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English, Math Test Scores Climb

Once again, O.C. students outperform their peers statewide. But 46 local schools face federal sanctions for insufficient gains.

August 16, 2003|Duke Helfand and Claire Luna | Times Staff Writers

English and math test scores rose at most California public schools this year, but 925 campuses serving low-income students still received a federal scolding because their gains weren't big enough, according to data released Friday.

Those 925 schools -- about 12% percent of all public schools in the state -- theoretically must offer their students transfers to other campuses in the fall, but crowding at many other campuses will probably limit the numbers of transfers, officials said. Some may have to spend their federal funding on extra tutoring.

Orange County students continue to outperform their peers, according to results from the 2003 California Standards Tests, taken by second- through 11th-graders last spring. But the results show that 46 campuses -- including 18 in Santa Ana Unified -- could face federal sanctions for not improving enough. That total is up from 38 schools last year; 12 were removed and 20 were added to the list.

As in the past, elementary students statewide showed the largest increases on tests linked to California's tough academic standards in English/language arts and math material that is supposed to be taught in all classrooms.

For example, 36% of fifth-graders were proficient or better in English, a 5-percentage-point gain from last year. Meanwhile, 53% of second-graders were proficient in math, up 10 percentage points from last year. Proficiency, the goal, is defined as strong mastery of that grade level's material.

In Orange County, 43% of students tested as proficient or better in language arts, while 46% reached that level in math. Statewide, 35% of students were proficient or better in language arts and 36% reached that level in math.

State leaders described the improvements as evidence that California's education reforms -- including intensive teacher training, tougher academic standards and new textbooks tied to those standards -- are paying off.

"The test scores are clearly going in the right direction," said Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction. "Every child can learn and every child can excel."

Statewide, 81% of the 7,296 schools with test scores increased the numbers of students proficient in English and math this year compared with last year. The schools moved an additional 4% of their students, or about 138,000 youngsters, into the proficient category.

In Los Angeles County, 90% of schools increased the numbers of proficient students; 86% of Orange County schools did the same, as did 78% of Ventura County schools, 77% of Riverside County schools and 84% of San Bernardino County schools.

However, some schools with higher scores on the state standards tests appeared troubled in terms of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The law requires schools to test at least 95% of their students and to have about 13% of every "subgroup" proficient in English and math this year. Subgroups include whites, Asians, African Americans, Latinos, special education students and those still learning English.


Transfers or Tutoring

Schools that don't test enough students, or where subgroups fail to meet proficiency goals, do not make their "adequate yearly progress." Those that repeatedly fail to meet their yearly targets must offer their students transfers to other campuses or outside tutoring.

State and local education officials said they were not surprised that more than 900 schools were placed on the federal watch list. They also complained that the No Child Left Behind law penalizes many schools on technicalities or on the scores of small categories of students.

Bruce Fuller, a UC Berkeley education professor, said the No Child Left Behind law places unreasonable demands on schools with diverse populations. He said the law unwittingly may provide an incentive for principals not to identify disabled students or others with special needs who might prevent a school from reaching its testing targets. "I think it creates a sort of unsolvable dilemma for principals ... who now have to spread diminishing funds over more groups," Fuller said.

Santa Ana Unified is home to the largest number of Orange County schools facing sanctions. Nine Santa Ana campuses were added this year, and Century High, which is being audited by the state, is in its fourth year on the list. The district, with two-thirds of its 63,600 students classified as English learners, hopes to improve performance by increasing the focus on English fluency.

A committee was recently formed to evaluate how each campus teaches its Spanish speakers, and Supt. Al Mijares said there is a push to better inform parents about their children's capabilities in English.

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