(8-8-13)--RIALTO-METRO--Students studying for their Star test scores Thursday August 8, 2013 in Shannon McCrate's third grade class at Myers Elementary School in Rialto.LaFonzo Carter/Staff Photographer
Database: Database: California STAR program test results for local schools, districts
8/8/2013 11:00:00 AM PDT / Updated: 10:01:27 PM PDT :: For the first time in a decade, test scores of students in California's public schools slid in the wrong direction, a partial product, educators say, of tough economic times -- and the results for students in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties were no exception, according to a report released by the state Thursday.
The annual report, based on the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program, provides a statewide, regional and local breakdown of the percentage of students who perform at or above grade level -- referred to in testing parlance as "proficient" -- in a range of subjects, based on exams taken in the spring.
Statewide, for the first time since this form of testing began in 2003, the proportion of students scoring proficient or better dropped by a fraction in both English and math -- the two most closely watched subjects.
In both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties, a streak of annual improvement that spanned at least five years was finally broken in English. But in math, students in Los Angeles County demonstrated miniscule improvement; their counterparts in San Bernardino County held steady, thereby again interrupting a spell of year-over-year gains since at least 2007.
The figures released Thursday are based mostly on performance on what is known as the California Standards Test, which were given to about 4.7 million California students in grades two through 11 this spring. The scores are not to be confused with the better-known Academic Performance Index -- or the API -- which assigns a single score of 200 to 1,000 to every school (based on the same exams). Those figures are expected to be released in early September.
In a statement, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson attributed this year's slip to not only the economy -- which over the past five years has taken a deep toll on school resources -- but also an ongoing, sweeping transition to a new set of nationwide content standards, known as Common Core. He stressed, however, that in the long run, schools across the state have made vast improvements.
"As you would expect for a school system in transition, results varied from grade to grade, subject to subject, and school to school, but the big picture is one of remarkable resilience despite the challenges," Torlakson said.
He added that because schools will soon switch to a computer-based testing model -- as required by the new Common Core standards -- this year's results likely mark the last use of the STAR program statewide.
"As valuable as the STAR has been, we're getting ready to raise the bar in California's schools," Torlakson said. "This coming year, many students will have their first chance to try tests that measure their preparation for college and the world of work."
This year's report mentioned another disappointment: The achievement gap separating the test scores of black and Latino students from their higher-scoring white and Asian peers in California grew no smaller or even widened.
All told, this year's results mean that the story of STAR testing could end on an off note after years of unimpeded growth.
Across the Golden State, the more significant drop of the two main subject areas occurred in English. Here, 56.4 percent of the students tested in California scored proficient or better, down from 57.2 percent last year. In math, the respective figures were 51.2 and 51.5.
Despite these backslides, the longer arc of STAR testing is a good-news story, as the proficiency rate of both subjects hovered around a third a decade ago.
The numbers in Los Angeles County remain a shade below the state averages, but -- unlike the state figures -- a modest improvement was posted in math.
In that subject, students' steady climb toward the 50 percent mark -- from a little over a third in 2007 -- is not quite complete, with 49.6 percent of them reaching proficiency or better. That's up from 49.4 last year.
In English, though, the percentage in Los Angeles County fell for the first time since at least 2007, to 54.1 from 54.4.
Students in San Bernardino County, meanwhile, remain a step behind their peers in Los Angeles County. Their proficiency rates in math held steady this year at 46.2 percent. The corresponding figure for English dipped to 51.5 percent from 52.1.
One apparent trend shows districts and counties more likely to demonstrate improvements this year in math than English.
Conforming to this pattern are the results from the Los Angeles Unified School District. The nation's second-largest school district lost a negligible bit of ground in English, with its proficiency rate dropping to 47.6 percent from 47.9. But the share of LAUSD students making the grade in math rose to 45.3 percent from 44.5.
"While I always like to see gains," said LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, "I'm very concerned when we experience decreases. This round of tests was administered at the low point of the district's unprecedented budget crisis. I'm proud overall of how our students and teachers performed under such extraordinarily difficult circumstances."
Deasy added that the passage of Proposition 30 last November would in due course provide schools with the resources essential for students to achieve at their best.
In Torrance Unified, where student performance in both subject areas remains far north of the state average, the proficiency rate declined by a couple of percentage points in English, to 72.2 from 74.3. In math, however, Torrance's students bumped it up a tiny notch, to 62.7 from 62.5.
Tim Stowe, chief academic officer of Torrance Unified, concurred with Torlakson's assessment that the economy has taken a toll on schools. Indeed, Torrance Unified lost more than 20 percent of its entire budget in five years ending last year.
He also stressed the challenges presented by the transition to Common Core.
"We're trying to do things differently that don't necessarily align with California Content Standards anymore," Stowe said. "This year is going to be very interesting, because we're moving even further ahead with regard to instruction and getting teachers to develop those Common Core units."
Torlakson on Thursday also addressed the achievement gap, which failed to move in a favorable direction this year.
While the proficiency rates of most demographic groups held steady in math, Asian students gained a point and Latino students lost a point. In English, the rate among Asian students remained level and dropped by a point among black, Hispanic and white students.
"The long-standing achievement gap among student groups remains a matter of great concern and considerable challenges," he said. "We must move forward now so that all children "" no matter where come from or where they live "" receive a world-class education that is consistent from school to school, and graduate ready to contribute to the future of our state."