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California STAR Testing results shine across school districts
MONDAY, AUGUST 29, 2011 16:01 PM

On August 15, the California Department of Education released the results of the 2011 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program exams. Overall, students’ scores showed signs of steady improvement.

The California STAR Testing program consists of four exams – the California Standards Tests (CSTs), the California Modified Assessment, the California Alternate Performance Assessment and the Standards-Based Tests in Spanish. The CSTs, in particular, are designed to measure student achievement in English language arts, mathematics, science and history-social science.

After completing the program’s assessments, students are ranked as being advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic in these individual areas of study.

Of approximately 4.7 million students, 54 percent scored proficient or above in English language arts, while 50 percent achieved proficient or above in mathematics. Although the California Department of Education painted a broader picture of students’ test results, many of the state’s news outlets provided a closer look at how individual districts fared.

For instance, The Union reported that in California’s Nevada County, districts that were located in more affluent areas tended to have better test results. Higher household income and property values were associated with proficiency across subjects on the STAR tests.

The Pleasant Ridge Union and Nevada City Elementary School Districts in southern Nevada County, as well as Tiny Clear Creek School District in the west, all performed well, according to the news source. On the whole, student test results have improved over the last four years, with 2011 science scores deemed slightly better than those that were reported in 2010.

Year-over-year progress was also made in the Napa Valley Unified School District, where students scored higher in English language arts, history and science than they did in 2010, the Napa Valley Register reported. Academic officials in this district told the news outlet that they are focused on analyzing what gains and losses were made across grade levels, subgroups and subjects.

"We’re studying STAR to compare how we performed in our district from the previous year – and results are encouraging, especially as we dig into subgroups," Elena Toscano, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, told the news source.

Based on the data the district has been able to collect, Napa Valley Unified has managed to improve by more than 5 percent in almost every subject over the past four years, the news outlet stated. This includes the area of science, where there was a 10.9 percent increase in the number of advanced and proficient scores.

Even though some school districts’ results placed them below the state average, these areas still show encouraging signs of improvement. For example, the Taft City School District made gains in English language arts and mathematics, according to the Taft Midway Driller. These improvements were due in part to the efforts of academic administrators and teachers who have devoted additional time to upgrading curricula to help ensure better standardized test results.

"The positive growth is very significant," Julie Graves, a testing coordinator for the district, said, as quoted by the news source. "It’s been a lot of hard work. The pattern is a positive growth."

In the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District, a $2.2 million state improvement grant that was awarded in 2010 helped students in the area raise their test scores, the Half Moon Bay Review reported. Overall, results showed 5 percent improvement in English language arts and 7 percent advancement in science. The funding was provided to raise California STAR Testing scores at least 10 percent over the next three years, and has helped the district launch weekend classes as well as an expanded summer school program.