Local students' STAR test scores dip, state data show

tstrickland@thetribunenews.comAugust 8, 2013 

Tenth-graders take a STAR test during their social studies class at Paso Robles High School in April 2009.

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

The majority of San Luis Obispo County students saw their standardized tests scores slip slightly in English and math this year, but schools countywide continue to exceed state averages, according to data released Thursday by the California Department of Education.

“We continue to be above the state and holding our own,” county schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said.

The standardized test results show the public how schools are doing, give parents an update on their children's educational growth and allow districts to compare and measure their progress and evaluate student performance. The scores will also be used to determine whether districts are meeting federal benchmarks.

Of the more than 24,000 students in San Luis Obispo County who took the California Standards Tests last spring, 61.5 percent scored "proficient" or "advanced" in English and language arts, and 56.1 percent reached the same levels in math.

Statewide, about 4.7 million students participated in the testing, with 56.4 percent scoring proficient or above in English-language arts and 51.2 percent scoring at proficient or above in mathematics.

Compared to 2012, the statewide figures dropped by a fraction of a percentage point while the county figures fell 1.4 percent in English and language arts and 0.2 percent in math.

State schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson defended the statewide results in a statement, saying the assessments fell as schools dealt with ongoing budget reductions.

“As you would expect for a school system in transition, results varied from grade to grade, subject to subject, and school to school, but the big picture is one of remarkable resilience despite the challenges,” Torlakson said.

Crocker hopes that the state has turned a corner on funding cutbacks and local districts can start recovering from years of slashed budgets, which could translate into strong scores in coming years.

“In terms of test scores, the hope is now teachers can start working on improving class sizes, hiring additional specialists and participating in more training,” he said.

Overall, Crocker said the important part of the results is how San Luis Obispo County is trending over time. While this year’s testers saw mostly small declines from the previous year, 2012 saw mostly gains in individual school districts over 2011 and 2010. Small year-over-year changes aren’t telling, Crocker added.

“Three or four points one way or the other isn’t really that much of a concern, he said. “Five points or more is something we look at.”

Coast Unified School District, one of the county’s smallest districts, saw the steepest test-result change this year by falling seven percentage points in math compared to 2012.

“I’m not going to panic on a little bit of a drop because when you go back to 2010, we’re up,” Coast Unified Superintendant Chris Adams said. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. And this is one measure of that.”

Meanwhile, Lucia Mar, the county’s largest school district, saw small slips on par with the county.

“We take the data seriously, and today we had teacher leaders, principals and administrators across all the school sites meet on the data,” said Tom Butler, assistant superintendant of curriculum, instruction and assessment. The groups used the data to begin designing their goals for improving student achievement in the coming school year. They plan to continue focusing on English and language arts, Butler said, “and will specifically target critical reading and writing.”

2013 California Standards Test

More than 24,000 students in San Luis Obispo County took the 2013 California Standards Tests. Below are the percentages of students who achieved proficient and advanced scores on the English-language arts and math tests this year compared with the past three.

Atascadero Unified61.0%61.2%59.8%58.8%53.3%49.0%48.5%45.3%
Cayucos Elementary79.
Coast Unified57.561.861.255.250.557.551.445.8
Lucia Mar Unified60.161.761.060.958.259.661.658.3
Paso Robles Public Schools56.859.257.757.752.353.249.850.8
Pleasant Valley Joint Union Elem.67.764.
San Luis Coastal Unified69.070.468.266.859.359.957.655.7
San Miguel Joint Union52.850.749.945.258.854.155.145.3
Shandon Joint Unified49.552.147.947.446.951.238.532.1
Templeton Unified69.473.471.169.256.858.557.554.7
San Luis Obispo County61.562.961.460.656.156.355.453.1
California 56.457.254.452.351.251.550.448.0

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