By Dan Evans, Communications Manager
San Bernardino County Superintendent of Schools
With the start of the new school year under way, this is also the annual time of the year when public schools receive grades for how students, schools and districts do on statewide assessment tests. In August, the California Department of Education released its yearly results for Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR), the grade-level tests in core subject areas that second-graders to 11th-graders take. In addition, the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) results showed that county 10th-graders were at their highest-ever passing rates for the two portions of that assessment. Just recently in September, the Accountability Progress Report, which has three components grading how our schools are doing overall, also was released and showed that our public schools continue to make growth in their academic achievement.
These assessments tell us as educators and allow us to present to the public empirical data how our students and schools are doing. In this issue of the Bradco Report, I will highlight how our county schools, particularly those in the High Desert, did on the assessments and what those scores mean to the long-term economic vitality of our region.
Standardized Testing and Reporting
The STAR measures how well students in Grades 2-11 are doing in learning their standards for English language arts, math, science, and social studies. The results give parents one form of feedback on how well their children are doing in school. These results also give our teachers and schools a gauge to assess how well their students are absorbing the content standards in our schools.
The STAR rates student performance in five categories – advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic – depending on how well they scored on their subject tests. The main goal of the STAR is to have all students — regardless of ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or language/learning barriers – to reach proficiency levels in each of their subject areas. It’s also important to see growth for students, in terms of their individual assessments. For example, although a student may not be proficient in third-grade math, if he moved from below basic to basic from second to third grade, that would show progress.
While these assessments give us a snapshot of how our students are performing, they do not give us a comprehensive evaluation of how they are doing in school. It’s important for parents to work collaboratively with their children’s teachers to check their progress on all facets of their schoolwork to give them a complete picture of students’ academic progress.
Countywide, we continue to see incremental improvement across the board in both English language arts (ELA) and math. In ELA, in nine of the 10 grade levels, there was at least 1 percent of improvement in scores for students reaching proficiency levels from this year to last year. It was also particularly noteworthy, that we saw a narrowing of the achievement gap between our Hispanic and African American students and their White peers in ELA. In math, the same trends held up: Proficiency levels increased in all but one grade from 2-7, and there also were increases for secondary courses, such as algebra, algebra II, and secondary math as a whole. Again, there was a decrease in the achievement gap among our main ethnic subgroups, as well as with our socioeconomically disadvantaged students.
These are all positive trends that we would like to see continue, despite the fact that as a county we still trail state averages in most areas of proficiency.
In the High Desert, it’s difficult to come up with trends across the region, but here are a few snapshots of the progress that some districts are making:
• Victor Elementary was above county proficiency averages in ELA in Grades 2-5. It also bettered county averages in Grades 2-3 in math, while matching county averages in Grades 4-5.
• Hesperia Unified second-graders and sophomores in algebra II finished above the county averages in math proficiencies. In ELA, second- and ninth-graders finished above the county proficiency averages, while sixth-graders matched the county average.
• Barstow Unified fourth-graders had some of the highest proficiency averages in math with 74 percent being proficient. Fifth- and sixth-graders also finished above county averages. In ELA, second- and eighth-graders finished above the county averages.
California High School Exit Exam
All the countywide trends for the exit exam or CAHSEE continue to be positive. The exam is conducted in two subjects – English language arts (ELA) and math.
Sophomores in the class of 2012 took the exam for the first time during the 2009-10 school year. The passage rates in both subjects were at record-highs for county students: 78 percent passed in ELA and 76 percent in math.
Passing both parts of the exit exam is a requirement for high school graduation in the state. According to California Department of Education statistics, more than 94 percent of high school seniors statewide in the class of 2010 passed both portions of the test to meet the graduation requirement.
Obviously, this test has a strong bearing on the economic well-being of our region. Students need the strong foundation afforded with their high school degree to build upon their college-readiness or entry into the workforce. Certainly, any senior who cannot pass high school because of the exam or any other reason is a reason for concern.
Traditionally, this region trails the state in both graduation and college-going rates. Without a well-trained and highly educated workforce, the region will suffer in its efforts to attract high-paying jobs and the industries that demand highly skilled workers.
So even though we have had improvement in our exit exam passage rates, there is plenty of work left to do – and not just for our students who are graduating from high school. We do need a higher college-going rate, as well as better-prepared students who are choosing to enter the workforce.
Late last year, our County Schools office issued a “Call to Action” to educators in the field and our broad base of community partners – those who are business leaders, as well as others in labor, government, education, community and faith-based groups, and most importantly parents and students. We are focusing on developing strategies and resources to help lower countywide dropout rates and increase graduation rates. We need our community’s expertise, insights, and experiences to tackle these challenges.
In the High Desert, here’s a snapshot of how several districts have performed on the statewide exit exam:
• Apple Valley Unified made some of the largest gains countywide in students’ passing rates in both ELA and math. With 78 percent of its 10th-graders passing the math portion of the test, that was a five-point improvement on last year’s scores. At 82 percent passage rate in ELA, it increased four points in a year.
• Snowline Unified students have some of the county’s highest passage rates in both ELA and math. With 85 percent of students passing ELA in 10th grade, Snowline students are not only well ahead of the countywide passage rates but also ahead of the state passage rate as well (81 percent). This holds true for math too, with an 82 percent passage rate in the district compared to 81 percent statewide.
• For the Victor Valley Union High School District, it recorded positive gains in both ELA and math. At 72 percent passage rate in math, that was two points higher than in 2009. In ELA, the 72 percent passage rate was a one-point increase over last year’s test scores.
Accountability Progress Report
The Accountability Progress Report is the annual statewide report card for how well our schools and districts are performing on content standards testing. The report has three components – the Academic Performance Index (API), which is the state’s measurement tool for schools and districts; Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), the federal benchmark for schools and districts; and Program Improvement, an intervention program for schools and districts that receive Title I federal funding and do not meet their AYP targets for two consecutive years.
Starting with API, a record number of schools countywide – 169 – have reached or surpassed the state accountability measurement standard. Nearly one-quarter of the schools (42 in total) that have scored 800 or better on the API are in the High Desert. Apple Valley Unified (nine schools) and Victor Elementary (eight schools) lead districts in the region with the most top performing schools.
The API scores schools and districts on a scale of 200 to 1,000 with the target of reaching 800 or more. This year, countywide 22 more schools reached the 800 level, including 12 from the High Desert.
Countywide, the API grew 14 points to a record-high of 746. There are districts in the High Desert with scores above the county API. Those districts are Apple Valley Unified (770), Helendale (753), Morongo Unified (759), Oro Grande (829), Silver Valley Unified (749), Snowline Joint Unified (797) and Victor Elementary (809).
But there also were several High Desert districts that showed tremendous growth in their API scores this year. Topping the list was Barstow Unified (28 points of growth), followed by Oro Grande (26 points), Hesperia (17 points) and Apple Valley (15 points).
There also was big growth individually by schools. Some of the top growth schools in the county reside in the High Desert. This year, those are Apple Valley High School (67 points), Barstow Junior High (64 points) and Summit Leadership Academy in Hesperia (63 points).
The API is also used as a component for measuring the federal Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP. The difference between the two measures is that API looks at the growth or progress that students and schools are making, while AYP presets performance benchmarks in both English language arts and math that all students will have to achieve by 2014.
There is a growing disconnect between the two assessment tools. This year for the first time, there were seven county schools that were at or above the state benchmark of 800 that also fell into Program Improvement (PI), because they did not meet their AYP standards for two consecutive years.
In addition, more than half of the Title I schools in the county (54 percent) are now in Program Improvement, and an additional 98 schools could fall into PI next year if they do not meet their escalating AYP targets during this year’s testing.
It’s disconcerting that under the state’s measurement system a school could be considered high achieving for reaching its growth targets, but be considered unsuccessful under the federal measurement. It’s confusing to parents and the public, delivering a mixed message that clouds our understanding of just how well schools and districts are performing.
It’s important for parents and the public to understand that whatever measurement tool they are using to gauge the academic achievement of an individual student, it is just one snapshot in the overall mosaic of student performance. The most important connection is between individual students and their teachers. Having a student engaged in learning in the classroom and being able to attend school daily are important for long-term academic success.
Keeping students in school and on the path to college readiness or career preparation will help provide our region with the workforce that employers demand to meet their needs in our global economy.