How about some good news? The state recently released a series of report cards for our county’s public schools and the news is good. Our students continue to demonstrate steady progress in mastering the academic standards for English-language arts, math, science, history and social studies as measured by state tests (STAR).
California’s academic standards are considered to be among the most rigorous in the nation, and the target level of proficiency is roughly equivalent to a letter grade of B+. San Luis Obispo County students consistently outscore the state average by 5-10 points in all areas. These results are available at cde.ca.gov.
Here are a few examples of success. Countywide, 60 percent of our students met the desired proficiency level (B+) on rigorous standards in most areas. Scores were particularly high in grades 3 and 4 with more than 70 percent of students meeting the standard in math and English-language arts. Half of all eighth-graders took Algebra I, a gateway course for college, and 60 percent of them scored proficient. 58 percent of our freshmen scored proficient in biology and 66 percent of 11th graders were proficient in physics.
A significant gap still exists between Hispanic students and their peers; however there has been steady improvement here also. Over the past five years, the number of Hispanic students demonstrating proficiency has increased by an average of 13 percentage points in both English language arts and math in all grades. This is impressive given the limited English language proficiency of some of our Hispanic students.
The performance of individual schools is also bright. 66 percent of all schools in the county have reached or exceeded the target score of 800 (200-1000 scale) on the Academic Performance Index as compared to 49 percent for the state. Those schools not at 800 are in the high 700s and advancing. Our middle schools showed particular strength with 10 of 11, or 91 percent, hitting the 800 target. 82 percent of our elementary schools scored 800 or above as compared to 55 percent for the state. All comprehensive high schools in the county scored 780 or above, with three hitting the 800 mark.
Some more good news. Although any student who drops out of school is one too many, the dropout rate for our schools is 9.7 percent as compared to 18.2 percent for the state. Our county’s graduation rate is 86.4 percent compared to 74.4 percent for the state.
There are two primary reasons for this success. First is the high quality of our teachers. Experience, intuition and academic research all consistently emphasize the critical role of the classroom teacher in determining school success for students. Teachers in our county are performing heroic tasks daily in the face of a disgraceful lack of resources from the state legislature. The other success factor is the strong support from our parents who emphasize the value of education and provide assistance for their students at home.
For our children’s sake, let’s take a moment to celebrate the success of our students and schools and thank those most responsible — our teachers and parents.
Julian Crocker is county superintendent of schools.