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Commentary: OK, we’ve seen the test results. Now what happens?

Michael Janofsky | September 10, 2015

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YOU-ARE-HERE testThey’ve been talking about these new statewide tests in terms of setting a baseline for the years ahead. That’s fine as far it it goes. But here in LA Unified, we should think of the results in another way:

As a redline.

Statewide, more than half of students taking the test (56 percent) failed to meet state standards for English and a full two-thirds, 67 percent, failed to meet the standards for math.

In LA Unified, the state’s largest district, the numbers were worse: 67 percent fell below the line in English and 75 percent in math.

So now what. The easy thing to do is point fingers. But two hands don’t have enough of them, which is to say, there’s no simple solution here, and no one group is more responsible for the dismal results than the next.

Remember that village we’re always talking about that needs to raise a child?

Let’s start taking roll:

Teachers, principals, school counselors, parents, clergy, extended family, tutors, mentors, volunteers. Oh, and let’s not forget the students, themselves. They bear some responsibility for this, especially the older ones who have been in school long enough to understand the lifelong rewards for paying attention.

LA Unified has plans underway to do its part. Superintendent Ramon Cortines’s recent reorganization of area superintendents includes a requirement for each area chief to design learning strategies tailored to each individual student. Subsets of the overall test scores included breakdowns on specific skills in addressing English and math challenges to help educators identify where help is needed most. Interim tests throughout the year are also part of the plan, to use as measuring sticks for progress.

That’s inside the class room, and in most respects, that’s the easy part.

The hard part is what happens from the end of one school day to the beginning of the next.

For too many students, home is a vacuum of scholastic support. For any number of reasons students are left on their own with no supervision, no encouragement, no role models: Parents are working. No one speaks English. Family responsibilities take precedence over homework. Neighborhoods provide an unsafe environment for study. In some cases, there’s little food in the house to stave off hunger.

Need help with that math problem or essay? You’re on your own, kid.

These are well beyond educational challenges. These are entrenched societal issues that are short-changing a generation of young Americans. They are especially urgent in districts like LA Unified, where vast numbers of children are growing up in poverty.

The new test scores illustrate the magnitude of the problem because they are designed to prepare students for a successful life beyond high school. Unlike the statewide tests they replaced, the new tests require more than memorization of multiplication tables. They require critical thinking and deeper levels of comprehension — that’s what college and job markets demand.

As low as the results might be, they at least provide educators a clear pathway forward. As professionals, they are trained to identify areas of academic need and address them. Even with overcrowded classrooms, a shortage of teaching materials and inefficient technologies, they now know how to engage the process, and most will succeed to the extent they can.

It’s the rest of us we should be worried about. 

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