DOWNEY - Ever since the state-mandated STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting) program was initiated in 1997 to gauge the proficiency of all students in the state in grades 2 through 11 in English/language arts, math, science, and history/social science, it has been the practice to look more closely only on the scores for English/language arts and math; to include the analyses of the scores, per district and per school and per subject, of the other two main subjects-science and history/social science-- would be too unwieldy.Besides, they figure that analysis of English/language arts and math scores should provide a reasonably good picture of how the students are progressing over time and from year to year. (All these figures are available at http://star.cde.ca.gov). Furthermore, the main component of the STAR tests is the California Standards Tests (CSTs), which are administered in May and the results released in mid-August. In any case, the whole point of the exercise is for every student (in the selected grades above) in the state to attain at least minimum proficiency (advanced being the ideal way to go) in the above subjects. The results go into the computation of the all-important year-end API (the state-administered Academic Performance Index) and AYP (the federal Annual Yearly Progress report) which weigh heavily in education budget allocations, assuming of course that the federal government and the state have money left in their coffers. AYP is subsumed in the federal No Child Left Behind Act which stipulates that all students in the country attain the proficiency level by the year 2014. This has of course everybody howling "This is utterly 'pie-in-the-sky'", "This is unrealistic!", "This is foul'!" The other sub-minimum competency levels are basic, below basic, and far below basic. Other indicators of student progress/success include: the Academic Performance Index (API), the CELDT (for English learners), CAHSEE (the California High School Exit Exam for grades 10, 11, and 12 as well as the Adult School, and required for graduation), and graduation rates. DUSD scored very well with its 2010 graduation rate, registering an estimated area-leading 91.0 percent, easily beating L.A. County's 71.2 percent rate and the state average of 74.4 percent. Extensive press coverage of this was acknowledged by the district's board in Tuesday's meeting, with both boardmembers Don LaPlante and D. Mark Morris pressing for just one single uniform graduation rate figure instead of a range of from 89.0 to 91.0 percent, as was the case recently. When asked about the unsettled figure, asst. superintendent/educational services Jerilyn King-Brown, tongue-in-cheek and exhibiting a bit of promotional flair, said, "[For now], print the highest figure." The accompanying 2011 chart shows that proficient or advanced scores of DUSD students in English/language arts improved by almost 14 percent over a 5-year period (2007-11) as compared to a percentage state growth rate of only 11 percent. At the same time, district 5-year average math scores also exceeded the state's, 11 percent to almost 10 percent. "This is due to the hard work by all whose common goal is student achievement," said curriculum, instruction, and assessment director Denise Takano in her report. She was referring of course to the contribution of teachers, administrators, school staff, and parents to the whole, absolutely vital educational enterprise. "Teachers have been working collaboratively to analyze the ELA standards, assessments, data, instructional practices, and determining appropriate student interventions to meet the needs of students," she added. The schools exhibiting the greatest percentage progress over the same five-year period in English/language arts are: Unsworth (27.2). Ward (26.4), Alameda (26.0), Carpenter (18.9), and West Middle (18.7). In addition to these schools, those that have improved at least 10 percentage points in the same time span are Gallatin, Gauldin, Old River, Price, Rio Hondo, East Middle, Griffiths Middle, Downey High, and Warren High. In math, it's Unsworth again (30.2), West (26.0), Griffiths Middle (21.1), Ward (18.5), and Alameda (17.6), and showing at least 10 percent growth over the five years are Carpenter, Old River, Rio Hondo, Sussman Middle, and Downey High. "The overall improvement in math," explained Takano, "could be attributed to a district-wide focus on math instruction throughout all of the grades. The elementary and middle schools adopted and implemented new math materials two years ago." This all-out effort includes the hiring of consultants to assist with professional (teacher/specialized staff) development, especially at the high school level, math pacing guides and benchmark assessments, to improve instruction "to meet student needs." She went on: "The district has also completed a full year of the California Math and Science Partnership (CaMSP) grant in collaboration with UCLA, with fifty-two (52) teachers in grades 3 through high school Algebra I taking part in the three-year math training program. The emphasis on building conceptual understanding and providing for student engagement and interaction is showing promising results. The goal, of course, is to have all students be successful in math." She also emphasized that the district and school staffs will "continue to focus on professional development in math, reading, instructional delivery, student intervention, and data analysis, to inform instruction and increase student achievement." She pointed out that Columbus continuation high school is not listed in the table because it is an alternative school accountability model (ASAM) serving high-risk student populations. There is no shortage of ideas on how to improve education on the national, state, and local levels. The more interesting suggestions address better teacher preparation ("If you're going to teach a subject, learn it well") and "reinventing teaching, learning and assessment in the 21st century" by recognizing that better teachers result from better parenting (parents who turn off the TV and video games, make sure homework is completed, encourage reading and elevate learning as the most important life skill"-as suggested by the New York Times' Thomas Friedman. Along this line, in talking about what makes a good great teacher, someone offered this sharp insight: "The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires."
********** Published: August 25, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 19