County students improve scores on Standards Test
Ventura County Star
August 16, 2005

By Jean Cowden Moore,

Ventura County students have again outscored their classmates statewide in math and English, but many are still not considered proficient in either subject.

Among local second-graders, for example, only 45 percent tested proficient in English. The numbers were better for math, where 59 percent tested proficient.

Those numbers, released Monday by the California Department of Education, are based primarily on results from the California Standards Test. The exam, given each spring in second through 11th grades, tests students on state standards -- that is, what they are expected to learn in each grade.

Student scores are divided into five categories: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic.

While fewer than half of students statewide tested proficient or above, scores have been improving.

This year, 40 percent of California students tested at proficient or above in English, up 9 percentage points since 2001. In math, 38 percent were proficient or above, up 6 percentage points.

Jack O'Connell, the state's chief of schools, attributed the gains to an increased focus on teaching the standards.

Richard Simpson, an assistant superintendent for the Conejo Valley Unified School District, agreed.

"This is the first time there's been a consistency in what students are expected to learn, no matter where they go to school," Simpson said. "And the stakes are higher."

The statewide gains were reflected locally, where test scores overall have been improving over the past three years.

An example: the percentage of local fourth-graders considered proficient in English has grown from 47 percent to 56 percent. In math, the number has grown from 49 percent to 56 percent.

While that's good news, the scores reveal a persistent achievement gap among the state's students.

Among those same local fourth-graders, for example, only 21 percent of students who are learning English were considered proficient in the subject. In math, it was only 28 percent.

That means the state must do more to help students whose first language is not English, said Denis O'Leary, a teacher in the Rio District, school board member in Oxnard Elementary and adviser to the League of United Latin American Citizens.

"These scores should not be interpreted to mean that English learners have failed," O'Leary said. "Reform must now respond to the needs of the students."

Among O'Leary's suggestions: restore the money in budgets that would buy materials specifically for children learning English.

The federal government will use the test results released Monday to help determine whether schools have made "adequate yearly progress" under the No Child Left Behind Act.

In two weeks, the state will release results indicating which schools met that mark and which didn't. Schools that don't make sufficient progress face a range of consequences, including allowing students to transfer to another school or paying for outside tutoring. Ultimately, schools could face state takeover.

At the same time, the state will release its own take on how students are doing -- the Academic Performance Index. Those scores are based primarily on the California Standards Test and the California High School Exit Exam.