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Educational task force focuses on continued diligence

 

Last updated 11/2/2007 at Noon



On October 12, superintendents and school board trustees representing 42 school districts in San Diego County met to hear a report from their Achievement Gap Task Force. Comprised of 23 educators, which include elementary and high school superintendents, college deans and teacher union members, the group monitors student achievement in county schools and makes recommendations for improvement.

The group meets annually to reveal the progress of county schools as they relate to state benchmarks and federal goals for No Child Left Behind legislation. The 2007 meeting marks its fifth report.

Jeff Felix, superintendent of the Bonsall Union School District, and Dr. Janice Schultz, superintendent of the Fallbrook Union Elementary School District (FUESD), are task force members. They, along with Tom Anthony, superintendent of the Fallbrook Union High School District, and Dr. Maurice Bernier, president of the FUESD board, were in the audience.

Randolph Ward, San Diego County Superintendent of Schools, and Don Phillips, superintendent of the Poway Unified School District who chairs the task force, presented the results of the past year’s progress.

According to the report, “The achievement gap as measured by the high school exit exam has nearly vanished by the time students reach 12th grade.”

“We’re proud of the achievement of our students and teachers,” said Ward, “but the work is not done until every student passes the high school exit exam and every student is proficient in math and English.”

No Child Left Behind legislation calls for all students to be 100 percent proficient by 2014. Although the task force and its leaders emphasized the need for continued diligence in attempts to reach this goal, when asked if the 2014 goal was practical, Phillips responded, “Will we get to 100 percent? Probably not until we’re able to influence [factors] outside [schoolrooms].”

Ward added, “If you don’t get 100 percent it means you can’t reach it.”

Phillips was optimistic about the future, however: “We won’t hit [the goal] by 2014, but we can continue to move forward.”

Although monitoring the vast amount of data resulting from testing is vital to gauge student progress, for the last four years the task force concentrated on the mathematics and English language arts component of the California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE).

“In the graduating class of 2006, the first to have diplomas withheld for not passing the exit exam, there was a 25-point gap in the pass rates of white and Asian students on one hand, and African American and Latino on the other, when the students first took the exam as 10th graders. By the time the class of 2006 was preparing to graduate, the pass-rates of the different groups were only six points apart,” Phillips reported.

For the class of 2007, the gap was only slightly more than one percentage point, he said. The mathematics portion has been the yardstick for improvement since 2003, said Ward, noting it’s the “gatekeeper skill,” then added there has been progress each year. Ward stressed that any gap is intolerable.

Measures for success are complicated because unforeseen factors influence testing. Students may not show up to take the test, or they may study and take the tests but do poorly because of illness, lack of sleep or fear of failing, say teachers.

Still, 84.9 percent of county high school seniors taking the CAHSEE met graduation requirements, compared to 83.1 percent reported by the state.

In Fallbrook, of 692 high school 10th graders tested in 2006, 591 passed the math portion – five percent higher than the aggregate county percentage – while 579 out of 720 students passed the English language portion, equaling the 80 percent tabulated by the county.

All numbers are higher than state averages overall, which report 76 percent passing math and 77 percent passing the English test.

The CAHSEE math portion addresses state mathematics content standards stated as multiple-choice questions. It includes statistics, data analysis and probability, number sense, measurement and geometry, algebra and functions, mathematical reasoning and Algebra I. Students must demonstrate computational skills and a foundation in arithmetic, including working with decimals, fractions and percentages.

The English-language arts portion covers content standards through 10th grade and consists of multiple-choice questions and a writing task. It has a reading and a writing section that covers vocabulary, informational reading and literary reading, writing strategies, applications and conventions. Students are asked to complete one writing task.

For its next report, Phillips said the task force is turning its focus to students in elementary and middle schools whose proficiency is measured by the California State Tests.

“In grade three, students are moving from basic literacy into reading comprehension. In grade five, students are preparing to begin the critical climb into algebra readiness. In grade eight, the percent proficient or advanced in algebra is the primary gateway to higher levels of mathematics. And in eighth grade English language arts, the students are preparing for the transition to high school.”

To illustrate progress thus far, Phillips reported an 11-percent increase in math proficiency by eighth-graders between 2004 and 2007, compared to a three-percent increase by eighth-graders overall as reported by the state.

In the 11 percent, the fastest-growing (86 percent) subcategory was African American students, followed by Hispanic students, whose proficiency improved by 57 percent.

To monitor progress, Phillips says their objective is to shape individual instruction for students by using compiled data that indicates where a student may need additional help.

Dr. Schultz approved moving in this direction, by comparing proficiency at the elementary school level to high school. Proficiency at the elementary school level is like everyone getting a “B-plus” letter grade, she said, as opposed to the CAHSEE, which is a “C.”

 

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