Colusa County schools improve test scores but fall short of state averages 

Scores on the state’s standardized tests were a mixed bag of results for Colusa County schools this year. 

The computer-based California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests in English Language Arts (ELA) and mathematics were administered last spring to students in third through eighth grade, and well as to 11th graders. 

This is the fourth year of the computer-based tests, which use California’s challenging academic standards and ask students to write clearly, think critically, and solve complex problems, as they will need to do in college and 21st century careers, school officials said. 

Statewide, just under half of all students (49.88 percent) met or exceeded the ELA standards, although scores overall have increased since 2015. In mathematics, only 38.65 percent of students met or exceeded the standards statewide, but scores reflect a 1.09 percentage point increase from 2017 and a 5.65 percentage point increase from 2015.

Colusa County students did not do quite as well as their counterparts across the state, overall, but, like the state, most students at the local school districts made gains. That overall scores fall short of statewide results are to be expected, school officials said. 

“We have a different demographic than the state,” said Colusa Unified Superintendent Dwayne Newman. 

While overall scores were somewhat disappointing, district officials expressed optimism, and emphasized work still needs to be done. 

Overall, 48.28 percent of students who tested at Colusa Unified met or exceeded the ELA standards, and 30.18 met or exceeded the standards for math. 

At Maxwell Unified, 34.3 percent of all students tested met or exceeded the ELA standards, and 34.95 percent met or exceeded the standards for math. 

At Pierce Joint Unified School District, 39.16 percent of students met or exceeded the ELA standards, and 29.8 percent met or exceeded the standards for math. 

At Princeton Unified, 37.5 percent of students met or exceeded the ELA standards, and 20 percent met or exceeded the standards for math. 

At Williams Unified, 19.89 percent of all students met or exceeded the ELA standards, and 16.4 percent met or exceeded the standards for math.

Williams has the highest population of Hispanic/Latino and English Learners, who traditionally lag behind white and Asian peers, so while overall scores were lower than other districts, students at the elementary and upper elementary gained some ground, officials said, particularly in areas such as understanding spoken information. 

At Williams Elementary, 35.56 percent of third graders tested above the standard in that area, and 63.33 percent were near the standard. 

Also in grade 3, 26.67 percent of Williams students tested above the standard in how well they understand stories and information that they read, and 52.22 percent nearly met the standard. 

In grade 4, 79.63 percent met or nearly met the standard in understanding spoken information. 

“Obviously there is need for improvement, and we need to carry on, but we are making some strides,” said Upper Elementary School Principal Hector Gonzales. “Over time, from 2015, we have had steady growth in ELA, and, except for a small dip in 2016, students have shown growth in math.”

For all Colusa County school districts, a large percentage of students did fall into the category of standards “nearly” met, and most grades have shown growth since 2015.

Students in grades 3 and 4 made the biggest gains in local districts and statewide, which bodes well for the future as school districts continue its multi-year transition to more difficult learning standards, officials said. 

Students in 11th grade, however, struggle the most with the assessments, which are aligned with the skills students need to start taking courses for credit at California State University campuses and other colleges. 

At Colusa Unified, 11th grade scores dropped significantly in math from 2017, which district officials attributed to the math curriculum, which has since been scrapped for another, Newman said.  

Statewide, the number of 11th grade students who met or exceeded ELA standards dropped 3.8 percent from 2017 to a negative .04 percent overall from 2015. The percentage of 11th grade students who met or exceeded the standards in math dropped .77 percent from 2017, but gained 2.37 percentage points since 2015.  

Hispanic/Latino, socioeconomically disadvantaged, and reclassified English proficient students made the most significant gains. Statewide, the number of Latino students who met or exceeded the ELA standards has increased 7.16 percent since 2015, and gained 5.65 percentage points in math, the largest gain of any group. The number of white students who met or exceeded the ELA standards has increased 3.86 percent since 2015, and gained 4.57 percentage points in math. The proficiency of students with disabilities has also increased overall, gaining 2.89 percentage points since 2015.  

Smarter Balanced tests consist of two parts: a computer adaptive assessment and a performance task. The computer adaptive assessment bases follow-up questions on a student’s answers in real time and gives a more accurate picture of progress than paper-and-pencil, multiple-choice tests. If a student answers a question correctly, they get a more difficult question. If they answer incorrectly, they get an easier question.

The performance task challenges students’ ability to apply their knowledge and skills to problems in a real-world setting. The two parts measure depth of understanding, writing, research, and problem-solving skills more thoroughly than the previous multiple choice paper tests.

School officials said parents should not be alarmed by scores that reflect less than half of all students meeting or exceeding the standards, because the results of the Smarter Balanced tests help schools re-tailor instruction. The tests are also designed to measure student growth over time, which was not possible in California’s previous system. 

The assessments also include supports for English learners and students with special needs.  

Critics of the Smarter Balanced tests, however, argue the tests are unfair and unreliable, are not developmentally and age-appropriate for students, and do not measure student growth within the school year. 

Others, including California Department of Education officials, say the tests are a valid, fair, and reliable approach to student assessment because they provide educators, students, and parents meaningful results with actionable data to help students succeed.

The assessment system, aligned to Common Core State Standards, consists of three major components designed to improve teaching and learning, according to Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. ■