Thursday, October 06, 2005

STAR Scores Show Improvement Both Locally, Statewide

Article Last Updated: Monday, Aug 15, 2005 - 11:41:59 pm PDT

STAR Scores Show Improvement Both Locally, Statewide
By Brad Stanhope

FAIRFIELD - Scores for state-mandated English and math tests are improved in nearly every grade for Fairfield-Suisun students and a "grand majority" of the class of 2006 has already passed the state exit exam, according to results released Monday.

"We've had some success and we've still got some challenges," said Dr. Brian Centeno, the Fairfield-Suisun district's director of assessment and accountability.

He echoed the words of Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction.

"Our school system is clearly moving in the right direction," O'Connell said during a Los Angeles news conference. "I'm very, very appreciative of the hard work of all of our education professionals, our students and our parents."

The Standardized Testing And Reporting program - known as STAR - showed improvements on nearly every level, both locally and statewide. Meanwhile, nearly 90 percent of high school students across the state passed the English language arts portion and the math portion of the state exit exam.

State law requires all public school students, starting with the class of 2006, pass an exit exam along with other requirements.

Centeno didn't have a percentage of Fairfield-Suisun seniors who have passed the exit exam - numbers released Monday were for people taking the test for the first time - but estimated that "the grand majority" of seniors who haven't passed yet are special education students.

Among this year's first-time test takers in Fairfield-Suisun's district, 71 percent passed the English language arts portion and 65 percent passed the math portion. Students take the test for the first time as sophomores and are given up to five additional opportunities to pass - including three during their senior year.

Local school districts can decide whether to allow students who haven't passed the test to participate in graduation ceremonies, said Hilary McLean, California Department of Education spokeswoman. But they won't be considered graduates by the state, she said. Centeno said Fairfield-Suisun doesn't have a policy yet on whether students who don't pass the exit exams can participate in graduation ceremonies.

Most of Fairfield-Suisun's STAR news was upbeat.

Students score one of five levels of performance on the STAR tests - advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic. The state established the proficient level as the goal for all students and for most grades in the Fairfield-Suisun district, 30 percent to 55 percent of students reached that level or above for math and English language arts.

With one exception (English scores for third-graders), there was improvement for Fairfield-Suisun students over the 2004 tests in both English and math at all grades tested. Centeno said the trend applies to test scores over five years, as well.

Amid the good news, there is a continuing gap between socio-economically disadvantaged students and those who are more affluent. There remains a similar gap between white students, blacks and Hispanics.

"Our gap isn't quite as large as the statewide gap, but it's still a gap," Centeno said. "We're very serious about taking steps to reduce it."

Statewide, a 31-point difference remained between the percentage of white and black students scoring proficient or above on the English exam; the difference is 28 points on the math exam. A similar gap persists between white and Hispanic students.

O'Connell said the disparity in academic achievement "remains unacceptably wide."

Across Solano County, students posted scores close to the state level in most areas. The Travis district had most of the top STAR and exit exam scores, while Rio Vista brought up the rear.

Vallejo, which was taken over by a state administrator, came in for special praise from O'Connell.

"I'm pleased to see remarkable gains in mathematics in nearly every grade and solid improvement in English language arts," O'Connell said. "The district has gone through a lot over the last year . . . clearly (state administrator Richard) Damelio and Vallejo's teachers, administrators, school staff and students are working hard and focusing."

The STAR results also are used to calculate how well the state is meeting the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. Under the federal law, states must ensure all students are proficient in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year.

Schools must show yearly progress and include English-language learners and special education students. That measurement, called Adequate Yearly Progress, is scheduled to be released at the end of August.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6925 or

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