School test scores fall in Sacramento area, statewide

Published: Friday, Aug. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 - 8:58 am

After years of improvement, students in much of the Sacramento region slipped in math and English proficiency in the last school year, mirroring declines that occurred across California, state Department of Education data show.

Drops in the state's Standardized Testing and Reporting results, known as STAR tests, occurred in Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yolo counties, according to a Sacramento Bee review of the data.

Statewide, 51.2 percent of 4.7 million students tested in grades 2 to 11 were proficient in math, down from 51.5 percent in 2012. In English, 56.4 percent of students were proficient, down by 0.8 of a percentage point.

Previously, state math test scores had increased for five straight years and language arts scores had increased for eight years.

State leaders tried to put a positive spin on the news, noting that far more students test proficient today than a decade ago.

"The big picture is one of remarkable resilience despite the challenges," state schools chief Tom Torlakson told reporters.

He attributed the "slight" decline to years of budget cuts and teacher preparations for implementing the Common Core Standards teaching methods.

Common Core emphasizes problem solving over memorization. It's being introduced in phases in California and many other states. STAR testing, conducted in the spring, is being phased out and will be history by the 2014-15 school year.

Dean Vogel, president of the California Teachers Association, said budget cuts have taken a toll in the test results.

"Sooner or later, the downward spiral of the funding is going to catch up to you," he said.

In the Sacramento City Unified School District, Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said the district is already turning its focus toward the future and Common Core standards.

The dip in STAR results across the state, he said, "shows that these tests in many ways are not good indicators of students and learning."

"We think these assessments are becoming less and less relevant," he said. "They are not aligned to the Common Core."

Three of the region's 10 most-improved schools were in Sacramento City Unified: Maple, Kenny and Oak Ridge elementary. Maple was one seven elementary schools that closed in June to address declining enrollment in the district.

Still, the STAR tests showed that nearly three-quarters of schools in the Sacramento region saw proficiency rates decline for English. Of the 10 schools with the largest drops, four were in the San Juan Unified School District: Peck, Edison, Cottage and Coyle Avenue elementary schools.

Trent Allen, spokesman for San Juan, said the district has accelerated its efforts to stop "teaching to a test" and, instead, to emphasize student need.

"Our teachers have been encouraged to try new forms of instruction which explore content in a deep way rather than merely covering the standards aligned to the state's testing system," Allen said in an email.

Among districts, 12 of the 15 largest in the region saw a decline in the share of students achieving proficiency in English. In the Roseville City School District, the proportion of students who were proficient dropped 3.7 percentage points, the largest decline in the region.

San Juan, Sacramento City and Western Placer districts also saw drops of 2 percentage points or higher in English proficiency.

In math, 12 of the 15 largest districts in the region also recorded declines.

Western Placer's proficiency rate fell by 4.6 percentage points, the region's largest drop. El Dorado Union and San Juan saw drops of 3 percentage points or more.

In the Woodland Joint District School District, Superintendent Debra LaVoi was pleased students had shown improvement in math. Student proficiency rose 1.6 percentage points, a gain from a 2012 low of 41 percent.

"It is always good to learn the students are improving," she said. "These results help us assess which practices are working."

The district reported progress in English and math at a number of its schools.

On a countywide basis, students in Yolo performed best – at close to 2012 levels. The share of students showing proficiency in math fell by 0.1 of a percentage point. For English, the proficiency level fell by 0.3 points.

For El Dorado County, test data showed student proficiency dropped by 2.2 percentage points for English and 0.3 of a point for math.

In Placer County, the decline was 2.2 percentage points for English and 0.3 of a point for math. And in Sacramento County, the volume of students achieving proficiency fell by 2 percentage points for English and 1.4 points for math.

Call The Bee's Loretta Kalb, (916) 321-1073. Follow her on Twitter @LorettaSacBee. Read her Report Card blog at http://blogs.sacbee.com/report-card/.

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