Making a standard adjustment

Education The level of proficient' still eludes far too many students, officials say.

It’s difficult to tell which numbers are more shocking, educators say — the ones showing good schools scoring poorly, or the poor schools scoring so low that nearly nine of 10 students on campus are not making the grade.

The people at the state (Department of Education) have to ask themselves some questions,” said Rich Blough, Tustin Unified’s director of instructional support programs.

If this (low scoring) is the case statewide, is this test really fair for all students?”

Over the next two years, standards-based tests will become the backbone of the state’s accountability system, which rewards or punishes schools based on test scores.

Until now, however, the standards tests — which have been given for three years in grades 2-11 — have gotten little notice as the state has used the Stanford 9 to dish out millions in rewards to schools that improve their scores.

This year, most Orange County schools continued to make modest gains on the Stanford 9, which measures reading, math, language and assorted other subjects in grades 2-11.

For the state standards, three years apparently hasn’t been enough time.

Slow Progress

About one in three students at Irvine’s University High, one of the most academically decorated schools in the county, is not proficient.

Almost half the students at Sunny Hills High in Fullerton, another school known for its academic reputation, did not make the cut.

At Santa Ana High, a school with a high percentage of English language learners, almost 90 percent of students did not achieve the state’s goal.

Bob Anderson, administrator for the state’s standards testing office, said students who score below proficient are in need of special” help.

They’re making progress, but not fast enough,” Anderson said.

But Steven Keller, assistant superintendent in Laguna Beach — where almost 40 percent of students failed — said calling these students in need of special help is almost unethical.”

This is not the tell-all, cure-all assessment,” Keller said. Curriculum alignment takes time.”

The state told schools to teach to the standards nearly four years ago, but schools have been slow to catch up. One of the stumbling blocks for districts has been the lack of standards-based textbooks — and the state’s own focus on the Stanford 9, a standardized test that does not exactly match the standards, said Delaine Eastin, state schools superintendent.

She said the Stanford 9 is a bare-bones test that does not reflect all that students should be learning.

If anybody thinks doing well on the Stanford 9 is going to create the wonderful democracy and great economy … for our kids, they’re mistaken,” Eastin said. The standards are what you need to know to go on to the trades or the universities.”

Still, she said the sobering language-arts standards-test results should help focus attention on the standards, especially since the test will count for schools next year. She also lobbied for more writing at all grades, lower class sizes, and testing all students in science and social science to make sure those subjects are being taught.

The release of the Stanford 9 and language-arts standards test scores on the same day left many Orange County schools juggling mixed results.

Santa Ana, for example, has steadily increased the number of students who score above average on the Stanford 9, but at least 88 percent of the students scored below par on the language-arts standards test. District officials said the standards-based test is considered more rigorous than the Stanford 9.

We’ve said all along this is not a one-year proposition here,” Superintendent Al Mijares said. It’s going to take several years.”

But Santa Ana officials said they are making progress in areas that are not widely tested, such as writing.

First-time scores for fourth and seventh grade writing tests are close to the state average, although two-thirds of Santa Ana students are learning English, more than double the state’s average.

Some parents say they see expectations rising.

Santa Ana, which has historically had some of the lowest scores in the state, has adopted tough graduation requirements and is making all ninth graders go to school an extra hour each day. Parent Maria Montalvo said people were very, very angry” about low achievement years ago, but now find the increasing scores encouraging.

We’ve been going up in the past few years,” said Montalvo, who’s on a district committee to improve schools.

The expectations have to be high and the kids have to live up to them.”

Grade to grade

Most districts accumulated small gains in Stanford 9 scores, though gaps persist.

Scores tended to be higher in the early grades where students have 20-to-1 class sizes and a strictly standards-based curriculum.

Older students may have experienced many different programs — from bilingual education to whole language and new math — meaning what they’ve learned may not match current standards.

As in the past, students who are learning English or who are poor lag in scores, but these groups still made progress at most grades.

Experts say one of the better ways to analyze test scores is to look at them over time as students move through the grades.

In reading, for example, only six of the county’s 58 high schools showed losses in reading scores achieved by group of students who

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