Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota) revived an age-old debate during confirmation hearings for Amway heiress Betsy DeVos, who was picked by President Donald Trump to lead the US Department of Education.
Franken asked DeVos if she preferred to use proficiency or growth as a measure to determine student progress.
But, like many educators, DeVos had no answer.
In Pasadena, Altadena and Sierra Madre, Pasadena Unified School District (PUSD) officials touted growth in the results of the second year of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress testing (CAASPP), but many of the students still have not reached proficiency.
Forty-two percent of students exceeded or met standards in English language arts/literacy, but only 31 percent of students tested met or exceeded standards in mathematics. The results show a 6 percent increase from last year, the first year the new test was given, in English language arts/literacy and a 2-percent increase in math scores.
District results were well below the state average. Forty-eight percent of all California students who were tested met or exceeded the standard in English, and 37 percent met the math standard.
“Our students showed growth, particularly out of the lowest bracket, but they are still not proficient in reading and math,” said Pasadena Board of Education member Patrick Cahalan.
CAASPP replaces the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program that was in place since 2001. In October 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a measure that mandated state tests which are more in line with the state’s Common Core curriculum.
The new state testing program is designed to give more information to teachers, students, and their parents about what students know and are able to do, and whether they will be ready to succeed in college or a career when they graduate from high school.
The test takes about four hours to complete and is administered over several days. Fifth- eighth- and 10th-graders are also tested in science. The results of those tests will be released later this fall.
As part of the testing, children in third through eighth grade, along with 11th-graders, were forced to take English language, arts and literacy, and math tests designed to measure depth of understanding, writing and research abilities and problem-solving skills.
Scores are measured in four achievement levels: Standard not met, standard nearly met, standard met and standard exceeded.
“We did better in reading, which reflects well on Dr. Bird’s work on Balanced Literacy and the focus on ‘making every child a reader’ approach he took his first year,” said Cahalan of PUSD Chief Academic Officer Shawn Bird. “Our floor is showing signs of lifting, but there are still far too many kids in ‘standard nearly met,’ instead of ‘standard met.’’
The Balanced Literacy Initiative put 230,000 new books in elementary school classrooms throughout the district last fall. As part of that program, teachers put together lesson plans that encourage students to develop critical thinking skills and become fluent readers and writers.
The district is rolling out several new programs aimed at closing these achievement gaps.
To have a greater impact on students, PUSD recently created an equity and access coordinator position which is meant to provide educators with the information and resources needed to close gaps in achievement, expectations and opportunities for students from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.
The district is also focusing on student support inside and outside the classroom in order to help improve achievement. In addition, the district is deepening opportunities for stronger parent, staff, and stakeholder engagement to help prioritize systems that better position students to succeed.
“As we prepare kids to leave our schools and graduate, we need to prepare them to be thinkers,” said Bird in a prepared statement when the scores were released last August. “Our ultimate goal is for all students to have access to the right books at the right time, and for them to be taught by highly trained teachers who will ensure that all students develop a love for reading along with the skills they need to be successful learners.”