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Inland students gain in English, math

By Chris Levister

Student performance on California’s achievement tests in almost every subject at almost every grade level by every ethnicity is on the rise — despite recent cutbacks to education funding, according to 2012 STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) results released by the California Department of Education.

But a substantial achievement gap persists between low-income and higher-income students, and between African American and Latino students and their white and Asian peers. Overall, 57 percent of the 4.7 million students tested proficient or advanced in English and 51 percent scored at least proficient in math — a substantial improvement since 2003, when the tests were first based on state standards and included in a school’s Academic Performance Index (API). In 2003, 35 percent tested proficient or better in both English and math. “In less than a decade, California has gone from having only one student in three score proficient to better than one student in two,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement.

Inland school officials say test results indicate that although the region has far to go in improving results for disadvantaged and minority students, schools have made truly laudable gains with younger students, regardless of ethnic or economic category. Inland students performed better on the California Standards Tests in 2012 for the ninth consecutive year, according to results of the exams, which students took last spring. In Riverside County, an average of 56 percent of second through 11th graders scored proficient or above on the English language arts tests, compared to 57 percent statewide. In San Bernardino County, an average of 52 percent of students scored in proficient or advanced ranges, up 2.5 percent from 2011. In mathematics, the San Bernardino County average was 47 percent, a 1 percent increase from 2011.

County Superintendent Gary Thomas called the new results “impressive” pointing to the 3 percentage point growth in eighth-grade algebra proficiency. Ninth- and 11th-graders also each had 3 percentage points of growth.

“The fact that we had overall growth in all subject areas, including math, science and history-social sciences is obviously very positive.” “Students and teachers at our schools deserve praise for putting in the effort that goes into academic achievement. With both innovative and proven instruction from teachers, plus the support of parents and community members, students through hard work and imagination can exceed expectations. The entire community should be proud and inspired,” said San Bernardino City Unified School District board member Danny Tillman.

Statewide the percentage of students in second grade scoring proficient in mathematics dropped by two points, and overall achievement in the General Mathematics CST and the Summative High School Mathematics test remained the same as last year, with 54 percent scoring proficient or higher in the latter. But in every other subject and grade, there was improvement over 2011 scores. Substantially more African American and Latino students are taking Algebra I and succeeding in the course. But the achievement gap still remains between those students and their white and Asian peers, as does the gap between low-income and higher-income students.

In the most extreme example, 32 percent of economically disadvantaged African American students scored proficient or advanced on the mathematics test in 2012. That was exactly twice as many as in 2003. However, this year, 85 percent of higher-income Asian students scored proficient or advanced — a 53 percentage-point difference between them and their low-income, African American classmates. In 2003, the difference between the two groups was 55 percentage points.

The reasons for the persistent gap are many and complex. Critics argue that at least part of it has been caused by disparities in the allocation of school resources. Just a few years ago some in the state’s poorest school districts couldn't take the courses required to attend a four-year college — no matter how bright or hardworking they were — because their high schools didn't offer the courses. When there was a shortage of qualified math and science teachers, these schools, not the ones in more affluent areas, were assigned teachers who lacked credentials in the necessary subjects. The percentages of students scoring in the top two ranges will be used to determine whether schools and districts are making Adequate Yearly Progress for the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

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