County Fares Poorly in Common Core Testing

The first results from the newly-adopted state proficiency tests are in, and there’s plenty of room for improvement locally and across the state.

Results for the entire area of Tulare County were less than encouraging, with 67% of the 60,596 students tested not meeting the English language arts and literature standard. A whopping 78% tested below the standard in math. While Tulare County fell short of the state averages, the problem is not only local. Statewide, 56% of students did not meet the English standards, and 66% were below par in math.

No Surprises

Local educators are not surprised, though they are concerned.

“I don’t think we’re ever satisfied with the results,” said Craig Wheaton, superintendent of the Visalia Unified School District. “We always want our kids to achieve higher. We got about what we expected.”

The tests — the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress or CAASPP — are based on the Common Core Standards adopted statewide in 2010, and were administered to all students for the first time this year. Common Core focuses on critical thinking, problem solving and analysis. This year’s results will serve as a baseline for assessing future change.

At the Bottom

Among the county’s larger school districts, Farmersville and Woodlake’s showed the poorest results. In the Farmersville Unified School District, 79% of students failed to meet the language standards, while 90% were not proficient in arithmetic. Woodlake Union Elementary School District students were also only 10% proficient at math, and 87% were below standard in language arts. Woodlake’s high school students did little better, with 71% below proficiency in English and 86% not making the math mark.

At the Top

Visalia and Tulare schools led the pack countywide.

“I think a couple of things do pop up in the baseline,” Wheaton said. “We’re relatively close to the state average as a starting point. That’s not a bad place to start. I think you’ll see us excel there for sure.”

The tests for junior high and high school math, he said, were particularly difficult. In the Tulare Joint Union High School District, 75% did not meet the standard in math. Results were similar for that city’s elementary students, with 76% below grade. VUSD had 71% of its students not at the math standard. Among Visalia’s 11th-graders, the only grade tested at the high school level, just 52% did not meet the math standard.

“The area that’s tough for everybody is math,” Wheaton said. “We had a little more of a gap, and I believe we can easily move forward and close that gap.”

District-by-District

Results were uniformly grim across the county. Exeter Union School District had the county’s best combined language result, with 63% still below proficiency. Just 23% of its students were able to make the grade in math.

In Lindsay, 75% didn’t make the cut for languages, while 87% were not math proficient. Nearby Porterville fared better, with 71% below standard in English and 80% not up to speed in mathematics. Tulare’s elementary students missed the English standards at a 71% rate, and the city’s high school students, who had the single best result for any group in the county for either test, didn’t make the standard at a 46% rate.

Still in the Game

The results, as provided by the state Department of Education, allow a deep disaggregation of the data by student type. The results are also available county-by-county, district-by-district and school-by-school. That ability to compare areas and groups of students is particularly useful, said Wheaton, and encouraging.

“I look at other districts and see where we are,” he said. “We’re in the game. We’re not out in left field on anything.”

The results will provide a guidepost for educators, helping identify areas of strength and weakness, and helping explain why our students aren’t meeting the standards.

“All of this is essential info we need to move forward,” said a hopeful Wheaton. “We’ll have a global view. It’s just a starting point. I’d love to be at the top of the scores.”

Results Reflect Reality

The area’s poor results reflect the area’s demographics. The US Census Bureau reports just 68% of the county’s residents are high school graduates, compared to 81.2% of all Californians. Just 13.3% of county residents hold a four-year or better college degree, compared to 30.7% statewide.

The test results, Wheaton believes, reflect the lifestyle of the people who live here more than the quality of the education system.

“We have, I think, great teachers here and we’ve always done really well,” he said. “We start with an adult population that is one of the lowest educated in the nation. That’s not because we’re not doing the job in K-12. We have a lot of folks who here who move here for the work.”

Still, the onus is on educators to improve the scores, he said.

“We have to do our part to raise that level,” Wheaton said. “I’m ready to go.”

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