Slim Gains, Slight Drop in English for LA Unified in CA Test Scores
Hillel Aron | August 8, 2013
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Scores from statewide California tests taken by LA Unified students in the 2012-2013 academic year were only slightly higher than results from the year before. While the gains were more modest than in previous years, they still reflected overall improvement while the state average fell by a fraction of a percentage point.
“We’ve outpaced the state in the last five years and continue to, in the face of severe budget cuts,” said Superintendent John Deasy.
The district scores, however, still lag behind the statewide scores.
All students in grades 2 through 11 take the California Standardized Tests (or CST) in a number of subjects. Their scores are placed into one of five categories: “advanced,” “proficient,” “basic,” “below basic” and “far below basic.” The statewide goal is that every student score either “proficient” or “advanced.”
The overall scores also reflect results of three other tests taken by various grades in various subjects, but the largest number of students takes the CSTs.
Test scores had been rising steadily over the last few years, but results this year suggest that the trend may be leveling off, with scores essentially unchanged from last year.
As the above chart shows, the percentage of students in LAUSD deemed proficient or advanced rose, albeit by less than a percentage point, in a number of subjects: math, history and science. The one subject that showed declines was English-language arts, where the percentage of students scoring above “basic” fell by a third of a percent, to 54.1 “proficient” and “advanced,” from 54.4 percent.
English scores dropped among students in elementary school, while they actually rose among students in 7th through 11th grades.
“Statistically, it’s difficult for me to understand why there’s been a slight drop,”
said Deasy, speaking of the English scores as a whole. “We can’t make sense of the state trend either.”
Statewide, test scores fell in both math and English. In a press release State Superintendent Tom Torlakson said did not directly address the slight drop in state scores, although he did suggest that “schools across the state continued to deal with the effects of years of budget cuts and financial uncertainties throughout the 2012-13 school year.”
Deasy pointed out that other important metrics of student achievement in LAUSD showed improvements this year.
“Our graduation rate is about to come out, and that went up again,” he said. “Our AP test score went up, and the number of students taking them went up. Suspensions were down.”
When asked why test scores showed little to no progress even as other numbers improved, he replied, “It’s counter-intuitive. Usually they’re aligned. But to hold flat means we held onto our previous gains.”
Indeed, the district’s gains in just the last five years have been impressive. Since 2008, the percentage of students scoring above “basic” in English has risen by more than 13 points. In the subject area of history, it has improved by 15 points; in math, by more than 10 points.
While black and Hispanic students in particular have shown impressive gains over the years, their test scores are still lower than those of white students, at both a district and statewide level.
“The long-standing achievement gap among student groups remains a matter of great concern and considerable challenge,” said Torlakson.
This was the last year that most students will take the CSTs as LAUSD begins to transition to the Common Core curriculum, a new set of federal standards. By 2015, all students will — supposedly — be taking standardized tests on computers.
“As valuable as (the testing) has been, we’re getting ready to raise the bar in California’s schools,” said Torlakson. “This coming year, many students will have their first chance to try tests that measure their preparation for college and the world of work. That’s a huge challenge for every part of our education system—but one we have to tackle to give every student the opportunity to prepare for a bright future.”