Pass / Fail | So Cal education, LAUSD, the Cal States and the UCs

As STAR test phases out, LA Unified students trail state average in proficiency in Math, English

LA Unified's Ivanhoe Elementary School
LA Unified's Ivanhoe Elementary School
Adolfo Guzman-Lopez/KPCC

In what is likely to be the final year for the California Standardized Test, not much changed from 2012 scores. Slightly more than half of the state's students tested proficient in English and Math - and the Los Angeles Unified School District still trails the state in both, a KPCC analysis of scores released Thursday shows.

L.A. Unified was nearly nine percentage points below the state average in English and six percentage points below the state average in Math - with 48 and 45 percent of students scoring proficient or better, respectively.

But that's better than it did last year. The district showed a nearly 2 percent improvement in Math in 2013 over the prior year. The district blamed the low scores on years of budget cuts.

"This round of tests was administered at the low point of the District’s unprecedented budget crisis," John Deasy, superintendent for L.A. Unified, said in a written statement."I'm proud overall of how our students and teachers performed under such extraordinarily difficult circumstances."

Certainly other districts fared worse. Coachella Valley Unified, Compton Unified, San Bernardino Unified and Colton Joint Unified, all scored more than 10 percentage points lower than the state average.

Statewide, 56.4 percent of the 4.7 million students who took the test scored proficient or better in English - about 1 percent lower than the percentage of students who scored proficient in 2012. And 51.2 percent of the state's students scored proficient or better in math - a dip of less than half a percent from 2012. It's the first time in 10 years that the percentage of students reaching proficiency dropped from the prior year.

Still, state officials also said they were happy with the results, given lower budgets.

"While we all want to see California’s progress continue, these result show that in the midst of change and uncertainty teachers and schools kept their focus on students and learning,” state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson said in a statement. "The big picture is one of remarkable resilience despite the challenges."

But there were bright spots in Southern California, including little Conejo Unified, which scored 21.4 percentage points above the state average in English and 14.8 percentage points above the state average in math proficiency.

Santa Ana Unified reported an overall drop in scores, but four out of six of the "Consistently Low Achieving Schools" in the district reported gains this past year, according to Chief Academic Officer Michelle Rodriguez.

"Our goals is to continue to push forward and to continue providing world-class education so our students can be college and career ready," she said.

Overall, some districts did post gains, though they were mostly small. Long Beach Unified showed a nearly 2 percent jump in students proficient in English over 2012 by nearly two percent, while Compton Unified and L.A. Unified, Riverside Unified, Chino Valley Unified and Redlands Unified all showed year over year improvements in Math.

L.A. Unified's 6th and 9th graders showed gains after Common Core standards were implemented this past year. Sixth graders had two point increases in both math and English, with 49 percent and 46 percent proficiency respectively. Ninth graders jumped 5 percent in math to 45 percent and 31 percent of 9th graders were proficient in English a 4 percent increase from last year. Deasy said that's a hopeful sign.

This was likely the last year for the Standardized Testing and Reporting assessments, known as STAR tests, which has tested 2nd through 11th graders by multiple choice exams since the 1990s. The state will be revamping its tests with an eye toward assessing critical thinking and writing skills. The new tests will start Spring 2015 - which means fewer tests for students and teachers this year. Torklakson has asked the legislature to suspend state testing next year while they get ready.

"As valuable as STAR has been," Torlakson said in a prepared statement, "we’re getting ready to raise the bar in California’s schools.”