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Local schools see marked gains in 2005 test scores

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Posted: Monday, August 15, 2005 10:00 pm

Standardized test scores for California students came out Monday morning to the satisfaction of many local school districts, whose officials reported marked improvements in the numbers of proficient and advanced scores from last year.

Some improvements are solid enough to hint that previously struggling schools, like Galt High School, may be soon be removed from a state assistance program.

Galt High was placed under the guidance of a School Assistance and Intervention Team in 2004, when students failed for two years to make improvements in their test scores. Success this year means Galt High's removal from the program improvement list.

"The SAIT process gave us the tools and the energy to move forward," said Galt High Superintendent Thomas Gemma. "But I'm not going to be satisfied until our (Academic Performance Index) is over 800."

The 800-mark is the overall state goal for all schools, though most local schools average anywhere in the 600-700 point range.

The STAR program includes test results from the California standards tests, a national standardized test and the California Achievement Tests, all of which measure skills in reading, language, spelling and math.

The STAR results also are used to calculate how well the state is meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under the federal law, states must ensure all students are proficient in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year.

Schools must show yearly progress and include English-language learners and special education students. That measurement, called Adequate Yearly Progress, is scheduled to be released at the end of August.

Local gains

Meanwhile, Lodi Unified School District Superintendent Bill Huyett said Monday he was pleased to see that every grade level made steady gains in its advanced and proficient scores over last year. He attributed the overall success to the persistent hard work of teachers, principals and curriculum staff at the district.

"The credit really lies first with the teachers in the classroom," Huyett added.

Elementary schools in Galt also showed modest gains, according to district Superintendent Jeff Jennings. Two schools under program improvement, Greer Middle and Fairsite Elementary schools, will likely meet their targets this when the preliminary API scores are released at the end of August. If Greer is successful, its name will be removed from that list.

Jennings said district teachers worked hard this year to see that class curriculum was aligned more with state standards, and used a student database to track students' performance from grade to grade. Teachers were also challenged to teach to many different learning levels in the same class.

"Now, we're feeling the (effects of) efforts made in the last year," Jennings added.

State standardized tests are scored on a five-level system -- advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic. The state goal is for every student to achieve at the proficient or advanced level.

More Lodi Unified students reached those levels than last school year in math and English, Huyett said.

Schools made little or no progress in eliminating the achievement gap between white and Hispanic and black students, the results show.

A 31-point difference remained between the percentage of white and black students scoring proficient or above on the English exam; the difference is 28 points on the math exam. A similar gap persists between white and Hispanic students.

Only one-quarter of Hispanic students reached proficiency on the English test. Of all ethnic groups, Asian students had the best rate of proficiency on both the math and English tests.

While Lodi Unified officials are still crunching numbers in preparation for a districtwide report sometime this fall, Huyett said they're hoping to see a narrowing of the achievement gap between different subgroups of students.

High school achievement

State officials also released Monday results of the California High School Exit Exam, required for all graduating students. An estimated 88 percent of California's high school seniors, the first class required to prove their proficiency on a test before getting a diploma, have passed the English and math portions of the exam, state education officials said Monday.

Among all students statewide, 65 percent passed the English portions, while 63 percent passed in math. In Lodi Unified high schools, an estimated 66 percent of high school students passed in English, and 70 percent passed in math.

Huyett said he was pleased with growth throughout the district, and among the districts high school students. Those students who have not passed the test will have three more chances during their senior year.

At Galt High, 72 percent of high school students passed the English potion, with 71 percent passing in math.

Statewide, the high school exit exam results showed black, Hispanic, low-income and special education students with lagging passing rates. An estimated 75 percent of black students have passed the math test by the 11th grade, while 81 percent have passed English test.

Only about half of special education students in the class of 2006 have passed the math test, while 54 percent have passed the English test.

State Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell said he was troubled by the disparities.

"I expect our high schools to focus on those student who are in danger of not mastering the skills measured by this exam," he said. "I urge them to take it seriously."

Local school districts can decide whether to allow students who haven't passed the test to participate in graduation ceremonies, said Hilary McLean, California Department of Education spokeswoman. But they won't be considered graduates by the state, she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

This story was updated at 3:40 p.m. Aug. 16, 2005, to correct the percentages of Galt High School students who passed the English and math portions of the California High School Exit Exam.

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