San Mateo County kids learning, but gap persists

Overall, students in San Mateo County inched up the test-score ladder in 2008, but white and Asian students seemed to be climbing faster on state standardized tests than their black and Hispanic peers.

Nearly 55 percent of public-school students in the county were at or above grade-level proficiency in English, and 50 percent passed the mark in math, according to newly released results on state standardized tests.

Between the county’s 24 districts, however, the percentages of students passing had a wide range. Some districts saw 90 percent or more pass in math and English, while others had less than 40 percent meet state goals.

The county, like the state, struggles with what’s known as an “achievement gap” between the higher test scores of white and Asian students and the lower averages of their black and Hispanic peers.

The gap has persisted despite concerted efforts by the county to close it, San Mateo County Office of Education Associate Superintendent Cheryl Hightower said. She said several county programs — including a free preschool program and a variety of teacher-training initiatives — have been funded by the county in recent years to help low-achieving children score better.

Hightower said finding financial support for programs that could help has been difficult. She pointed to the county’s Networks for Success program, which focuses on individual schools and helps them strategize about how to better educate students. The $1 million program was able to work with just 10 of the county’s 173 schools this year.

“We need to double that, at least,” she said, adding that while it’s possible to make gains without enough money, “it’s difficult.”
Redwood City Elementary School District Superintendent Jan Christensen said her district has enjoyed some success despite budget constraints.

The district as a whole crept up several percentage points for students passing the proficiency mark in both English-language arts and mathematics.

Christensen highlighted the Adelante Spanish Immersion program. The percentage of fourth-graders in that school who scored “proficient” or “advanced” on the English test went from just 32 percent last year to 66 percent this year.

The success had to do with repeatedly testing the students and catering to each student’s specific needs — a program that’s being expanded to the entire district this coming year, she said.

Hillsborough City Elementary School District, which has traditionally sat atop of the list of high-scoring districts, performed well this year again, Superintendent Marilyn Loushin-Miller said. The vast majority of the district’s students — 92.8 percent — scored “proficient” or better in English, and 90 percent of all students passed the bar in math.

The district’s students are almost entirely white and Asian, she said.

While she credited students’ success to the community and parental support the district receives, Loushin-Miller didn’t deny that having one of the highest-funded schools in the county helped.

County data reveals that per-pupil spending varies from district to district, ranging from $6,736 to $15,959 per student.

“I have no doubt that money helps to purchase the instruction for teachers and the materials for children helps,” she said.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

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