The state Monday released the long-awaited results of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program, or the STAR exam, used to determine student progress in reading, language and math, along with science, spelling and the social sciences.
The STAR test is a combination of tests in different subjects given at different grade levels.
The results are used to determine schools' Academic Performance Index scores, which in turn are used to see if schools are meeting federal standards set by No Child Left Behind.
But the tests vary from district to district and from grade to grade.
Slightly more than 42 percent of students district-wide tested as "Proficient" or higher in English and Language Arts, but nearly 46 percent of students met state standards.
At Sonoma Valley High School, 87 percent of Algebra I students earned marks of "Basic" or lower, with 62 percent earning “Below Basic” or “Far Below Basic” ranking. Now that the district has , Algebra I is a required class for incoming freshman.
Ethnic achievement gaps show signs of shrinking
While it is possible to draw some broad conclusions from STAR test results such as these, data also reveal detailed information on testing trends between grade levels; comparisons between schools across the state; and comparisons between different groups of Sonoma students based on categories such as ethnicity, income level, disability, parent education level and English language learners.
To crunch the numbers yourself, take a look at the Department of Education’s STAR page.
Sonoma Patch will continue to delve into the 2011 results to look at relevant details, which can shed some light, for example, on the school district’s efforts at closing the achievement gaps between Hispanic students, and others.
As have districts nationally, Sonoma has launched a variety of measures in recent years to close ethnic achievement gaps, including curriculum changes, interventions and counseling.
A slice of 2011 STAR results indicate these steps may be helping.
English Language scores for White students have remained relativity steady over the last few years: In both 2010 and 2011, 46 percent of "Economically Disadvantaged" White students met or exceeded proficiency standards, while the percentage of privileged students meeting standards dropped slightly, from 70 to 71 percent in 2011.
However, Hispanic and Latino students have shown steady gains over the last eight years. In 2011, 27 percent of "Economically Disadvantaged" Hispanic and Latino students met proficiency in Language Arts, up from 11 percent in 2003. Among 'advantaged' cohorts, Hispanic and Latino students tested on par with district scores: 47 percent met or exceeded proficiency in Language Arts, up from 26 percent in 2003.
Testing only one piece of the picture
Opponents of rigid standardized testing, however, argue federal mandates set forth by No Child Left Behind don't show students' full potential, because people learn differently.
"If the federal and state government wants to have an accountability system, and they want to use standardized testing to evaluate schools and districts, what we really should be doing is evaluating how much students are actually learning over the course of a year," said Eric Larsen, a research fellow with the Public Policy Institute of California, in May when district Academic Progress Index scores were released.
The Sonoma Valley Unified School District could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Angela Hart contributed reporting.