Same old school-score alibis

Happy anniversary to the annual mid-August education-bureaucracy alibis about why half of California’s K-12 public school students are still not learning at grade level.

“This year’s gains are particularly encouraging,” said state Superintendent of Education Jack O’Connell about the newest Standard Testing and Reporting results. In other words, the STAR statewide English and mathematics scores inched up another two or three percent as usual.

But then O’Connell had to deliver the yearly unequivocal bad news again. Once more, “an achievement gap exists” and “too many of our students of color” are facing “a crisis in education.”

O’Connell lamented that test scores among California’s black and Hispanic students were more than 10 points lower than their white and Asian counterparts. He was particularly concerned that only 33 percent of black students scored “proficient” in English — virtually the same as the 32 percent score for Hispanic students, which includes many non-native English speakers.

“These results tell us we must redouble our efforts,” was O’Connell’s 2008 call to action. But almost exactly one year ago, he was quoted right here pledging “to focus on [the achievement gap] like a heat-seeking missile.” Apparently the missile fizzled out.

The STAR ranking spews out so many numbers that it is easy to spin some feel-good news each August. Statewide, 8 percent more students reached the “proficient” level in science, bringing the total to 46 percent. English was up to 46 percent, math climbed to 43 percent and — after a gain of three percentage points — over one-third of all California students now knew enough history to pass the test.

The San Francisco Unified School District can point to seven consecutive years of improved STAR scores that beat statewide averages. For 2008, SFUSD climbed above the half-passing mark in both English, with 50.5 percent, and math, with 50.6 percent. Most of the 24 school districts of San Mateo County also averaged better than the state scores — 55 percent passed in English and 50 percent in math.

All this is well and good, but despite an overall trend that has California education slowly improving each year since the federal No Child Left Behind law enacted nationwide testing standards, it is increasingly impossible to explain away the bad news.

At least half of the state’s public-school students are not learning what they are expected to know in order to be promoted or to graduate. And year after year, test scores for black and Hispanic students remain dramatically lower than for whites and Asians — stuck near a two-thirds no-pass rate.

Enough excuses from education officials. We could actually print our same STAR analysis every August, just by slightly revising some numbers. California students need new and dynamic action to fix the structural problems now exposed yearly by STAR.

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