% of African Americans.

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But the test scores also foreshadowed how difficult it will be for schools to meet the federal law’s requirement that all students be proficient by 2013-14; O’Connell noted that only two of California’s 9,000 schools had so far met the federal mark for 100% proficiency.

For many urban campuses, the difficulty was math, with fewer students reaching the proficient level as they moved through elementary school, The Times’ analysis showed.

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