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SCHOOL MATTERS: California STAR Results Show Achievement Gap Persists

New America Media, New Report, Rupa Dev Posted: Aug 31, 2009

Editor's Note: While California's standardized testing indicates there has been some improvement in student achievement this year, it still hasn't closed the performance gap between low- income students and their more economically advantaged counterparts.

Student achievement in California public schools improved this year, according to the results of this years Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program, and high-level educators are applauding the good news.

"California is known nationally for the rigor of our academic standards, and this level of student achievement on our California Standards Tests should be celebrated," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell.

The Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program is designed to help measure student achievement and school performance. In 2009, half of California students scored at least at the proficient level in English language arts, and forty-six percent of students scored at this level or above in math. Over the years, California students have slowly but steadily improved performance on California Standardized Tests.

There has been some improvement in student achievement, said John Rogers, a professor of education at UCLA. However, it was fairy marginal and spoke to the fact that more effort has been put into preparing students for standardized assessments.

What about the other half of California students who scored below proficient?

Only 37 percent of African American and Latino students scored at the proficient or advanced level in English-language arts, in comparison to 73 percent of Asian students and 68 percent of white students. In math, scores were even lower. Only 30 percent of African American students scored at the proficient level or higher. On both English-arts and math, across all racial and ethnic groups, there was at least a 10 percentage point difference or higher between the scores of low-income students and those of students who arent economically disadvantaged.

What is clear is the racial and socioeconomic achievement gap hasnt shrunk substantially.

"The gap is getting bigger and bigger," said Linda Murray, acting executive director of Ed Trust West and former superintendent of San Jose Unified School District from 1993-2004. "Poor students and students of color attend schools where teachers are less experienced, classrooms are under-resourced, and academic expectations are lower. These students are taught less, so they under-perform."

The proportion of white 8th graders who achieved proficiency was 32 percentage points higher than Latino and African American 8th graders, according to a 2009 STAR program report released by Education-Trust West.

With some 1.6 billion proposed budget cuts to California education, high-level academic achievement is only going to become more of a challenge for low-income and minority students who attend under-funded schools.

"The devastation of funding cuts is very real," said Murray. "Class sizes are going up, resources are dwindling, teacher quality will suffer; there are kinds of ramifications of the cuts which will hurt kids attending under-resourced schools the most."

Both Murray and Rogers believe Californias current initiatives for education reform fall short of effectively addressing the achievement gap.

Weve seen growth in Californias investment in the prison system, but we're not seeing that kind of investment in our public education system," said Rogers.

Murray said that if California was serious about closing the achievement gap, it should make sure that the best teachers are fairly distributed, and all students would get access to the high-level curriculum which develops critical thinking and reading skills.

And, she added: We need money for education, but things can be done to close the achievement gap that dont require a price tag. Its more a matter of will on the part of school leaders and district leaders to not allow their students to get shortchanged."

Related Articles:

School Matters: Pre-School Helps Close the Learning Gap

New UC Admission Policy Will Diminish Asian Student Population

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