Test scores stable, but ethnic gap persists

08/22/2013

Results for California’s standardized test results, which became available for review on a grade-by-grade basis earlier this month, show little change from last year but display a continuing gap between Latinos and Anglos in West Marin’s largest school district.

The scores provide a detailed overview of each grade by dividing students into five categories—advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic. Each grade is also given a snapshot score, called a mean scale score, between 150 and 600. 

A score below 300 indicates a “below basic” or “very below basic” ranking, and a score between 300 and 350 is deemed basic. Scoring beyond 350, the target for California schools, is considered proficient or advanced.

At Shoreline Unified School District, which includes three elementary schools and one high school, the range of mean scale scores for students in language arts and math remained stable.

But Latino students’ scores remained lower than the Anglo population’s. For Latinos in second through eleventh grades, mean scale scores for English and language arts ranged from about 325 to 370, while Shoreline’s Anglo students ranged from about 360 to 405. In comparing each grade level, the gaps between the two groups ranged from 30 to over 60 points, in many cases the difference between a basic and proficient ranking. 

Math scores for grades two through seven also showcase a similar and stable gap; for 2013, mean scale scores ranged from about 370 to 440 for Anglo students but between about 335 and 390 for Latinos.

The achievement gap is significant enough that the Marin Community Foundation awarded the district, along with three others in Marin, a multi-year grant to help combat it.

This year, its fourth year as a grant recipient, Shoreline will receive $300,000. “We have been absolutely thrilled with this set of grants,” said Thomas Peters, the president of the foundation, though he added that closing the gap is a long-term process not for the faint of heart. “It’s pretty humbling to see, in spite of a lot of great efforts—by the network of teachers and parents and community organizations—it’s really pushing against a very strong tide.”

As far as test scores are concerned, Dr. Peters said, they are a critical metric but the foundation also stresses the importance of qualitative data as well.

A 2013 summary report from the Marin Community Foundation outlined the impetus for funding such programs. “Fewer than one in five of Marin’s African American or Latino high school graduates complete the coursework required to be ready for college or other post-secondary education options,” it says. 

Results for West Marin’s two other school districts, Bolinas Stinson Union District and Lagunitas School District, could not be broken down by ethnicity because there were too few students per grade. (Scores are not reported when only 10 or fewer students test in a given grade to protect student privacy.) 

In Lagunitas, mean scale scores in 2013 for third through eighth grades in English ranged from about 310 to 385. 

Principal Laura Shain said that it was virtually impossible to draw significant conclusions from the scores, not only because of the small number of students who take the test but because 40 percent of students opt out, as many parents in the district oppose the high-stakes ideology associated with standardized test taking. 

Ms. Shain did note that middle schoolers scored higher than elementary students. “They just get higher as the kids get older,” she said, which she added shows how well their education program works. 

It may also be significant that a much smaller proportion of middle schoolers opt out. Ms. Shain said only 13 of 85 middle school students, or 15 percent, did not test last year. 

At Bolinas Stinson, the same problem—tiny student populations—also confound the interpretation of scores. In both 2012 and 2013, two grades didn’t have scores listed on the online database because enrollment was too low. 

According to the available data from that district, some scores fell from last year while others rose. In English, second graders, for instance, scored 364 in 2012 but 335 in 2013, and fourth graders fell from about 410 to 375. Fifth grade scores improved, however, and this past year, 100 percent of them scored at the advanced or proficient level.  

While no breakdown was yet available by ethnicity school-wide, in 2012, roughly half of Latino students in the district tested proficient or above in language arts, and just 17 percent did so in math.