This year's standardized test results show that local schools are working hard to improve their scores. The question is: Are they improving enough?
The state Department of Education released the 2009 California Standards Test (CST) scores last week, a significant component in the state's overall Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program.
The test results, which are highly scrutinized but difficult to analyze, have varying implications for the Mountain View-Los Altos and Mountain View Whisman school districts. Though results from both districts showed general improvement, math continues to be an issue for students, especially those from disadvantaged populations.
Not yet released are the state's Academic Performance Index (API) scores, or how the districts stacked up against the federal government's Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) goals, established by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. While both measurements are indicative of school growth, the yearly progress goals determine whether or not a district or school will get the "Program Improvement" label, which marks them as not meeting accepted standards. Currently neither district has been hit with that label, though Mountain View Whisman administrators say they probably will be soon.
Catching up at MVLA
Administrators at Mountain View-Los Altos said they were very pleased with progress in their district.
In the English-Language Arts category, the district improved by an average of three points to 71 percent, well over the county average of 56 percent.
"The thing that we are really excited about is Los Altos has gained in virtually every area," said Brigitte Saraff, associate superintendent of educational services. This is good news for the district, as in the past, Los Altos High School students have tended to score lower than Mountain View High School students.
"We are now very busy trying to analyze what caused those results," Saraff said.
Los Altos High students made notable gains in language arts, including a 10-point gain in the ninth grade, from 66 percent proficiency in 2008 to 76 percent proficiency this year.
Students also made major gains in world history, with 65 percent of students scoring proficient, up from 60 percent in 2008 and just 48 percent in 2007. Administrators said this jump in proficiency could be attributed to a change in history requirements from three years to three and a half years.
"Our big challenge still continues to be math," Saraff said.
The district saw a one percentage point drop in summative math from 2008, placing it below the county average. However, in certain classes like geometry, students excelled. Saraff said this could be attributed a new math placement system where students were admitted to certain classes based on their previous CST test results.
Though scores indicate that a significant achievement gap still exists, Hispanic students at MVLA performed better than Hispanic students state and countywide in nearly every subject area. Hispanics continue to struggle in mathematics, a trend that echoes the district.
"We are most excited to see growth in our Latino subgroup," Saraff said. "We see definite trends in closing our achievement gap."
"We are looking at what produced this," she added, saying it has to do with a variety of issues. She said the district has been working to align its curriculum with standards taught on the test, and improved the pacing of courses so that students learn the materials before the test is administered every year.
Saraff also said the culture around the test has changed since its inception nearly a decade ago, and that teachers and students are more accepting that their schools are being publicly judged and rated on these scores.
"The public has become much more discerning and aware of this, and that affects the schools' attitude, our attitude," she said.
MV Whisman improves
The local elementary and middle school district also saw some progress on the standardized test.
"Everybody improved, but some improved more than others," said Mary Lairon, assistant superintendent for the Mountain View Whisman School District.
Overall, the district improved its English-Language Arts scores by seven percentage points from 2008, with more students scoring at the "advanced" level than last year. Hispanic, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students in the district scored higher in that category than their respective subgroups at the county and state levels.
In mathematics, the district in general improved, although each of the mentioned subgroups saw a slight decline.
"We'd like to close the achievement gap, not make it bigger, and I felt like we didn't close it this year," Lairon said.
Though a slight decrease in scores from one year to the next is not necessarily cause for concern, the district's 2009 CST scores will almost certainly fall below this year's new AYP goal of 46 percent proficiency.
Since NCLB was enacted, federal proficiency standards have increased significantly. Starting in 2007, standards began increasing by approximately 11 percent each year, making it difficult for already struggling districts -- especially those with many disadvantaged students -- to keep up.
"We're almost sure that we'll go into Program Improvement," Lairon said. "But what we're going to celebrate is progress."
The California Department of Education is tentatively scheduled to release API scores, yearly progress and program improvement data on Tuesday, Sept. 15.