It was no surprise that California’s first academic tests tied to new Common Core English and mathematics standards revealed lackluster achievement.
Overall, just 44 percent of the 3.2 million students in grades 3-8 and 11 met or exceeded standards in English, and that dropped to 33 percent in mathematics.
State education officials had warned that results of the “Smarter Balanced” tests would be disappointing, with competency levels lower than the state’s now-abandoned STAR tests had shown.
State schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson and his aides were so worried about the comparison that they even removed STAR test results dating back 15 years from the Internet, only to restore them later in response to an intense surge of criticism.
As he released the new test results on Wednesday, Torlakson cautioned again that data from the two testing regimes “cannot be reliably compared,” adding, “It would be like comparing an apple to a watermelon.”
That’s a fair statement. Not only are academic skills being evaluated much different, but so is the way tests are conducted.
The biggest question about Smarter Balanced test results is not whether they will be compared to STAR, but whether they will be compared to themselves – used effectively to chart academic progress, or the lack thereof, as California implements Common Core and a new system that gives extra money to schools for “high-needs” poor, English-learner and foster care students.
They make up nearly 60 percent of the 6 million-plus K-12 students, and their test scores are nothing short of abysmal.
Just 11 percent of English learners met or exceeded standards in English, and just 31 percent of those classified as “economically disadvantaged.” The numbers in math were just as bad, 11 percent for English learners and 21 percent for poor students.
The contrast with other students is startling. A whopping 72 percent of Asian American students aced the English tests, for example, and 69 percent performed just as well in math.
Torlakson characterized the results as “a baseline year,” which also is true, and implies that they should be the basis for judging how well Common Core and the Local Control Funding Formula, which provides the extra money for high-needs students, actually work.
Torlakson and the rest of the education establishment, however, are dragging their feet on making Smarter Balanced test results an important factor in the “multiple measures” accountability system now being written by the state Board of Education.
Civil rights and education reform groups want school districts to be held accountable for spending their extra money effectively on the targeted kids, based largely on whether their extremely low achievement scores on Smarter Balanced tests show marked improvement.
Professional educators and their political allies are leery of such accountability, but the embarrassingly low academic scores revealed this week are strong indications that it’s sorely needed.