Student Scores Level Off In State

Joel Rubin and Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, August 16, 2007

California public school students posted small or no gains on standardized test scores last spring, raising concerns about a leveling off of previous achievement increases and continuing debate about the disparities between black and Latino students and their white and Asian peers.

Statewide, 41% of students reached the “advanced” or “proficient” level in math and 43% in English on standardized tests—scores that marked no movement from last year in math and only a one-point rise in English, according to results released Wednesday by the state Education Department.

By contrast, students’ scores had jumped 7 percentage points in both subjects in the previous two years. The results, researchers said, could be the beginning of a plateau in achievement levels that often comes after initial gains.

State officials had hoped the latest round of scores would provide more strong evidence to support their efforts to raise educational standards and accountability through testing. Sounding a more subdued note than in previous years, state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell turned particular attention on the comparisons between racial groups.

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The learning chasm that separates white and Asian students from Latinos and blacks is not new—or unique to California—and stands as one of the most troubling issues facing the country’s public school systems. In California, white students cross the proficiency threshold at about twice the rate as Latinos and blacks in math and English—a gap that has remained virtually unchanged over the last five years, since the current assessment program began.

But O’Connell ratcheted up the debate Wednesday. Educators and civic leaders, he said, must break the commonly held assumption that Latino and black students’ low scores are due largely to the effects of poverty. For the first time, O’Connell compiled statistics that showed black and Latino students who are not designated as poor are performing below white students who are at or near the poverty level.

“These are not just economic achievement gaps; they are racial achievement gaps,” he said. “We cannot afford to excuse them; they simply must be addressed.”

O’Connell emphasized the economic toll that the growing ranks of poorly educated minorities could have on California. “I really do believe that the biggest threat to our ability as a state to remain the sixth- or seventh-largest economy in the world is to make sure is that these [groups of students] are prepared to become contributing members in our workforce.”

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The performance of the nearly 265,000 students in L.A. Unified who are struggling to learn English as a second language remained troubling, with most of them scoring either “below basic” or “far below basic” on language arts tests.

The district’s weak track record in teaching these English learners has become a matter of sharp scrutiny. Last month, school board President Monica Garcia and board member Yolie Flores Aguilar sponsored a measure ordering district staff to redesign how these students are taught and their teachers are trained.

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To view the 2007 California STAR results, go to the website http://www.latimes.com/greatschools. Search for your child’s school and click on the Test Scores tab to see how it fared.

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