Test scores climb again, even as San Francisco schools prepare to move on

The number of San Francisco public schools meeting state proficiency standards increased slightly this year, in contrast to the majority of California schools, according to data released Thursday.

But as the San Francisco Unified School District and other California school districts prepare to adopt new measurement standards in the coming years, this year's improvement is a minor development in the grand scheme of student assessment.

About 54 percent of San Francisco's schools were deemed “proficient” in English and math on the Academic Performance Index this year, up from 52 percent a year ago. Only 50 percent of California schools were judged proficient, a 2-point decline from the previous school year, according to test scores released by the state Thursday.

The state currently uses the Academic Performance Index to measure student and school performance. The scores count toward the national accountability assessment known as the Adequate Yearly Progress benchmark under the No Child Left Behind law. Based on results from numerous tests, schools in California are given a rating between 200 and 1,000 points, with a target of 800 points considered proficient.

Districts have made significant gains since the tests were first administered in 2003, moving toward the goal of ensuring that all students are proficient by the 2013-14 school year. However, dozens of school districts are not set to attain that goal. As a result, the U.S. Department of Education has been approving waivers to states and school districts allowing them to stray from the standards while shifting to the new Common Core Standards initiative.

San Francisco is one of eight California school districts to be approved for the waiver. Over the next year, districts will work to create a model that is not based solely on test scores. California as a whole is also attempting to devise such a solution

“We are shifting from old standards to new ones,” State Superintendent Tom Torlakson said.

This year, though, schools still need to administer the existing tests and work to make students proficient. In San Francisco, test scores overall dipped slightly, going from 807 in 2012 to 805 in 2013. But though the average score dipped slightly, performance leveled out a bit among the district's schools.

For instance, one historically low-performing middle school, Everett, made double-digit gains in its score for the second year in a row, bringing it within reach of the mandated 800 point score. Last year, Everett's score rose from 639 to 692, and this year the school scored 728.

Everett Principal Lena Van Haren credits these steady increases to strategic hiring, collaboration with staff and the use of data. Van Haren said she thinks her school and others will be ready once the nature of such assessments changes.

“We've been able to articulate our vision that all kids can be successful, regardless of where they come from,” Van Haren said. “Regardless of their neighborhood or the language they speak, we as adults have a responsibility for help them learn.”

High School Exit Exam performance flat in San Francisco and across California

As school districts keep pushing more students to graduate on time, the number of high school sophomores passing the California High School Exit Exam stayed roughly the same across the state in the past school year.

Out of the roughly 460,000 California students who took the test, 84 percent passed the math portion of the exam and 83 percent passed the English portion. The exit exams are required before students can receive their diplomas.

Students can start taking the exam as early as their sophomore year to ensure they graduate on time. Once they pass the test, they do not need to take it again.

In San Francisco, slightly more than 4,000 sophomores took both exams earlier this year. Some 84 percent of those students passed the math portion and 78 percent passed the English portion. One year ago, 84 percent of students passed the math exam while 80 percent passed the English test.

The number of English-language learners passing the test in the 10th grade dropped slightly when compared to previous years. This year, 64 percent of English learners passed the math portion of the test, which was down from 67 percent last year. For the same group in English, 32 percent of students passed the test, compared to 40 percent last year.

However, the number of minority students passing the test as sophomores increased slightly. For instance, black students who passed the math portion increased from 50 percent in 2012 to 52 percent this year. In English, 56 percent of black students passed the test, up from 55 percent in 2012.

Among Latinos, 67 percent of students passed the test's math portion, up from 66 percent in 2012. Yet only 66 percent passed the English portion, down from 70 percent in 2012.

“All of this occurred in spite of real budget cuts in the past five years that disrupted the normal education system,” said State Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

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