Valley's STAR results improve despite cutbacks

Despite tightening finances, standardized test scores for Valley schools have continued to improve and mirrored statewide trends, education officials said Monday.

In nearly all subject areas of the state Standardized Testing and Reporting program, Valley schools showed higher test scores. The STAR results were made public Monday.

State schools Superintendent Jack O'Connell said he was encouraged by the improvement in test scores even as schools contended with drastic budget cuts. He noted that California students have made overall gains in reading and math for eight consecutive years.

The percentage of California students scoring at the proficient level or above on English tests rose to 52%, two points higher than last year. In math, 48% of students scored at proficient or higher, two points higher than 2009. The STAR program also tests students in history and science.

The Fresno, Clovis, Central, Sanger, Madera and Visalia unified districts continued to show improvements as well. Among those districts, Clovis Unified's scores remained the highest.

Earlier this month, Fresno Unified officials touted their improvements in all subject areas. Scores in math rose 2 points, with 40% of students scoring as advanced or proficient. In reading, the number jumped nearly two points to a total 38%. It's the fifth straight year of higher reading and math scores, district officials noted.

"While we know we need to continue to find ways to accelerate this improvement, the gains are steady," Michael Hanson, Fresno Unified superintendent, said Monday.

The number of proficient and advanced students in Clovis Unified was higher in reading and slightly down in math.

Reading scores rose three points, with 71% scoring at proficient or advanced, while math scores fell slightly from 65.6% to 65.3% at the proficient and advanced levels.

A state official said the drop in overall math scores was attributed to more Clovis eighth-graders enrolled in algebra. Math scores for students in grades 2-6, however, rose two points, and 81% scored in the proficient and advanced ranges.

In history and the two science categories, the number of Clovis Unified students reaching proficient or better was two points to five points higher.

"This news may be only what our community expects to hear, but in real terms it shows that our teachers and our students are up to the challenge of continuous improvement," said Dave Cash, Clovis Unified superintendent.

In Visalia Unified, 48% of students scored as proficient or advanced in reading, an increase of three points.

Scores have been rising for four years in many categories, said Craig Wheaton, interim superintendent.

Central Unified saw improvements in all areas, but test scores in history rose more than seven points, with 38% of students scoring at proficient or better. Math, reading and science scores also were up.

"We showed positive signs of growth and achievement, but we are not going to sit back ... we still have areas that we can improve upon," Superintendent Michael Berg said.

Sanger officials also are pleased by scores that show continued improvement.

"Our number of kids in proficient or advanced grew from 1% to 2% across the board," said deputy superintendent Rich Smith.

It's a huge turnaround from 2004, when Sanger Unified was in state program improvement and was among the 100 lowest-achieving school districts in the state, he said. Today, the district includes State Distinguished Schools and National Blue Ribbon Schools.

Madera Unified saw smaller increases than Sanger, but officials found reason to be pleased -- especially when viewing STAR test results over several years, said Jake Bragonier, the district's spokesman.

This year, 42% of the district's students scored at proficient or advanced in reading, and 40% scored at those levels in math.

"We don't typically show enormous increases, but we show steady, sustainable growth year after year and across the board," he said.

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