Editorials

Real test of Common Core is whether scores rise

Andrew De La Torre, 10, left, and Mandy Breault, 11, concentrate on a practice test earlier this year under new Common Core academic standards at Folsom Hills Elementary School.
Andrew De La Torre, 10, left, and Mandy Breault, 11, concentrate on a practice test earlier this year under new Common Core academic standards at Folsom Hills Elementary School. rbyer@sacbee.com

The first test scores are in, and, as predicted, California’s kids – and California’s schools – have their work cut out for them under Common Core.

Education officials have warned for months that the statewide results unveiled Wednesday wouldn’t be pretty. They’re not, though with time, the picture is likely to brighten.

Only 33 percent of California students met or exceeded the new math standards, and only 44 percent met or exceeded the standards in English. Yikes. Yes, this is a complex state, with about 1,000 school districts and 6.2 million children, most of them disadvantaged. But not only are most of the state’s children not above average, many are further behind than we imagined.

There were breathtaking gaps, for example, between the achievement of Asian kids, at one end of the scale, and black kids, at the other. Breakdowns by gender confirmed that girls have caught up to boys in math, and have left guys in the dust in English.

And the split between the state’s haves and have-nots was daunting: Eighty-two percent of students in the Fresno Unified School District posted substandard scores in mathematics; at rich Palo Alto Unified, where most kids’ parents are college graduates, that figure was 17 percent.

The good news is that this first set of results is not remotely the whole story; it’s more like the weigh-in on Day 1 with a personal trainer. These numbers are a baseline, and a lot of those “below standard” scores are probably closer than they seem to the goal.

Indeed, many of the state’s teachers are still being trained in Common Core, helped along by billions of dollars in state and foundation money for teacher development programs. And districts differ in the stability of their administrations and in the involvement of parents, who, of course, are kids’ first and most important teachers. Some schools are on track: Locally, two-thirds of the kids at Davis Unified met or exceeded standards in both key subjects, as did roughly half of the students at Folsom Cordova Unified.

As schools adapt, so should students. Test data should also help teachers pinpoint weak spots. At Sacramento City Unified, for example, 71 percent of students failed to meet the math standards. But a closer look at the numbers suggested a solution: More than half had trouble applying basic math concepts.

Common Core is a major upgrade from past learning standards; the aim is no longer mere “proficiency,” whatever that means, but the critical thinking necessary for college course work and 21st-century jobs. Our first data point is in. Now we wait, and work, and try to keep our school districts on course and stable.

Only time – and consistent improvement – will tell whether this investment has paid off.

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