Central San Joaquin Valley students and schools received their state testing scores Tuesday, with most local districts showing gains, particularly over the last three years.
But some of the starkest differences could be seen in the scores of economically disadvantaged students versus those of their non-economically disadvantaged peers within the same district.
The Bee made a map showing California Assessment for Student Performance and Progress scores for Fresno, Clovis and Central Unified, along with income data from the Census Bureau, to look at how neighborhood income levels correlate to school performance. Schools in lower-income neighborhoods tend to have lower scores overall, though there are a number that defy the trend, including schools that might draw from multiple neighborhoods, like magnet schools.
Census tracts are organized into blocks of color from green to dark red representing level of poverty from less than 10 percent to over 60 percent. Schools are marked with a marker that shows what percent of students met or exceeded English standards: from less than 25 percent in red to over 80 percent in green.
Statewide, 49 percent of all students met or exceeded English standards, while 38 percent met or exceeded math standards, a 1 percent increase from the past year. The CAASPP tests students in grades 3-8 and 11th-graders.
At Fresno Unified, around 36 percent of all students met or exceeded state standards for English, while approximately 26 percent of students met or exceeded math standards for math. That shows a 3 percent improvement over last year in English and a 2 percent improvement in math. Since 2015, the district has improved by 8 and 9 percentage points, respectively.
Fresno Unified superintendent Bob Nelson said the district was excited to see that all demographic subgroups had shown incremental improvements.
“Two or three percent is a predictable gain. But we’re shooting for the farthest-away goal,” Nelson said. “You have to shoot for those double-digit gains, and if we fall a little short of that, that’s not bad.”
Nelson pointed to Webster Elementary, tucked into the northwest corner of the Highways 41/180 interchange, where the number of fourth-graders exceeding English standards doubled over the last year, as one example of a district school achieving those goals. Webster is an exception on The Bee’s map, as well.
The state scores can be further broken down by economic status, ethnicity, parent education, migrant status and other factors. Students who do not come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds typically fare much better than their peers who do: at Fresno Unified, 63 percent of the former meet or exceed English standards, while only 34 percent of the latter do.
The district also continues to struggle with an achievement gap for its African-American students that puts their overall scores about 10 percentage points lower than the average for all distict students. The gap is a statewide issue: 19.74 percent of African-American students in California meet or exceed math standards, while 32.27 percent meet or exceed English standards.
“We’re dedicating additional resources to address these disproportionate outcomes,” Nelson said. “And from a bias standpoint, we’re looking at how we orient ourselves, what our expectations are. It’s tough to hold race and social justice in tension, but we know if we do, we’ll have better outcomes for students.”
Clovis Unified’s overall scores in math and English have also shown consistent, incremental improvements since 2015. This year, approximately 70 percent of all students met or exceeded English standards, while 57 percent met or exceeded math standards.
Debbie Parra, the assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and accountability, said the district is proud of its growth over the last five years – 11 percentage points for English and 8 percentage points for math over the last five years — as well as its cohort growth.
“It shows the system is working, and then the question becomes, how do we support students just coming in, or students who leave and come back?” Parra said.
The district’s 11th-grade students fared far better than 11th-graders statewide, whose English scores dropped by nearly 4 percentage points over last year. Over 77 percent of CUSD juniors met or exceeded English standards, compared to 55 percent statewide, although the number is a drop from 80 percent last year.
Clovis Unified reflects some of the demographic achievement gaps present statewide: 55 percent of African American students met or exceeded standards for English, while 42 percent met or exceeded standards for math, a 15-point difference from the average in each subject. Economically disadvantaged students at the district are about 21 percentage points behind their better-off peers in English and 15 points behind in math.
Parra said that the district believes that all kids can learn given the right instruction for the right amount of time, and accommodations like summer classes and retaking assessments are important.
Teachers also use the scores as a way to get to know their students and their baseline level of knowledge, according to Parra.
“Some kids are going to take longer. Some don’t come with the same background knowledge and we have to fill in the gaps,” Parra said. “Maybe they didn’t learn it in the two weeks the teacher taught it, but they did learn it, and that’s what is important.”
Kings Canyon Unified
Reedley-based Kings Canyon Unified was singled out by state schools Superintendent Tom Torlakson for its significant year-over-year increases in math and reading scores.
The district saw its math scores rise 15 percent since 2015 and 3 percent over last year. For English, the district’s scores rose 12 percent from 2015 and 2 percent over 2017.
District superintendent John Campbell said the district is “humbled and honored” to have been chosen as an example of a success story.
“The State test scores provide affirmation of our District’s collective and continued dedication to student success. These results are reflective of the work being done every day by our students, staff and community,” Campbell said in a statement. “With our focus on growth, we are thankful to our many partners and surrounding districts for their collaboration in helping our students’ reach their fullest potential.”