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UPDATE: Santa Clarita Valley elementary schools shine in STAR testing

Posted: August 8, 2013 1:19 p.m.
Updated: August 8, 2013 7:04 p.m.

Students in a fourth- and fifth-grade combination class at Cedarcreek Elementary School in Canyon Country in 2012. Test scores released Thursday show a majority of students throughout Santa Clarita Valley elementary schools scored above proficient on standardized tests. Signal file photo


Most of the students at Santa Clarita Valley’s four elementary school districts scored proficient in state-mandated subjects on standardized tests given late last school year, according to numbers released Thursday from the state Department of Education.

The exam, called Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, is given yearly near the end of the school year.

Results are released at the start of the following year.

The test scores are used to determine a school’s Academic Performance Index, a figure that is used to measure academic performance in K-12 schools and identify schools that need improvement in certain areas

Areas tested in grades K-6 are English-language arts, mathematics and science.

STAR scores are divided into five levels — far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. The goal is to increase the proportion of students who rate as “proficient” or “advanced” in subject areas, as determined by the California Department of Education.

A “proficient” designation means a student demonstrates a firm grasp of a particular subject at his or her grade level, according to the Department of Education.

Of the school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Newhall School District received the highest average proportion of its students scoring proficient or above on the tests.

According to state figures, 78 percent of Newhall district students tested proficient in English-language arts, 77 percent did so in science and 83 percent did in math.

Around 5,000 students were tested in the district this year, according to state documents.

“When you’re talking about 80 percent proficiency for our student population, which has high numbers of English-language learners and students below the poverty line, holding the high level is as impressive as moving it forward,” said district Superintendent Marc Winger.

Saugus Union
The Saugus Union School District saw at least 73 percent of its tested students score as proficient or above in English-language arts, mathematics and science, according to state figures.

About 75 percent of the more than 7,100 students who were tested scored as proficient or higher in math and science.

“We are proud of our students’ hard work and their achievement and proud of our teachers’ skillful instruction, dedication and hard work,” said Christine Hamlin, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, in a news release.

Sulphur Springs
The Sulphur Springs School District also saw the majority of its almost 4,000 tested students rated as “advanced” or “proficient” in the three major subject areas, including almost 69 percent in mathematics.

About 66 percent of students were rated as proficient or above in English-language arts and science.

Castaic Union
Close to 60 percent of Castaic Union School District students achieved those top designations in all areas tested this year.

Two-thirds of the 2,200 students tested scored as proficient or better in English-language arts, and almost 80 percent did so in science.

More than 70 percent of Castaic students received “proficient” or “advanced” scores in history, as well.

Lisa Bloom, director of instruction and special projects at the Castaic district, particularly praised last year’s fifth-grade class for its scores.

“Fifth grade was really our shining star,” she said. “The students did very well district wide.”

Bloom also said she was pleased to see the scores of English-language-learning students and students under the poverty line in the Castaic district.

“Even those groups, which sometimes struggle, did well in all areas,” she said.

School districts in the Santa Clarita Valley on average far exceeded the state average test scores.

Statewide, 51.2 percent of students posted a score of proficient and above in mathematics, 56.4 percent did so in English-language arts, 59.1 percent were deemed proficient in science and 49.4 percent scored at least proficient in history and social studies.

All of those areas, except for history and social studies, fell slightly statewide from last year’s test scores, according to state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson.

But he said those changes were minor, less than 1 percent for each subject area.

Teaching to the test
One of the larger criticisms of standardized testing is that it encourages teachers to instruct students on how to score highly on the test, not necessarily how to comprehend the material.

But officials in Santa Clarita Valley schools said that criticism is invalid.

“We teach to the standards,” Winger said. “And we get great results because the test is aligned to the standards.”

Bloom agreed with that sentiment.

“Our teachers pull from the state standards, and then in the classrooms those are the standards that are taught,” she said. “So as long as the tests are aligned to the standards our students should perform well.”

Test changes
Torlakson also said this year may very well be the last for statewide STAR tests, as the traditional multiple-choice assessments will be replaced with computer-based ones to align the state with federal common core standards.

Common core, a set of nationwide standards that emphasize critical thinking and career and college readiness as components of public education, are expected to be implemented in the near future.

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

“This coming year, many students will have their first chance to try tests that measure their preparation for college and the world of work.”
On Twitter @LukeMMoney


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