Students share in test gains

However, the gap between advantaged, disadvantaged has widened, data show

Celebrated gains in student state test scores are spread among all students — whether advantaged or disadvantaged, whether they speak English or not — according to data released today.

But the persistent gap between students from low-income households and those from middle-or upper-class homes has increased across the county and state.
Both groups improved over last year’s performance on the Stanford 9 achievement test of basic skills in reading and math, but the disadvantaged have not posted gains as large as those of other students, a San Diego Union-Tribune analysis has found.

For example, on the reading test, 31 percent of disadvantaged seventh-graders scored at or above the national average, the same percentage as last year. But 69 percent of students who are advantaged scored above the national average compared to 59 percent last year. Students who qualify for subsidized school lunches are considered disadvantaged.

Still, gains among all students show that county schools are moving in the right direction in educating disadvantaged students and English-language learners, county Superintendent Rudy Castruita said.

“The gains are not as significant, but the gains are there,” he said. “It just means we have more work to do.”

About 4.3 million second-through 11th-graders — 346,000 in the county —
took tests in reading, math, language arts, spelling, science and social studies this spring. Scores for students as a whole were released last month. Today, the state releases the scores of students grouped by socioeconomics, English-language ability and gender. Reports of the scores for schools, districts, counties and the state are available at

For both the county and the state, English-speaking students and those who don’t come from disadvantaged households scored above national averages in most grades and subjects, except for some subjects in high school.

Several of the state’s recent reforms target low-scoring students, who are often disadvantaged or do not speak English. The state has allocated $677 million in rewards for test score improvements this year to schools,
teachers and other school employees, and the formulas for determining improvement are weighted to give more credit for gains by the lowest-scoring students.

Locally, the San Diego County Office of Education is giving teachers around the county student-by-student score breakdowns so educators will know on the first day of school which students may require special attention.

Gerald Hayward, director of Policy Analysis for California Education, a nonpartisan research center, said an implication of a growing gap between advantaged and disadvantaged students is that schools are not overcoming problems caused by poverty.

The news of improved scores among disadvantaged students is encouraging,
Hayward said, but if the gap persists, “then we’ll have a society of haves and have-nots, and we won’t be able to meet the challenges that the state faces. I don’t want to live in a bifurcated state. I want to give every child an opportunity at a quality education.”

Hayward speculated that the growing gap was a function of teaching. He cited PACE’s report last year, which documented that state public schools with the most students from low-income families are the most likely to be learning from noncredentialed teachers.

“The new research shows that poor kids can achieve at high levels if they are taught at high levels,” said Amy Wilkins, policy analyst for Education Trust, a Washington D.C.-based nonprofit group that works to close the achievement gap.

Class-size reduction may have exacerbated the problem of teacher quality in high-poverty neighborhoods as talented teachers sometimes fled to new jobs created in the suburbs, Wilkins said.

To close the gap, Wilkins said, schools need to give disadvantaged students better teachers. She endorsed San Diego city schools’ Blueprint for Success,
which will rechannel federal anti-poverty money away from classroom aides and into teacher training, among other things.

San Diego city schools showed some progress in closing the gap in scores between advantaged and disadvantaged in elementary grades, though the data is mixed.

“We’re glad to see that in several grade levels, the socio-economically disadvantaged made greater gains,” said Sally Bennett, the district’s assistant director for standards, assessment and accountability. “Hopefully,
we will learn from what has led to those successes.”

The reasons are difficult to pinpoint, though the district has focused more attention on younger students, including implementing state-funded class-size reduction and beefing up literacy instruction, Bennett said.

The gap between English-speakers and non-English-speakers is roughly the same as last year.

The third year of Stanford 9 scores is an additional gauge of English learners’ improvements in the era of Proposition 227, the voter-approved 1998 proposition that called for an end to bilingual education.

Because Oceanside has implemented the proposition more strictly than most other school districts in the state, Proposition 227 author Ron Unz highlighted the gains there.

On the 1998 reading test, no more than 3 percent in any grade of Oceanside’s English learners scored above the national average. This year, 28 percent of second-graders scored at least at the national average, as did 16 percent of third-graders and 15 percent of fourth-graders.

Unz and Oceanside Superintendent Ken Noonan said the district’s recent back-to-basics conversion, which emphasizes phonics in reading and computation skills in math, has contributed to the improvements. Also,
immersing students in English, rather than teaching them in their native language, has been a major factor.

“227 has been the catalyst,” Noonan said. “I didn’t think kids could learn English that quickly, that readily. I didn’t think they were that flexible,
but they are.”

Scores for English learners that have stayed in bilingual education programs have also improved, though not as much as Oceanside’s.

Staff writer David Washburn contributed to this report.

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