Thursday, August 29, 2013



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Test scores of state’s students decline as educators prepare for sea change

By Rob Kuznia, LA Daily News/Daily Breeze |

LAUSD ekes gain on state API, other urban districts stumble

By Barbara Jones, Los Angeles Daily News |

8/29/13, 11:48 AM PDT   ::  Test scores released Thursday by the state of California revealed the first backslide in the overall score of the state’s students in years.

Most education officials attribute the score decline to a transition period under way as schools prepare for a coming sea change in testing protocols.

Schools in California have just one more year to fully implement Common Core, a national set of content standards that prioritizes critical thinking and real-world relevance over the bubble-in testing and rote memorization.

California’s accountability program as currently configured will be around for just one more year.

The Academic Performance Index assigns every school in the state a score between 200 and 1,000 based largely on students’ performance on California Standards Tests taken in the spring. (The state-set goal is for every school to reach an API score of 800.)

For the first time since at least 2005, California’s API score slid backward, albeit by just two points, to 789.

On the other hand, the state’s release also reveals that the students’ performance on the high school exit exam has never been higher, with 95.5 percent of students in the class of 2013 earning a passing score.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson accentuated the positive in a Thursday statement.

“Despite the very real challenges of deep budget cuts and the ongoing effort to shift to new, more demanding academic standards, our schools persevered and students made progress,” he said.

Bucking the trend of the slipping API scores was the Los Angeles Unified School District, which actually boosted its number by three points, to 749. But even this marked a notable departure from the double-digit gains LAUSD has achieved in each of the last several years.

LAUSD officials noted that the three-point increase marked the second highest gain among all urban districts statewide, behind San Diego Unified, which picked up nine points for an API of 817.

“For the second-largest school district in the nation to outpace nearly all urban districts in California in the API is an extraordinary accomplishment,” said Superintendent John Deasy in a statement. “I’m tremendously proud of our administrators, students, and teachers for achieving this result while the District remained in the throes of a devastating budget crisis.”

Tim Stowe, Torrance Unified School District’s chief academic officer, said he believes Common Core will ultimately be good for kids, even if it means taking a hit on test scores.

“It will help them develop into better critical thinkers and better 21st Century learners,” he said. “Whereas the more fact-driven CSTs have not done that. Educationally this is a step in the right direction, but we have an assessment system that doesn’t align.”

8/29/13, 12:14 PM PDT  ::  Updated: 31 secs ago  ::  Los Angeles Unified continued its climb up the state’s Academic Performance Index for the sixth consecutive year, one of only a handful of urban school districts in California to show improvement on a key measure of student success.

After five years of double-digit growth, the state’s largest school district gained three points to score 749 on the annual API, which was released Thursday. The index is based on the results of standardized state tests and the California High School Exit Exam.

By comparison, the state’s API fell two points, to 789, and such districts as Burbank, Glendale, Simi Valley, Long Beach and Pasadena also saw declines in their scores. At the same time, San Diego increased by nine points, to 817, while San Bernardino and Las Virgenes Unified reported two-point gains — to 729 and 896, respectively.

“Taken as a whole, this year’s API results show that the LAUSD continues to make significant progress in providing students with a quality education,” Superintendent John Deasy said. “The picture is resoundingly positive for students who have long deserved it.”

Among Los Angeles Unified schools, 36 percent hit the statewide target of 800 on a scale of 200 to 1000. A total of 25 middle and high schools reached that goal — four more than last year — while the number of elementary schools at that level slipped by seven,to 222.

Among the campuses reaching that elusive mark for the first time were Anatola Elementary in Lake Balboa, which saw its score climb from 792 to 825; Nevada Elementary in West Hills, which went from 797 to 811; Napa Elementary in Northridge, edging up from 799 to 814; and Cleveland High in Reseda, which jumped from 789 to 807 — one of only nine high schools to surpass 800.

Of the 171 charters authorized by Los Angeles Unified, 39 percent met or topped the 800 mark, compared with 44 percent last year, according to reports compiled by state and district officials.

Statewide, 51 percent of schools hit the 800 target, a two-point drop from the previous year.

In LAUSD, overall scores for African-American and Latino students rose by one and four points, respectively, while English learners showed the biggest improvement — a 28-point jump, to 706. For the first time, however, scores fell among white, Asian and Pacific Islander students.

Deasy credited the district’s English-Learner Master Plan, which provides strategic intervention for struggling students, as well as efforts to reduce suspensions and keep kids on track for graduation.

“What you’re seeing is the district making strategic investment in our youth,” he said. “The district is headed in the right direction.”

Along with the API scores, the state released figures showing that 95.5 percent of the class of 2013 passed the CAHSEE, the best showing since the math and English tests were made a graduation requirement in 2006. In LAUSD, a record 69 percent of sophomores passed both parts of the exam on their first try. This compares with 67 percent the previous year and 44 percent a decade earlier.

Students take the CAHSEE exam beginning in 10th grade, and those who don’t pass can retake it as juniors or seniors. Students must pass the reading, writing and math tests in order to get their diploma.

“Despite the very real challenges of deep budget cuts and the ongoing effort to shift to new, more demanding academic standards, our schools persevered and students made progress,” state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson said.

“These results should give us confidence as we start the new school year, and our efforts to make college and career readiness a goal for every student move into high gear.”

The academic report includes the Adequate Yearly Progress results, used to measure whether schools met federal benchmarks in the No Child Left Behind act.

The NCLB benchmarks steadily increase annually, and schools had to reach a proficiency rate of nearly 90 percent in English and math to meet the federal standards.

Those goals were met by 14 percent of schools statewide, 17 percent of charters and 10 percent of traditional schools in LAUSD.

A consortium of eight districts, including Los Angeles and Long Beach, recently won a federal waiver from the NCLB targets. This will give them more flexibility both in how they measure student performance and in the ability to work toward improving academic performance.

However, the remaining districts in California are still subject to those mandates, so even high-achieving schools that fall short of the goals are subject to structured intervention.

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