Mixed bag of test results for Colusa County schools

Colusa County students who are growing up with California’s challenging academic standards show they may outperform their older peers when it comes to performance on the new Smarter Balanced tests, especially in English Language Arts.

This is the third year of the computer-based assessment tests, which measure the progress of students in third through eighth grade, and high school juniors.

The California Department of Education recently released the results of the tests that more than 3 million students took statewide last spring.

Test scores showed a mixed bag of results for Colusa County schools.

In several school districts, students in some grade levels scored higher than the state average.

In Maxwell, for example, 50 percent of third graders and 51.86 percent of fourth graders met or exceeded the standards in English Language Arts, exceeding the statewide averages of 43.9 percent of third graders and 45.06 percent of fourth graders.

School officials said younger children have been instructed since kindergarten on the more challenging Common Core curriculum, which strives to teach students to be critical thinkers and problem solvers in a global society defined by high speed communications, complex and rapid change, and increasing diversity.

The California Department of Education has a CAASPP results web page, where the pubic, parents, teachers, and school administrators can view and compare results among schools, districts, and counties, along with statewide results.

The state also provides a wide range of tools that help people understand and interpret the results, provide teachers with the feedback they need to tailor instruction to meet the needs of their students, and allow districts to measure the progress of all students and subgroups, including English learners and socio-economically disadvantaged students, and to follow year-to-year trends.

Colusa Unified School District’s scores increased from 2016 scores in nine of the 14 grade level tests, said Superintendent Dwayne Newman.

Colusa students also scored higher than the state averages in English language arts in grades 8 and 11, and outperformed state numbers in grades 3 and 11 in math.

Newman said there is also a notable trend in English language arts scores indicating that students who stay in the Colusa Unified School District system make steady and impressive gains over time.

“Student achievement is a top priority,” Newman said. “The staff has been working hard to ensure that the students learn what they need to know in the 21st century. That work shows in the upward trend of our scores, and also in how much we’ve closed achievement gaps.”

Achievement gaps are the average score differences between groups of students where one group has traditionally outperformed another.

In Colusa, there are two significant gaps that the district has been working to close, Newman said. One of the largest achievement gaps is between the English scores of economically disadvantaged students and those who are not.

After the 2015 testing cycle, that gap stood at 32 percent in Colusa Unified. It was reduced to 18 percent in the 2017 results, Newman said.

By comparison, this gap at the state level was 33 percent in 2015, and remained at 33 percent in 2017.

The other large gap is between the performance of Caucasian students and Hispanic students.

In Colusa Unified, 25 percent separated those groups in 2015 English tests, and this year’s results show it had been reduced to 20 percent.   

Across the state the Caucasian/Hispanic gap currently stands at 27 percent and closed by only 2 percent during the same period.

“Student achievement is at the heart of Colusa Unified School District board discussions, and our staff remain focused on increasing student learning and closing the learning gap,” said first-term Trustee Michael Phenicie, after a recent visit to Burchfield Primary School. “I spoke with several of the teachers, both in the classroom setting and outside, and their story was the same: They are determined to provide the highest level education to their students, and they are excited about the direction the school is going. Likewise, the students want to be at school.  They are pleasant to be around. They want to be learning, because they know their teachers care about them and their progress.”

To view California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress results, visit www.cde.ca.gov.