Everyone in Fresno Unified School District has reason to be proud. School test scores – one of the most visible barometers of academic performance and student knowledge – are on the rise.
These improved test results come at a time that California is raising the academic bar for students. Remember: Schools have entered the age of Common Core.
Simply memorizing facts and figures or reciting the words of great people from the past doesn’t cut it anymore. Students must gather and analyze information, formulate theories and write about what they’ve learned.
Students also are increasingly called upon to work in teams and to put together projects. Finally, these projects aren’t the term papers of the past. They are multimedia productions – the best of which are amazingly good.
The idea is to teach children to explore, collaborate, shoot for the stars and think for themselves.
The headline for Fresno Unified is that every grade level improved in state testing over the 2014-15 school year. This is a sign that the district – which faces perhaps the greatest social and economic challenges in California – is moving in the right direction.
Fresno Unified Superintendent Michael Hanson said of the test scores, “This has never happened before in the accountability era. This is a positive reflection of what our staff has been doing each and every day with our kids.”
Tested throughout the state were grades 3-8 and 11. The greatest increase in achievement by Fresno Unified students was by third-graders. Thirty-four percent of third-graders are proficient in math – an increase of about 7 percentage points since last year.
Thirty-one percent of district students 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 first year of Common Core-aligned, computer-based testing.
As Hanson acknowledged at a news conference Monday at Baird Middle School, the district must find ways to better connect with minority students, as well as their family members, whose participation in the education process is vital to student success.
Just 3 percent of English learners hit proficient marks in English/language arts, and only 6 percent in math. 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.
“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.”
The improved test scores are the latest sign of Fresno Unified’s upward arc. Its graduation rate rose from 79.3 percent in the 2013-14 school year to 83.8 percent the following year. And the district’s A-G class completion rate, which measures how academically ready a student is for college, has moved from 24 percent to 49 percent. The statewide average is about 43 percent.
Yes, there’s still a long way to go for California’s fourth-largest school district. But the trend is positive, and that is good news for our city and our region. Let’s remember to keep the focus on kids.