Since introducing a new standardized test in 2015, San Luis Obispo County students have consistently outperformed their peers around the state on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) each year — and 2018 was no different.
In the newest results, released Oct. 2, a higher percentage of San Luis Obispo County students once again met the standards for language arts and mathematics than the state average. (Students are tested each year from third to eighth grade, and again in the 11th grade, to measure their educational progress.)
In English and language arts, for example, more than 55 percent of the 17,700 students tested in spring 2018 met the standards. Of those, 23 percent exceeded — or performed at a level above — the expected standards for their grade level.
That’s compared with 50 percent of California students as a whole who met or exceeded the literacy requirements in 2018
But the news isn’t all rosy.
More than half of San Luis Obispo County students failed to meet the state’s standards for math in 2018, with only 44 percent meeting or exceeding what was expected for their grade level.
Those students still tested well above the state average. On the whole, only about 39 percent of California students met the standards. The results are also virtually unchanged from last year’s local scores.
The math question is a complex problem with no one solution, Dan Peverini, San Luis Obispo County director of educational support services, said Friday.
“I can’t give an answer on math,” he said. “It’s something we are talking about.”
Peverini noted numerous factors contribute to students’ math success — everything from teacher training and articulation between grade levels to literacy levels that would allow for higher-level maths.
“It’s more than just intervention,” he said. “It’s how we are setting them up for success from the start.”
He said the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education is working closely with local school districts to collaborate on ways to improve scores.
“Absolutely we would want that,” he said.
In San Luis Obispo County, the most extreme differences in math performance were at the opposite ends of the grade spectrum.
The best math scores in the county went to its third graders.
Students in that grade, who were taking the CAASPP test for the first time, performed significantly better than every other grade level in math, with 55 percent of students meeting or exceeding the standards.
This trend was true throughout the rest of the state, where students whose entire academic careers have existed within a time of more rigorous standards have hit standardized testing age.
“That our younger learners who have experienced standard-aligned instruction since kindergarten are improving faster is encouraging,” state Board of Education president Michael W. Kirst said in a news release.
Carol Kenyan, chief academic officer for Paso Robles Joint Unified School District, said the district was interested to see how the third graders did this year, because it would show for the first time how well their early intervention programs are working.
“The research says that early intervention really makes a significant difference in the future progress of our kids,” she said. “One of the things that we were really excited to see were how our third graders were doing and if those early interventions that were starting in their kindergarten year — how is that paying off as they are taking the test for the first time?”
Early intervention does seem to be working: In Paso Robles, 48 percent of third graders met or exceeded the math standards in 2018, compared with 46 percent last year, and 37 percent in the first year of testing back in 2015. In English, scores improved from 39 percent in 2015 and 43 percent in 2017 to 48 percent this year.
“It has definitely had a very big improvement on our student success and achievement,” Kenyan said.
On the opposite end of the spectrum sit the 11th graders, who performed the worst countywide on the math sections of the test of all grade levels. There, only 34 percent of local students met or exceeded the standards.
Nearly that same amount, 31 percent, flat out missed the standards, while another 24 percent nearly met them. (Scoring for the tests is separated into four categories: not met, nearly met, met and exceeded.)
For language arts, performance was much more stable across all grade levels, with only minute differences in scores.
How did your district do?
At a school district level, the results for both sections of the test varied widely.
Of the largest districts, San Luis Coastal Unified School District once again performed the best. Sixty-nine percent of students there met or exceeded language arts standards, and 62 percent met or exceeded math standards.
Since the new testing format was launched in 2015, San Luis Coastal has consistently reported the highest CAASPP scores.
Superintendent Eric Prater said the district’s success has been largely due to one word: focus.
“I know the other districts in our county are doing excellent work,” Prater wrote in an email to The Tribune. “We began this very focused journey before the CAASPP tests were created.
“We’ve maintained our focus on student learning and achievement irrespective of the state assessment system. This is just one indicator of many that we use to gauge whether our kids are learning.”
Prater said that since CAASPP was launched in 2015, San Luis Coastal has “adopted high quality, rigorous curriculum and undertook a comprehensive, multi-year professional development program ... with our staff.”
“In short, we changed our curriculum, modified the way we taught kids, and developed benchmark assessments to determine if they learned what we taught,” he wrote. “This was a very challenging time for us.”
San Luis Coastal includes 7,500 students, stretching between Morro Bay, San Luis Obispo and Avila Beach.
Shandon Joint Unified School District performed the worst of the school districts, with 64 percent of students not meeting the state standards in English, and 79 percent not meeting math standards.
That district encompasses Shandon High School and Shandon Elementary School, serving roughly 320 students.
To check out your school’s scores, visit https://caaspp.cde.ca.gov/sb2018/Search?lstTestYear=2018.
As a whole, San Luis Obispo County’s scores were mostly stagnant. In both English and math, the number of students who met versus not did not meet standards stayed virtually the same as in 2017.
“There was some forward momentum, but not as much as we had anticipated or hoped for,” Peverini said. “I think there was some improvement in the sub-group categories, but there is still some groups and achievement gap we have to look at.”
Peverini cautioned against looking at the scores as the only measure of success.
“It is only part of the whole,” he said. “I think you will hear that there is a much greater conversation around equity and meeting students’ emotional needs — those activities that are support to student success and doing their works.”
Numerous San Luis Obispo County administrators noted that test scores aren’t the only outcome they are focusing on at local schools.
“We want to make sure we are not just looking at one measure for student success,” Kenyan said. “We believe for real student success, we need to look at the whole child. (We’re) really looking at the opportunities we provide for the kid.”
Along those lines, Kenyan said, Paso Robles Joint Unified has made sure to offer visual and performing arts classes for students starting in elementary school through graduation. The district has also increased after-school sports offerings and is attempting to provide more positive behavior intervention support to help encourage students in their social interactions, she said.
“They are little social beings, too,” Kenyan said. “This has really become, ‘How do we not only serve them academically, but also as a whole child?’ ”