Schools in Sacramento region continue to improve on STAR tests

Published: Saturday, Sep. 1, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Saturday, Sep. 1, 2012 - 9:11 am

School test scores in the Sacramento region continued to climb this year, despite state budget cuts that resulted in larger class sizes, fewer teachers and reduced programs at most schools.

Area schools showed marked improvement in English and a slight improvement in math on the latest Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, tests, according to a Bee review of state data released Friday.

This is the ninth straight year that California students have improved their performance on the tests, said state Department of Education officials.

"In less than a decade, California has gone from having only one student in three score proficient to better than one in two," state schools chief Tom Torlakson said in a prepared statement. "That's nearly 900,000 more students reaching proficiency now than in 2003."

California students increased their English language arts scores by three percentage points overall and their math scores by one percentage point.

Folsom Cordova Unified and Woodland Joint Unified showed some of the biggest gains locally this year. Officials from each district credit the improved scores on targeted intervention programs.

Students' English scores climbed 4.5 percentage points in the Woodland district and math scores rose 3.4 percentage points. Folsom Cordova students raised the district's overall English score three percentage points and its math scores by two percentage points.

"We use data to target the interventions for students down to the individual student level," said David Knight, Folsom Cordova Unified's assessment coordinator. "Then we intervene, and we intervene hard."

Folsom Cordova's intervention program, in its third year, includes before- and after-school classes, as well as Saturday school, if needed.

Woodland saw its biggest increases in English language arts, or ELA, at Plainfield Elementary, with a 12.8 percent increase, and Sci-Tech, with a 14.4 percent increase.

"Plainfield has made a very dedicated focus to increase student achievement in ELA and math," Plainfield Principal Armando Olvera said in a statement. "We used a significant amount of our Title 1 funding to pay for classroom tutors, who under the direct supervision of teachers, provided small group instruction for students needing additional help."

About 60.2 percent of students in the four-county Sacramento region scored at or above proficient on English tests, up from 57.9 percent in 2011. Statewide, 57 percent of students scored at or above proficient.

Among the Sacramento region's largest districts, Woodland, Roseville City Elementary and Folsom Cordova all posted strong gains in English, improving by at least three percentage points. Roseville Joint Union High district saw a minuscule decline.

All students in five grades at separate schools in the region aced the test, scoring at or above proficient – fifth- graders at Donner Trail Elementary in the Tahoe-Truckee district; sixth-graders at Judah Elementary in Sacramento City Unified; fourth- and seventh-graders at Miller's Hill School in the Latrobe School District; fourth-graders at Rocklin Academy at Myers Street and second- and fifth-graders at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School in Truckee.

The high scores in the Latrobe district are a result of an intense focus on reading at its schools, as well as the use of data and intervention, said Jean Pinotti, superintendent/principal of the 153-student district.

"The students are proud of themselves, and the teachers are proud of themselves," Pinotti said. "I tell them, 'You have done what the governor has asked you to do.' "

The line went over best when Arnold Schwarzenegger was governor, Pinotti said, adding, "I've been known to pull out the president as well."

On the flip side, no students in 11 classes at 10 separate schools managed to score at or above proficient on the English test. All of those schools were alternative high schools, including La Entrada Continuation High in Sacramento County, where none of the 46 11th-graders tested scored at or above proficient on the test.

In mathematics, about 64.1 percent of students in the four-county region scored at or above proficient on math tests, up from 63.5 percent in 2011. Roughly 51 percent of students statewide scored that well.

Schools in suburban counties generally posted stronger math gains than schools in Sacramento County, state figures show.

Among large districts, Woodland, Davis Unified and Folsom Cordova all made good progress in math, improving by at least two percentage points. Sacramento City, Natomas Unified and Twin Rivers Unified all saw drops of less than 1.2 percentage points.

All students in four grades at four separate schools scored at or above proficient: second-graders at Fairfield in Davis; third-graders at Rocklin Academy at Myers Street; second-graders at Sierra Expeditionary in Placer County and third-graders at Sheridan in Western Placer.

Only one grade at one school saw no students score at or above proficient on standard math tests: the seventh-graders at Success Academy, a school for troubled youths in Sacramento City Unified.

Despite rising scores statewide, Latino, African American, English language learner and low-income students tend to perform poorly on the tests compared with other student groups.

The same holds true for Sacramento County, where most of the region's minority students live. The percentage of African American and Latino students proficient in math declined slightly, while the percentage of white students scoring proficient rose. About 43 percent of the county's African American students scored proficient or better, as did 52 percent of Latino students, compared with 69 percent of white students and 73 percent of Asian students.

In English, all ethnic groups posted strong but similar gains. About 40 percent of African American students and 45 percent of Latino students scored proficient or better, compared with 66 percent of white students and 63 percent of Asian students.

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