Tougher standardized testing in schools highlights poor results in district
on September 16, 2015
Student scores obtained in a new statewide test have drawn attention to the immense challenge West Contra Costa County schools face when trying to meet minimum standards.
The results, made public on Sept. 9, from California’s Common Core based standardized test show that only about a third of West Contra Costa Unified School District (WCCUSD) students were proficient for their grade level in English and language arts. Only about a quarter of the students met the new standard in mathematics.
District officials said they anticipated this kind of result, explaining that the new standards are more rigorous than those formerly used by state education officials with the intention of holding districts accountable. The new method also requires a different teaching method, local educators said, which will take a few years to put in place.
This was the first time students were tested under the tough Common Core standards. Almost all students in grades three to eight and grade 11 took the test.
Nia Rashidchi, assistant superintendent of the West Contra Costa Unified School District, said the new results mean that “the bar has been raised when it comes to defining student academic success.”
Across the state, numbers also show that fewer students meet the new standards of the computerized test. Common Core standards are more difficult because they focus on understanding the content, rather than memorization of facts. This requires more creativity than was needed when taking the older pencil-and-paper multiple-choice tests. However, local school officials say the new testing method is a better gauge of student progress.
Results also showed an achievement gap by race, language status and income level. African American and Latino students scored lower than their white and Asian American classmates. English learners and low-income students also did worse than their English-proficient and high-income peers.
In the English part of the testing, 57 percent of white students and 53 percent of Asian American students met or exceeded the state standards, compared with 24 percent of Latinos and 21 percent of African Americans. Scores were lower in math as well: 47 percent of white students and 42 percent of Asian American met or exceeded the standards, compared with 14 percent of Latino students and 11 percent of African American students.
Twenty-four percent of low-income students met or exceeded standards in English and 16 percent met or exceeded standards in math. Under the old test, both gaps were slightly narrower.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson issued a news release saying the divide is a concern across the state.
“Clearly, we must continue working to eliminate these gaps,” Torlakson said. “Much work needs to be done, but we are moving in the right direction.”
Torlakson said the state is providing “extra resources and services for students and schools with the greatest needs.”
Rashidchi, the assistant superintendent in the West Contra Costa district, explained that each local school has an instructional leadership team made up of teachers and administrators to analyze their specific data. The team will try to identify where students need help and what changes need to be made in the classroom.
“We’re digging into everything right now, beyond the big picture, grade level by grade level,” Rashidchi said.
Marcus Walton, communications director for the WCCUSD, said the new Common Core scores cannot be easily compared with scores from the old test, because the new standards are far more difficult.
“We’re going to have work to do,” Walton said, adding that school officials hope scores are released earlier next year so that “we can do more tailoring of instruction to the individual student.”
School Board President Todd Groves said the testing results need to be better understood before a specific plan can be made.
“We have to take a look at really deep analysis of what sort of mistakes kids are making on the tests, so we understand — are they conceptual? Are they human interface issues?” Groves said. “There are all kinds of complications that come with computer-adapted testing.”
Groves said the school board has already started this type of analysis and hopes to complete it within about a month.
Assistant Superintendent Rashidchi said the district will continue training teachers in how to incorporate the new standards into their classroom instruction. Adding that teachers will be given “the opportunity to learn everything that’s inside of those standards, unpack [them] and then really learn how to teach those standards in their classroom.”
For the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years, the state provided special funds for Common Core teacher training, Rashidchi said.
For 2015-16, the district expects state funds will help pay for continued training needed to implement a locally crafted plan to help put the new state standards in place.
“It doesn’t take just two years to implement new standards,” Rashidchi said. “It really takes five to seven years to make sure that everybody has it down and that daily practice around the standards is happening.”
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