Results of the statewide achievement exam show California doing an adequate job educating English-fluent kids, but earning a failing grade when it comes to immigrant and low-income children.

Scores released Thursday for 4.3 million children in schools across the state are as varied as the students themselves. Bay Area scores were just as diverse.

At Woodside Elementary in San Mateo County, at least 80 percent of students scored at or above the national average in every grade and subject. A few miles away in the same county, fewer than 35 percent of Ravenswood Elementary School kids met or surpassed the national average in any grade or subject.

Similar differences exist – typically but glaringly between schools in low-income areas and those in wealthier neighborhoods – in San Francisco,
Alameda, Contra Costa and Marin counties.

In Oakland Unified, for example, scores for every grade and subject hovered around 30, meaning 30 percent of district students met or surpassed the national average. In neighboring Piedmont City Unified, roughly 90 percent of students in every grade and subject scored at or above the national average.

Statewide, the results – delayed for three weeks due to a publisher’s error – were upbeat in nearly every grade and subject for English-fluent kids. However, for California’s 1 million students who lack English skills and the 1.5 million kids who come from low-income families, they were persistently low.

In reading, for example, 56 percent of English-fluent second-graders scored at or above the national average, compared with 19 percent of limited-English speakers. By the fifth grade, when educators say immigrant kids who’ve been in school for consecutive years should be fluent in English, only 9 percent were at or above the national average in reading.

In math, 52 percent of all English-fluent eighth-graders met or surpassed the national average, compared with 15 percent of kids who speak limited English.

“California has such a diverse population,” said state schools chief Delaine Eastin. “Students who are fluent in English are posting solid results. Not surprisingly, scores of English learners demonstrate that it is difficult for these students to do well in academic areas until they are proficient in English.”

Eastin added, “Any child who enters school from another country needs additional help to succeed on this test.”

Students in grades two through 11 took the multiple choice Stanford 9 test.
The STAR test, as it is also known, has a top score of 99. A score of 50 is the national average.

Scores for the state’s low-income kids – those who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches – were on average half as high as scores of the 2.7 million test-takers who are not classified as “economically disadvantaged.”

In reading, 22 percent of low-income fourth-graders scored at or above the national average, compared with 56 percent of fourth-graders who are not economically disadvantaged.

In math, 33 percent of low-income sixth-graders met or surpassed the national average, compared with 56 percent of more affluent sixth-graders.

“As measured by these tests, you see a two-tiered system of education in California,” said Stanford education Professor Kenji Hakuta. “High-poverty schools and schools with high percentages of limited-English students face a real challenge.

“The challenge is to move away from thinking there is a one-shot solution here. You can’t point to one program, whether (anti-bilingual measure) Prop.
227 or class-size reduction. Fixing our schools is going to be a long struggle.”

Area of improvement

Among the most notable areas of improvement on the test is the consistently strong performance of second-graders.

“Across districts, regardless of whether the students are English-only or bilingual, there are increases from last year to this in second grade,”
Hakuta said.

He attributed the solid second-grade scores to several factors, including increased public attention on improving the early primary grades, and the state’s $3.7 billion effort begun in 1996 to reduce class size to 20 pupils per teacher in kindergarten through the third grade.

A review of the state’s class-size reduction program was released in June by a consortium of independent research organizations. The study found that students in smaller classes scored an average of 2 to 3 percentage points higher on exams than those in larger classes.

The 1998 and ’99 scores also revealed a disturbing trend: The longer kids stay in the state’s public school system, the worse they seem to fare.

Whether in San Francisco or San Mateo, Marin or Contra Costa, high school students had the hardest time with the most basic and critical skills, the test results showed.

“If you’re an 11th-grader in California, you’ve spent 12 years in school at a time when we were disinvesting in education,” Eastin said. “The scores confirm a need to turn our attention to high school, where kids don’t have the benefit of class-size reduction.”

Holding teachers accountable

Eastin added that educators, school administrators and students are soon to be held accountable for STAR results.

For the first time, the scores will be used to determine which schools are eligible for intervention programs as well as to rank California’s 8,000 public schools and to determine which kids will be required to go to summer school.

The biggest incentive to do well on the exam, however, is that beginning in 2004, high school scores will be used to determine whether a student is awarded a diploma. For scores of individual schools and districts, go to the California Department of Education at http:/ /

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