Berkeley High School. Photo: Lance Knobel
The number of students performing at the target level on state tests increased at Berkeley High School and a number of other schools this year. Photo: Lance Knobel

By Camille Baptista

Berkeley students improved on the California Standardized Testing and Reporting assessments this year, according to data released Thursday by the state Department of Education.

State-wide, scores declined marginally, as the percentage of students who performed at the proficient level or above — the target level for all students — decreased by less than one percent in mathematics, English language arts, and science. But in Berkeley schools that percentage rose on average in each category: in math, the number of students meeting the target level increased by 2.3 percentage points; in English, it increased by 0.4; in science, it increased by 2.8; and in history, it increased by 4.5 percentage points since 2012.

In addition, the total percentage of target-level scores in Berkeley remained higher than the state average in all subject categories.

“We have very, very high performances,” Debbi D’Angelo, director of evaluation and assessment for Berkeley Unified School District, said.

District Superintendent Donald Evans said that his office is still reviewing and analyzing the data. He and D’Angelo would know more about the district’s progress when the Adequate Yearly Progress and Academic Performance Index reports come out in September.

Evans said one issue the district will continue to address is the ongoing disparity in performance between different racial subgroups. African-Americans and Latinos continue to perform at lower levels in general compared to their white and Asian peers. (A data summary showing the percentage of target-level scores among different racial subgroups is not available from the Education Department.)

“We know that there’s more work we can do,” he said.

The STAR program encompasses four tests that are divided into subject categories, and is administered to students grades two through 11 each spring. The state and local education departments focus on data from the primary component, the California Standards Test, which is also the data reported in this article.

Some grades are exempt from testing on certain subjects — the English language arts test is the only subject test administered to all grades. Because of this, average scores often don’t reflect all grade levels and, additionally, the score changes since 2012 vary significantly between district schools.

The table below shows the city and state averages from this year and last year. Scroll down to find individual score reports by school. Search for more school district and individual school test results on the state Education Department website.

Screen shot 2013-08-09 at 2.13.32 PM
BHS and B-Tech STAR tests
Middle & elem take 2
Elementary take 2

In some Berkeley schools, particularly elementary schools, the number of students who performed at the target level dropped this year. At Cragmont, Jefferson, John Muir, Oxford, Thousand Oaks and Arts Magnet elementary schools, the number of target-level scores decreased in all three categories tested (English, math and science). Some of these declines were more severe than others; one of the most drastic changes was a 15.7 percent decrease in target-level scores on the science test at Oxford Elementary.

D’Angelo explained that the performance of elementary school students may have been impacted by the district’s current transition into the common core state standards system, a new testing system that is now used by 45 other U.S. states in an effort to provide a unified set of standards across the country. This is the last year the STAR program will be used.

“Teachers are working very hard, going through a new curriculum,” D’Angelo said. She said elementary math classes in particular have been undergoing a transition in the way they are taught.

This past year, some elementary schools participated in a field-test for the common core assessments, a computer-based testing system that is designed to go beyond multiple choice and ask students to think critically. According to D’Angelo, this takes “a very collaborative approach.”

“The teachers and students are excited because its not just multiple choice,” D’Angelo said. “The common core state standards are world standards that really dig deeper.”

Willard Middle School: no longer under consideration for the REALM Charter School
Willard Middle School: one of the Berkeley schools where percentage of target-level scores has increased notably

Still, despite decreased scores at some elementary schools, the city-wide average was brought up by schools like LeConte, Washington, and Rosa Parks elementary schools, Willard Middle School, and Berkeley High School, where the percentage of target-level scores increased notably in all categories.

Since the STAR program was finalized in 2003 to align with state standards, scores have improved dramatically throughout the state. That first year, just 29 percent of students were proficient or above in history and 35 percent met that level in math, science and English. In 2013, 49.4 percent of California students in history, 51.2 percent in math, 56.4 percent in English, and 59.1 percent in science have reached proficiency.

Attendance for the state tests at Berkeley High School is an issue that teachers and school administrators have worked to improve in recent years. Superintendent Evans said that, although the district is still attendant to this issue, it is less of a problem than it once was. D’Angelo explained that test attendance in Berkeley as a whole is above the state goal of 95 percent.

“Each year, Berkeley High School has made a concerted effort to have the students take the test. This last year what we’ve seen is a continued growth,” she said. “The next step is having the students take it seriously.”

Berkeley High was on a list released Friday of 242 schools where students taking the STAR tests were known to have posted images to social media websites. However, state spokeswoman Pam Slater explained that only 16 of those cases involved images of legible test materials, and Berkeley High was not one of them. Rather, she said, the images were likely blurred snapshots of the classroom or the back of a teacher’s head.

Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She grew up in Berkeley and now studies at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

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