Education

Fresno Unified boasts historic test scores but minority students lag

Michael Hanson, superintendent of Fresno Unified School District, shares new test score results Monday during a news conference at Baird Middle School. For the first time, the district showed gains across every grade level in each subject. The district released its scores ahead of the California Department of Education, which plans to make all districts’ scores public on Wednesday.
Michael Hanson, superintendent of Fresno Unified School District, shares new test score results Monday during a news conference at Baird Middle School. For the first time, the district showed gains across every grade level in each subject. The district released its scores ahead of the California Department of Education, which plans to make all districts’ scores public on Wednesday. mmays@fresnobee.com

For the first time ever in Fresno Unified, every grade level improved in state testing.

Thirty-one percent of students in the district are proficient in English/language arts, while 22 percent are proficient in math. In each subject, test scores increased by a total of 4 percentage points since the 2014-15 test.

The district released its latest Smarter Balanced assessment results on Monday, ahead of the California Department of Education’s public release of scores expected on Wednesday.

All grades tested in the district – grades 3-8 and 11 – showed improvement since last year.

“That has never happened before in this accountability era,” Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said at a news conference Monday. “That is a positive reflection of what our staff has been doing each and every day with our kids.”

The greatest increase in achievement was by third-graders. Thirty-four percent of third-graders are proficient in math – an increase of about 7 percentage points since last year.

22 percentOf Fresno Unified students are proficient in math

While Fresno Unified is boasting historic gains, the achievement gap among minority students is still prominent.

Only 3 percent of English learners hit proficient marks in English/language arts, and only 6 percent in math. That’s slightly better than last year, though.

Twenty percent of black students in the district are proficient in English/language arts, compared to 51 percent of white students. In math, 12 percent of black students are proficient, compared to 42 percent of white students. Overall, black students’ test score results increased by 6 percentage points.

The majority of the district is Hispanic, with 28 percent of that demographic hitting proficient marks in English and 19 percent in math. Forty percent of Asian students are proficient in English/language arts, and 29 percent are proficient in math. In total, Asian students increased their scores by 13 percentage points since last year.

31 percentOf Fresno Unified students are proficient in English/language arts

Hanson said the district is making black student achievement a priority, calling it “a historical gap for us.” Earlier this month, at the district’s back-to-school rally, Hanson called on teachers to help black students, saying “Black lives matter. They matter a hell of a lot.”

At Monday’s news conference at Baird Middle School – among the district’s highest-scoring schools – Hanson said Fresno Unified is upping its mentor programs geared toward black students and their higher-than-average absenteeism rates in the district.

“We know we have to do more,” Hanson said. “Our African-American youth in Fresno are the canary in the coal mine for achievement and growth of this city and district, and we are diligently focused on that as we go forward.”

While most districts’ scores won’t be released until Wednesday, Hanson hinted that Fresno Unified fared well against the other nine CORE districts, which include Los Angeles Unified, Sacramento City Unified and San Francisco Unified.

“We feel very good, comparatively,” he said, adding that several of those districts “did not come close to us” in math achievement.

This is the second year of results from the Common Core-aligned, computer-based tests. Last year’s first-ever results were considered a baseline.

“While the overall percentages of students meeting standards remain lower than we want it to be, we do not back away from that challenge at all,” Hanson said. “The gains are impressive but we also have a long way to go. This is a new testing program. It’s done differently. It’s online. It’s supposed to give students a much clearer and precise idea of where they are at overall.”

Mackenzie Mays: 559-441-6412, @MackenzieMays

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