|Local students increased their standardized test scores for the 2007-08 school year, according to results released last week, but administrators worry many minorities and low-income students are still failing to meet higher federal standards this year.
A similar story applies to schools across California: Most are seeing better overall California Standardized Test scores, but an achievement gap persists for minority students.
California Standardized Tests, or CSTs, are the state's version of STAR tests, which stands for Standardized Testing and Reporting. STAR tests are administered in every state as part of No Child Left Behind legislation.
In the Mountain View Whisman School District, students significantly increased their math scores after the district enacted a two-year overhaul of its math instruction. Superintendent Maurice Ghysels says the district now needs to close the achievement gap and raise English language arts scores.
"We put so much emphasis on math, but we did not know we would go up so high," Ghysels said. "[Scores] are never good enough, but we are proud of what teachers and students did."
A new approach to math is beginning to pay off, Ghysels said, even for low-income and minority students, whose scores increased overall. But Latinos, who made up 43 percent of the student body in 2008, are still falling behind. While they just meet federal math standards, they did not reach the benchmark for "English language arts."
Federal targets rose by more than 11 percent this year. To meet these standards, schools must have 35.2 percent of their students proficient or advanced in English and 37 percent proficient or above in math. Local administrators in both the elementary and high school districts say the student body as a whole is meeting these benchmarks.
At Mountain View Whisman, district calculations show 59 percent of all students scored proficient or above on the math test. But only 38 percent of Latinos met the federal standards, while 80 percent of white students were proficient or advanced.
Those scores are up from the previous year, when 54 percent of the students were proficient or above in math -- 30 percent for Latino students and 77 percent for white students.
Assistant Superintendent Mary Lairon said the recently released numbers are still rough, and the district is waiting for its official Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, report from the state.
However, "The way the data turned out is stunning," Lairon said. "It is not perfect in every school, in every grade, but that is too much to ask for."
Two years ago, after continually low math scores, the district formed a math committee to identify why students were struggling with the subject. Teachers worked with underrepresented students to improve math scores, and the district began requiring at least 60 minutes of math instruction in each class.
Administrators say they plan to form a similar committee for English language arts. For now, however, they will continue to concentrate on math scores.
"We are not going to rush," Lairon said. "[Teachers] need a little time to adjust and revisit what they have."
Gap persists in high school district
Meanwhile, the Mountain View-Los Altos High School District also saw an increase in both math and English scores, though minorities and low-income students are falling far behind.
While students at Mountain View High School scored higher on most of their tests this year, results were more mixed at Los Altos High School. Overall, the district appeared to meet federal benchmarks, administrators say, but they too are still waiting for the AYP results.
"Mountain View High shows signs of improvement in most areas," said Brigitte Sarraf, associate superintendent of educational services. "Los Altos High was not as lucky."
As a district, "We have always been over the threshold," she added.
The state defines Los Altos High as a Title I school, meaning that more than 40 percent of the student body comes from low-income families. Mountain View High School is not a Title I school, and administrators say the different demographics and academic backgrounds is reflected in test scores.
This discrepancy has built up slowly over recent decades, administrators say. More than 25 years ago, attendance areas were drawn so that the high schools would have similar demographics. But the cities have changed since then, and over time the two schools developed different student populations. Today, more students from Mountain View Whisman go to Los Altos High, and more students from the Los Altos School District go to Mountain View High.
Sarraf said most students leave the Los Altos schools performing at grade level or above, while this is not the case for many of the students from the Mountain View elementary schools.
"One school [Los Altos High] has more students who require more intervention," Sarraf said.
For example, 79 percent of ninth graders at Mountain View High scored proficient or above in English language arts, compared to 66 percent of ninth graders at Los Altos High.
As in the elementary school district, Latino students at both high schools are performing far below whites. At Mountain View High, only 46 percent of Latino ninth graders scored proficient or above on the English language arts test.
In the hopes of improving scores at Los Altos High and among Latino students, teachers and administrators will continue to analyze data and encourage discussion and teacher observation, Sarraf said.
Are you receiving Express, our free daily e-mail edition? See a sample and sign-up for Express.