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Students in state show gains in English and math scores

Overall, 54% of students scored at the 'proficient' level or higher in English-language arts and 50% scored proficient or better in math, the highest scores since testing began in 2003.

August 15, 2011|By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times
  • LAUSD may reconstitute David Starr Jordan High School in Watts, meaning that every employee would have to reapply for their jobs or accept transfers elsewhere.
LAUSD may reconstitute David Starr Jordan High School in Watts, meaning… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)

California students showed moderate gains in English and math on standardized test scores released by the state Department of Education on Monday, continuing a long-term trend. But the results also reveal that the state has a long way to go to bring students up to grade level.

Overall, 54% of California students scored at the "proficient" level or higher in English-language arts, compared with 52% last year; and 50% scored proficient or better in math, compared with 48% last year. The scores are the highest since the standards-based testing began in 2003.

There was a small decline in math and English for students scoring at the two lowest levels: "below basic" and "far below basic." About 27% of students remain at those levels in math; 19% in English.

The results for the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state's largest school system, also mirrored past years: Growth was better than for the state overall, but scores still fell below the state average.

Students who were considered at grade level — or proficient — in English-language arts increased from 41% to 44%. In math, from 39% to 43%.

District officials hailed the rising scores as especially notable given steep budget cuts.

"We are at our highest point in student achievement," said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy, who praised the "amazing hard work" of teachers and administrators.

The test scores are being used to give schools and individual teachers a rating on their effectiveness. Ultimately, Deasy would like to include them in teacher evaluations.

State and local education officials released the scores at Reseda High School in the San Fernando Valley, a campus that demonstrates both progress and the long climb ahead.

"Heroic work has been going on as we see here today," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

Over the last four years, the total of Reseda students who score at grade level or better in English rose from 39% to 47%; the percentage actually dipped slightly this year. In math over that period, the figure rose from 18% to 22%.

About two-thirds of the school's students are low income and 18% are learning English.

Reseda also illustrates an ongoing problem throughout the state. Test score gains are highest in elementary schools and drop off precipitously in middle and high school.

The reason for this is much debated. In part, Deasy said, elementary campuses have more of a schoolwide approach to preventing individual students from falling behind.

Middle and high schools, typically divided into academic departments, can become "isolated from the students," Deasy said. "When a student is struggling in freshman algebra, is there a universal team of adults who know the student well and monitor the student?"

Another possibility: The school system also has focused more on teacher training at the elementary schools.

Across L.A. Unified, fewer than 20% of high school students scored proficient or better in general mathematics, algebra 1 and 2 and geometry. In fourth grade, by contrast, 67% of students tested as proficient or better in math.

Another persistent issue is the sharp achievement gap separating Asian and white students from Latino and black students, although the latter groups saw gains.

Statewide, 76% of Asian students and 71% of white students were proficient or better in English, for example, compared with 42% of Latinos and 41% of African Americans.

In math, the numbers are 76% for Asians, 61% for whites, 41% for Latinos and 34% for African Americans.

The state oversees testing for students in grades two to 11.

The honor roll of consistently improving schools in L.A. Unified includes: Plummer, Barton Hill and 116th Street elementary schools; King, Audubon and Edison middle schools; and Garfield, Polytechnic and Canoga Park high schools.

howard.blume@latimes.com

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