After two embarrassing delays that called into question the credibility of the state’s multimillion-dollar student testing system, California’s long-awaited Standardized Testing and Reporting results for counties,
districts and schools were finally released by the state Department of Education Thursday.
Results from STAR’s Stanford 9 exam — which tested nearly 105,000 Kern students in April and May — showed the county’s students as a whole improved over 1998 levels.
Test scores in reading, language, spelling and math reflected progress in virtually every grade level, with the most dramatic improvements occurring in the lower grades where students have benefited from reduced class size,
local educators said.
“From the information that was sent to us from Harcourt (the test publisher) — which we believe is good data — our scores went up in every area and every grade level,” said Dale Russell, director of research and evaluation for the Bakersfield City School District.
“And though it’s not shown by the state testing program, the results we saw in grade 1 were even more encouraging than the other grade-level scores,” he said. “What that means to us as a district, we hope, is that it’s a sign that things are going to turn around, that we’ll be getting better student performance in the future.”
While students in BCSD and in the county as a whole recorded encouraging improvements, both groups on average remain well below the national norm and below California’s scores overall — a sobering fact that speaks to the need for continued improvements over the next two or three years, Russell said.
Demographics, or the socio-economic conditions of people living in any particular area, play an obvious role in the test scores of students who take the test, educators say.
A comparison of scores in Kern County and Fresno County show that the similar demographics in the two areas are mirrored by similar test scores.
In many test categories, the scores are within one or two percentile points,
with Kern leading in some categories and Fresno leading in others.
But a similar comparison with Ventura County shows that the coastal area’s generally more affluent population may play a significant role in encouraging test scores that are superior to those in both Fresno and Kern counties.
The same phenomenon is also evident when comparing school districts within a single area, said Jamie Henderson, superintendent of Rosedale School District in west Bakersfield.
“You can’t dismiss issues such as mobility rates, language acquisition, and quite frankly, economics or income level,” Henderson said. “It has nothing to do with intelligence.
“When you look at opportunities that kids in one economic situation get over kids in another economic situation, that becomes very significant,” he said.
And Rosedale’s impressive scores reflect that reality. With generally more affluent neighborhoods, few students for whom English is a second language and family education levels that are often high, Rosedale’s already high test scores from last year looked even better this year.
“When I look at our numbers, what jumps out at me are the commitment and cooperation on the part of teachers, parents and students,” Henderson added.
With average scores in Rosedale and Fruitvale sailing well past the 60th percentile in many subject areas, the social divide can seem like an impassable chasm at times to educators in less affluent districts.
“The neighborhoods these kids grow up in, even though they might be just a few miles apart, are actually worlds apart,” Russell said.
More than 4 million students in California took the test this year. The multiple-choice test was first administered statewide in spring 1998. It is designed to allow comparisons to be made to a national sample of students.
This year, two additions were made to the STAR program. Test items were added in language arts and mathematics in order to create two additional tests, the STAR augmentation and the SABE/2, which was designated by the State Board of Education for use with Spanish speaking, limited English proficient students.
Statewide, the results for the spring 1999 STAR show an improvement over 1998 in almost every academic level and every grade tested.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin said students who are proficient in English are scoring above the national average in most subjects and most grades.
Scores on the Stanford 9 were up an average of 2 to 4 percentile points over last year in all tested subjects in every grade except for reading in seventh, ninth and 11th grades and social studies in high school.
Eastin said the scores show that educational reforms are taking hold and improving education, saying, “It is really nice to have something to celebrate.”
But she noted that a lot of work remains for all children, including those who are struggling to learn English.
The release of test results by county, school district and individual school was held up because test publisher Harcourt Educational Measurement incorrectly classified some students as not fluent in English, and scores for some students in districts with year-round schools were incorrect,
The reading and math scores for non-English-speaking students rose slightly in many grades but were still significantly below the national average.
Those who are fully English proficient generally scored higher. About one-fourth of the California students who took the test are still learning English, compared with only 1.8 percent for the national norming sample.
One anomaly still to be answered is why the reading scores statewide dropped significantly from eighth grade to ninth grade. Eastin said the department is working with Harcourt Educational Measurement to look at the possible reasons — which could include a glitch in the test.
Eastin said it’s reasonable to stick with the STAR test to track learning over the years, and it is an important part of the state’s accountability system.