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Santa Monica and Malibu Students Exceeding New State Standards

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By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

September 14, 2015 -- More than 70 percent of Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District students are meeting California's tougher academic standards in math and English language arts and literacy, according to new state Department of Education data.

Results from the new Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments -- commonly known as Common Core -- show 57 percent of SMMUSD students met or exceeded the more rigorous state standards in math, based on results of tests they took for the first time at the end of last school year.

By comparison, 33 percent of students statewide met or exceeded the new Common Core standards in math. In the Los Angeles Unified School District, the state's largest public school system, only 29 percent of students met the new math standards, state numbers show.

However, when the new category of “standard nearly met” is factored in, 81 percent of SMMUSD students met the new math standards. Students in the “nearly met” assessment category generally grasped the material but “may need further development” of their math skills, according to the state education department.

Thirty-one percent of the beach city's public school students exceeded the state's new harder math assessments, the results showed.

In English language arts and literacy, 68 percent of SMMUSD students met or surpassed the new standards, but 87 percent met the standard when those in the “nearly met” category are added in. Thirty-five percent of students in the district exceeded the English standards, the data show.

There were disparities between the district's high schools. While 59 percent of students at Malibu High met or exceeded the math standard, 47 percent of Samohi students met or exceeded the standard.

In English, 74 percent of Malibu High students met or passed the standard, while 61 percent of Santa Monica High students did.

Students at Lincoln Middle excelled in math, with 41 percent of 1,009 students texted exceeding the new standards. But only 41 percent of 1,015 students tested at John Adams Middle School met or exceeded the standard 

Overall, the SMMUSD's result are significant because nearly all SMMUSD students eligible to take the tests participated, said district spokesperson Gail Pinsker.

Some parents have protested the more rigid standards, refusing to allow their children to take the computerized Common Core assessment tests. In New York, 20 percent of parents statewide opted out of the Common Core testing, the New York Post reported.

Although only preliminary figures were available, they showed less than 1 percent of California students opted out of the tests based on a parental exemption, state education officials said.

That shows “a high level of commitment to the new standards among parents, teachers, students, and business and community leaders,” said state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in announcing the CAASPP results last Wednesday.

In the Santa Monica-Malibu district, a total of 6,756 of 6,892 students eligible, or nearly 98 percent, participated in the new tests. As of last week officials were awaiting test results on individual students from the state to mail out to parents, said Pinsker.

“We are carefully reviewing the results for SMMUSD students and appreciate the efforts of our teachers, staff and PTA groups for helping our parents understand the purpose of this testing and providing support to their students in preparation for these rigorous exams,” Superintendent Sandra Lyon said.

Common Core is among a number of changes the state implemented when it replaced the 12-year-old Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program last year. California's new academic standards are more rigorous and emphasize critical thinking, problem-solving and analytical writing-- skills needed to succeed in college and careers, said Torlakson.

Because 2015 is the first year of the new tests and because they are more rigorous than the predecessors, Torlakson said the results should be considered “our starting point as a state, a window into where California students are in meeting tougher academic standards” and a baseline from which to measure future progress.

One area where the state must improve, he said, is in bridging an “achievement gap” between low-income students and their peers.

Overall, 31 percent of students in all grades from low-income families met or exceeded the English standard and 21 percent met or exceeded the standard in math. But that compares to 64 percent in English and 53 percent in math for other students, the data showed.

California's new standards and tests are challenging for schools to teach and for students to learn, so I am encouraged that many students are at or near achievement standards,” said Torlakson.

“However, just as we expected, many students need to make more progress,” he added. “Our job is to support students, teachers, and schools” as they strive to improve.

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