California Schools Get Higher Marks On Standardized Tests

Mitchell Landsberg and Erika Hayasaki, Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2006

Paced by gains in large urban districts, including Los Angeles Unified, California public schools continued to show steady progress in standardized test scores released Tuesday.

Statewide, 42% of students scored at the “advanced” or “proficient” level in English and 40% in math, an increase of 2 percentage points over last year’s scores in both subjects. State education officials acknowledged that the results left vast room for improvement, but hailed them as evidence that the effort to raise educational standards was gradually paying off.

“It is now clear that after almost 10 years of standards-based reforms . . . education in California is clearly making meaningful, sustained improvement,” Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said at a news conference in Glendale.

Los Angeles Unified, by far the state’s largest school district, showed gains on the STAR tests in almost every grade and subject area, with especially strong progress in the early grades, where the district has concentrated its reform efforts. Although the district’s scores remain well below the California average, they rose more than those of the state as a whole.

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Virtually no progress was made in closing the so-called achievement gap that separates affluent from poor children, and whites and Asian Americans from Latinos and African Americans. Those groups made roughly equal progress, leaving the gap about the same.

Russlynn Ali, executive director of Education Trust-West, a public policy group that focuses on school reform, said the test results are “actually cause for great concern” because of the disparities.

“In this state we provide poor kids and kids of color less of everything research says makes a difference,” Ali wrote in an analysis of the Standardized Testing and Reporting results. “If we’re serious about making the rhetoric on closing the gap a reality, then we need to do the opposite and provide them more.”

Both O’Connell and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger essentially agreed. O’Connell said he was “extremely disheartened” by the state’s inability to close the gap, and promised more counselors, training for teachers and other resources aimed at raising the achievement of poor children and children of color.

“Clearly, we must work harder, faster and with more focus to close the achievement gap,” he said.

O’Connell, reelected to a second term in June, said closing the gap would be his top priority over the next four years.

Schwarzenegger issued a statement saying the state “can and must do more to close the achievement gap in our underserved schools—that is why I support increased tutoring and after-school programs, as well as getting more experienced teachers in schools that need the most help.”

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Capistrano Unified, a high-achieving south Orange County district, is among those facing a pervasive achievement gap, in its case between white and Asian students and their Latino classmates. The problem is not that Latino students are falling behind, but that they are not improving faster than their counterparts, said Patrick Levens, executive director for secondary education support at the 50,000-student district.

“You’re taking baby steps,” Levens said. “The gap is narrowing slightly over time. We are making improvements in it, but the Asian and Anglo students are moving at high rates of improvement and the Hispanic kids have to really step on it to kind of keep the gap from widening. That’s a huge challenge for any district, especially one this large.”

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