District Shows Increase in English, Slight Fall in Math for 2009 STAR Tests

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Tuesday August 18, 2009 - 04:57:00 PM

The 2009 Standardized Testing and Reporting Program results brought good news for Berkeley public schools Tuesday, with more students performing above the state average in reading and writing and math. 

Fifty-six percent of students in the Berkeley Unified School District were proficient or advanced in English-language arts compared with 50 percent statewide and 54 percent in Alameda County. 

Forty-seven percent were proficient or advanced in math compared with 46 percent statewide and 49 percent in Alameda County. 

The STAR tests judge students’ performances in the California Standardized Tests by labeling them as advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic, with proficient being the target the California Department of Education wants all students to achieve. 

This goal is consistent with growth targets for state accountability and the federal No Child Left Behind requirements. 

The English-language arts performance for Berkeley showed a 4 percent jump from 2008, when 52 percent scored proficient or above, but a slightly small decline in math, where 46.9 percent students scored proficient or above in math in 2008 compared with this year’s 46.8 percent. 

At Berkeley High, 56 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in English-language arts, but only 25 percent demonstrated proficiency or advancement in math. 

Berkeley Technology Academy’s STAR results were not available on the state Department of Education’s website, which showed 51 B-Tech students taking the tests. 

Almost every elementary and middle school in Berkeley Unified scored near or above the state average in reading, writing and math. 

District Superintendent Bill Huyett said that the district saw a lot of progress in math in the lower grades due to the adoption of new programs, but that the upper grades were still struggling in algebra and geometry. 

The district introduced the Everyday Math program in second, third, fourth and fifth grade and a number of other programs to boost learning of algebra and geometry in the middle and high schools last year.  

Huyett said Everyday Math had showed positive results in every grade except third, for which district officials were still trying to figure out an explanation  

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell Tuesday released the results of the 2009 STAR Program which showed that California students had overall continued to make uniform progress in English-language arts, math, science and history. 

Noting that half of the state’s public school students were now proficient in English-language arts, O’Connell called the improvement particularly impressive given that only 35 percent of students met the bar seven years ago. 

“California is known nationally for the rigor of our academic standards, and this level of student achievement on our California Standards Tests should be celebrated,” O’Connell said. “It is the result of hard work by teachers, administrators, school support staff, students, and parents.” 

However, O’Connell cautioned that despite the progress, there was a considerable amount of work to be done in closing the achievement gap.  

According to the state Department of Education, while all student subgroups continue to reach proficiency, the achievement gap between African-American and white students and Latinos and their white peers changed little from 2008 to 2009 in both English-language arts and math. 

“We must continue to focus on students who struggle in the classroom and help them become skillful readers, able mathematicians, and self-confident, well-prepared leaders of tomorrow,” O’Connell said. “We must also pay particular attention to the fact that a disproportionate share of students who fall below the proficient level are African-American or Latino. This achievement gap represents a loss of opportunity for students of color and remains a real threat to their and California’s future success.” 

Another revealing point in the 2009 STAR test data was that African-American and Hispanic students continued to perform way behind their white, Asian, and Filipino counterparts regardless of economic status in most cases. 

For example, 35 percent of African-American students who were not economically disadvantaged turned out to be proficient in math compared with 43 percent economically disadvantaged white students. 

Huyett said that Berkeley Unified had showed some improvement in closing the achievement gap, with a larger number of African-American students reporting an increase in English-language arts. 

O’Connell blamed the state budget cuts to education—which has led to fewer text books, less professional development days for teachers and in some cases, no more summer programs—for exacerbating the achievement gap. 

“It’s the biggest civil rights issue of our generation,” O’Connell told reporters during a teleconference Tuesday. “It’s not just a moral imperative to close the achievement gap but also an economic imperative. It is my greatest priority.” 

O’Connell said that the achievement gap often widens during summer because low income students don’t always get access to the kind of programs and travel their more privileged classmates can afford. 

He said state educators were studying cultural climate to address the problem. When a reporter pointed out that the 2009 report showed that minority students who were not from low income backgrounds still had lower proficiency than poor white students, O’Connell admitted that economic reasons alone might not be the source of the problem. 

“We are using data to be more analytical—beginning with preschool,” he said. “We are being expected to do more with less because of the budget cuts. We have world class content standards yet we are funding education like a third world country.” 

The 2009 STAR results can be found at: star.cde.ca.gov.