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Berkeley schools do well on math, English tests

By Ben Lumpkin Daily Planet staff
Friday June 15, 2001

School districts throughout the state are getting their clearest picture yet of how well they’re meeting California’s academic standards this spring. 

And, so far at least, Berkeley school administrators like what they see. 

Beginning in 1997, the state board of education adopted standards that dictate in minute detail which skills students should master in reading, writing, math, history-social science and science at each grade level. To see the standards, visit 

It wasn’t until 1999, however, that the state first administered standardized tests carefully aligned to the standards in reading, writing and math. And the history-social science and science segments of these so-called “California Standards Tests” were administered for the first time just this year. 

(The California Standards Tests are in addition to the Stanford 9 tests in reading and math. While the SAT9 tests are norm referenced to tell school administrators how their students are doing compared to students in the same grades across the country, the standards tests simply rank students in different “performance levels” based on their number of correct answers.) 

Furthermore, although districts have seen their raw scores on California Standards Tests for the last few years, this is the first year they’ve begun to see what those scores mean. In February, the state board of education designated five different performance levels for the English Language tests based on raw scores: Far Below Basic, Below Basic, Basic, Proficient and Advanced. The board is expected to designate similar performance levels in other subject areas by the end of the year. 

The goal, the board said, is to have 100 percent of California students meeting either the proficient or advanced designations. 

In the area of English Language Arts, the results are in. Only 30 percent of  

California students tested in 2000 scored proficient or advanced on the English test. 

The good news locally, however, is that Berkeley scored above the state average at every single grade level, and by progressively larger margins in the higher grades. Thirty-six percent of Berkeley third graders scored at proficient or advanced levels, compared to 30 percent of third graders statewide. Fifty-four percent of Berkeley 11th graders scored proficient or advanced, compared again to just 30 percent of 11th graders statewide who tested at these levels. 

(Students should learn their individual performance levels on the 2000 English Language Arts standards test by mail around the start of the next school year. The results of the 2000 math test may not be computed and mailed until early next year.) 

For Diane Pico, program manager of Curriculum & Assessment for the Berkeley school district, the results are meaningful. 

“That’s what you want to see,” Pico said. 

“This is the most representative test we have (to tell) how our students are doing...and make sure our teachers are teaching what they’re supposed to teach,” she added. “The results really seem to reflect what our students know.”  

Test results linked directly to the standards put Berkeley school administrators in a better position than ever before to identify exactly where students are struggling and to devise new curriculum and teaching strategies to help them master the difficult material, said Christine Lim, associate superintendent of instruction for the district. 

By breaking down the results by student ethnicity, Lim added, teachers can devise new ways of overcoming one of the most intractable problems in education today: the academic achievement gap. 

“It’s a great opportunity now that we have all the pieces in place,” Lim said. 

There is still one critical piece missing, however. There are standards in each subject and tests that match the standards, but not until next year will California classrooms receive the first shipments of textbooks based precisely on California’s academic content standards. Until now, schools have used texts designed for use by schools all over the country, Pico said. 

And before school districts can use the test results to change how teachers operate at the classroom level, they will have to overcome widespread skepticism among teachers who feel that California’s standardized tests provide a poor measure of student achievement.  

In response to teachers who say “high stakes” tests are damaging Berkeley schools in a number of ways, the Berkeley Federation of Teachers is considering ways to protest the test next year, including possibly enlisting parents to sign waivers to keep their children from being tested.