Students make slight gains on new Common Core state tests

Fair Oaks teacher uses classroom game to help students learn French

Nicole Naditz said the lessons require students to use critical thinking and teamwork, key tenets of the new Common Core State Standards.
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Nicole Naditz said the lessons require students to use critical thinking and teamwork, key tenets of the new Common Core State Standards.

Sacramento-area students made modest progress in English and math this year, based on new state test results released Wednesday.

Fifty percent of the students in the four-county region met English standards, up from 47 percent the previous year, while about 40 percent of the region’s students met math standards, up from 37 percent.

The incremental gains came after dismal scores last year when students took the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests for the first time. The new exams are based on Common Core State Standards.

“It’s encouraging,” said Dave Gordon, Sacramento County schools superintendent. “We are making gains across the board and across our student subgroups. ... I would say our districts and our teachers are making good progress in delivering a new curriculum and using a new assessment.”

Some disparities between the region’s highest and lowest scoring schools were extreme.

At West Campus High School, a magnet school in Sacramento that has a high bar for admissions, 95 percent of students met or exceeded standards on the English test. Six miles away in Arden Arcade, only 4 percent of students met such standards at Encina High School.

Two elementary schools in Granite Bay had the strongest math performance. About 88 percent of students at Oakhills Elementary and 85 percent at Greenhills Elementary met or exceeded standards. The lowest math score in the region was at John D. Sloat Elementary in Meadowview, where 2 percent of students met standards, and at Encina High, where 3 percent met standards.

Students in Placer and El Dorado counties fared better than Sacramento and Yolo county students overall. Sixty percent of El Dorado County students and 64 percent of Placer County students met English standards, compared to 45 percent of Sacramento County and 49 percent of Yolo County students who met English standards.

Elk Grove Unified had some of the highest scores among the four biggest Sacramento County districts. Fifty-three percent of students met English standards, up from 50 percent last year. On the math test, 43 percent of students met standards, up from 41 percent last year.

Although Twin Rivers Unified had similar gains, its scores remained the lowest among Sacramento County’s 10 largest districts. The proportion of students meeting English standards rose from 26 percent to 30 percent, while math scores rose from 22 to 24 percent.

“While we’re happy Twin Rivers continues to make progress, we know there’s still a significant amount of work ahead,” said Superintendent Steve Martinez in a statement. “We have prime examples of tremendous growth happening in the district. For example, Foothill Ranch Middle School experienced a 15 percent growth in math and 19 percent in (English Language Arts).”

More than half of California students again failed to meet standards in English or math, but they saw incremental gains, according to the California Department of Education. Among nearly 3.2 million students tested statewide, 49 percent met or exceeded English standards, an increase of 5 percentage points. In math, 37 percent met or exceed standards, a 4 percentage point gain.

“The higher test scores show that the dedication, hard work and patience of California teachers, parents, school employees, and administrators are paying off,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement.

Under the new tests, students often have to combine several skills to solve a single problem. Computer-based exams now ask more challenging questions as students answer correctly. Prior to the Common Core-based tests, students answered a uniform set of multiple-choice questions on paper.

Students performed better under the old Standardized Testing and Reporting program. In Sacramento County, 54 percent scored at or above proficient on the old English tests in 2013 and about 59 percent scored at or above proficient on math tests. Now, less than half of students meet standards in English and math.

“We really have resisted the comparison to the previous test,” said Gabe Ross, Sacramento City Unified spokesman. “It’s a different test and taken in a different way that tests different skills in many ways. You can understand why an individual parent or community member would want to compare, but it’s really apples and oranges.”

While all ethnic and socio-economic groups saw some improvement this year, the achievement gap suffered by low-income minorities continued to widen, according to The Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based research group.

The organization said that scores for students who are African American, low-income and English learners inched up at a slower pace than other California students. African American students gained 3 percentage points in meeting English standards and 2 percentage points in math, but those lagged the overall state average.

The organization is calling for state funding to help schools implement the Common Core standards effectively and equitably.

About 52 percent of Sacramento County Asian American students and 46 percent of white students met math standards, compared to 24 percent of Latino students and 17 percent of black students. Just 24 percent of Sacramento County’s socio-economically disadvantaged students met math standards.

Natomas Pacific Pathways Prep saw one of the region’s biggest gains in 2016. The charter high school had 91 percent of its students meet or exceed standards in English this year, compared to 66 percent last year. Its math performance improved from 28 percent meeting standards to 43 percent.

Principal Melissa Mori said the school has focused on critical thinking and has taught Common Core-based curriculum for years. She thinks the score increases have more to do with the students’ changing attitudes about the test.

“This year the students took it a little more seriously,” she said. “We were really stressing with our students that colleges ... will use it for placement.”

Unlike previous statewide exams, results from the new tests are used by California State University and some community colleges to determine whether students must take placement tests before enrolling, according to the California Department of Education.

Diana Lambert: 916-321-1090, @dianalambert

Common Core test results by district

The performance of the largest local school districts on this year’s state tests:

Results by school

Highest percentage of students meeting English standards

Highest percentage of students meeting math standards

Lowest percentage of students meeting English standards

Lowest percentage of students meeting math standards

Note: Excludes continuation schools, community day schools and schools with fewer than 75 students tested.

Source: California Department of Education

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