San Luis Obispo County students boost state test scores

Despite years of budget cuts to local school districts, San Luis Obispo County students continue to improve on standardized tests in math and English, and nearly all remain above the statewide averages in those subjects.

But for educators countywide, a challenge remains: to narrow the gap between certain groups — specifically English-language learners and students in poverty — and their peers. These two groups showed improvements in data released Friday by the state Department of Education. But their peers improved as well, so the achievement gap persists.

“There was some slight improvement in a number of areas, but the gap is clearly still there,” county schools Superintendent Julian Crocker said.

School districts must remain focused on ways to narrow the achievement gap, Crocker said, though numerous budget cuts have made it difficult for some schools to keep resources that benefit those students.

However, he added, “to still have continuous improvement in light of the restricted funding is really significant, and (the teaching staff) needs to be recognized for that,” Crocker said.

Of the 25,971 students in San Luis Obispo County who took the California Standards Tests last spring, 62.9 percent scored “proficient” or “advanced” in English and language arts, and 56.3 percent reached the same levels in math.

Statewide, about 4.7 million students participated in the testing, with 57 percent scoring proficient or above in English-language arts and 51 percent scoring at proficient or above in mathematics.

The test results show the public how schools are doing, give parents an update on their children’s 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.

State schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson touted the statewide results in a statement, saying they marked the ninth straight year that California students improved their performance on the annual exams.

Students are tested in four areas: math, English and language arts, science, and history and social science. Results are divided into five categories: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic.

The state Board of Education has marked “proficient” as the desired achievement goal for all students. A proficient score is equal to a “B+” or higher grade, Crocker said.

“Even more remarkable is the fact that our students continue to make gains even as our schools — and the teachers, administrators and school employees working in them — are getting by with so much less,” Torlakson said.

All of the San Luis Obispo County districts improved their test scores in English and language arts over the previous year, the test results show.

Most of the districts also improved in mathematics, but a few districts, including Lucia Mar, Pleasant Valley Joint Union and San Miguel Joint Union, saw their math scores drop.

Andy Stenson, Lucia Mar’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, said district officials are still analyzing the math results, the district’s first drop in math in five years.

The scores show 59.6 percent of students testing proficient or above compared with 61.6 percent last year. That could be in part because some students have a tougher time with Algebra 1 — which has been an ongoing challenge for the district, he said.

“It’s been a longstanding issue, and we need to take a look to see what we can do to throw extra support for these kids,” Stenson said.

Meanwhile, Shandon Joint Unified saw big gains in both subjects, particularly math, with 51.2 percent of students scoring proficient or above compared with 38.5 percent in 2011.

Superintendent Rodney Wallace said the district has worked to strengthen the math program in all grades.

The district hired a new math teacher last year for its upper grades and has also had some of its students — about 10 percent in grades 7 through 12 — repeat a math course to help them master the skills before moving forward.

School test scores rise in SLO County and California

Almost 26,000 students in San Luis Obispo County took the 2012 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.

District 2012 2011 2010 2009 2012 2011 2010 2009
Atascadero Unified 61.2% 59.8% 58.8% 60.7% 49.0% 48.5% 45.3% 49.1%
Cayucos Elementary 74.0 72.1 74 80.9 79.8 68.9 79.7 90.4
Coast Unified 61.8 61.2 55.2 54.8 57.5 51.4 45.8 44.6
Lucia Mar Unified 61.7 61.0 60.9 57.7 59.6 61.6 58.3 55.4
Paso Robles Public Schools 59.2 57.7 57.7 52.2 53.2 49.8 50.8 50
Pleasant Valley Joint Union Elem. 64.2 60.0 62.1 66.3 58.9 67.0 49.4 55.1
San Luis Coastal Unified 70.4 68.2 66.8 67.2 59.9 57.6 55.7 54.6
San Miguel Joint Union 50.7 49.9 45.2 43.2 54.1 55.1 45.3 41.6
Shandon Joint Unified 52.1 47.9 47.4 43 51.2 38.5 32.1 30.4
Templeton Unified 73.4 71.1 69.2 67.8 58.5 57.5 54.7 53.3
San Luis Obispo County 62.9 61.4 60.6 58.8 56.3 55.4 53.1 52.2
California 57.2 54.4 52.3 49.9 51.5 50.4 48 45.8