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Nevada County school test scores flatline (FULL REPORT)

Faith Janssen and Ceedric Henry study together in the Clear Creek Elementary School elective class.
submitted photo by Allison Kalt |

The test results are back.

Nevada County’s schools received their report cards last week — and the news is not as good as hoped.

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress test results are a mixed bag for the county’s nine school districts and 10 charter schools. To view the data online, go to http://caaspp.cde.ca.gov.



The county’s scores in math and English language arts have stagnated, mirroring results statewide. Just 51 percent of the Nevada County students tested were proficient in English and 39 percent in math; those numbers were just slightly better than the state numbers of 49 percent and 38 percent, respectively.

“The bottom line is, there is work to do.” — Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay

The test, now in its third year, was administered last spring to students in third through eighth grades and 11th grade.




“The bottom line is, there is work to do,” said Nevada County Superintendent of Schools Scott Lay. “But we’re thankful for the data.”

This year, Nevada County’s test scores improved by one percentage point in math and declined by one percent in English. But, as county educators pointed out, there was an overall gain from 2015, of three percentage points in English and three in math.

When test results for individual districts and school are broken out, there are definite bright spots.

GHIDOTTI SCORES LEAD STATE, AGAIN

For the second year in a row, Ghidotti Early College High School is at the head of the class.

Ghidotti had the state’s highest scores out of 2,001 high schools that administered the exam. One hundred percent of the 32 Ghidotti students who took the test met or exceeded proficiency standards in English, and 97 percent of students met or exceeded proficiency standards in math.

Other success stories include Clear Creek School and Williams Ranch Elementary School, as well as Grizzly Hill Elementary.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment test results provide the number of students tested in each grade at each school who exceeded or met the standard, nearly met or did not meet the standard. For English language arts, four areas are measured: reading, writing, listening and research/inquiry. For math, areas measured are concepts and procedures; problem solving, modeling and data analysis; and communicating reasoning.

The test results can be broken down not only by district, school and grade, but also can be sorted by subgroups and by cohort — following students who took the test initially as third-graders at Deer Creek School, for example, who took it in 2016 as fourth-graders and then in 2017 as fifth-graders.

Lay says that while 2015 was the baseline year, students beta-tested for a few years before that. In 2016, the test’s second year, educators did not know what to expect and were pleased with the gains, Lay said.

“This year, most schools saw a flattening out of their scores,” he said, a pattern repeated statewide.

Over the three years, however, there has been a general upward swing, said Kathleen Kiefer, director of curriculum, instruction and accountability.

While Nevada County scores are not regressing, Lay said, its numbers are not that far above the state average. That gap was wider in the past but the state scores have been creeping up, he added.

Kiefer attributes the flat-lining partly to a steep learning curve with the new test. Lay said the test’s style is completely different from the old system; it’s now a computer-based and adaptive test, with the computer adjusting difficulty of questions for individual students based on how well they answered previous questions.

“It does come down to the schools and the individual classrooms,” Kiefer said. “It’s difficult to talk about the scores in global terms.”

Lay noted Nevada County has a diverse population — economically speaking — and that the percentage of students receiving free or reduced lunches has grown.

Nevada County state school test results by The Union on Scribd

Success stories range across district

One constant refrain among schools with higher test scores is an emphasis on positive school culture, with dedicated teachers and staff and strong parental support.

At Williams Ranch, 80 percent of the third-graders scored at or above proficiency level in math, with 68 percent at that level in English.

“We totally knocked it out of the park this year,” said Principal Melissa Conley, saying the school is planning a popsicle party to celebrate.

“It has to do with the culture on campus,” Conley said. “It’s incredibly collaborative, we support each other (and) we have great parent support. We have really come together and gelled as a district and as a school.”

Overall, Penn Valley Union School District has improved each year. Pleasant Valley Elementary, which was closed this year, posted gains in both math and English from last year. Ready Springs dropped slightly in English and rose slightly in math.

“One of the things that is interesting is, in 2015, we actually started quite a bit below the state and the county,” said Superintendent Torie England. “We’ve made really steady progress.”

England said Williams Ranch teachers and staff encouraged students to take all the time they needed.

”They didn’t rush them,” she said. “They let them focus.”

England said, though, students scored so well because they knew the material.

“Two years ago, we did not have any way to assess the kids, we had no tools whatsoever, nor did we have an adopted curriculum,” she said. “We spent the entire year going through every program that we pay for (and) we put our focus on programs we thought would get the biggest bang for our buck, academically.”

Those programs were implemented last year, England said. The district also bought Chromebooks for each student so they can get differentiated education in the classroom.

“We didn’t even really know what it was we needed the kids to know,” she said. “That’s where we started … We funneled down to what was important and used that as a tool to drive our instruction.”

Clear Creek Principal Carolyn Cramer — where students posted proficiency scores in the 70 percent range — credits a team effort from staff, as well as “really great families who support their child’s education.”

“It seems to work,” she said. “It’s a nurturing and educational environment.”

Persevering through obstacles

While its test scores might not compare to higher ranking schools, Grizzly Hill in the Twin Ridges School District showed marked improvement this year.

“We are an isolated, rural district,” said Superintendent James Berardi. “We are the smallest and the most rural district in the county and logistically, that creates its own problems.”

Staffing has been a struggle, Berardi said, citing a high turnover rate.

“We’ve had seven teachers in seven years in one classroom,” he said.

That lack of continuity makes it extremely difficult to implement new programs, Berardi said.

“We also deal with high poverty levels, with 90 percent or higher at times of (students receiving) free or reduced lunches,” he said.

Berardi said the district has lost students to charter schools, but smaller class sizes can be an advantage.

“We have a better student-to-teacher ratio; we hire more aides,” Berardi said. “We know we have our issues, but we have a great staff that works very hard, They can individualize the programs to the students — that’s crucial. We’re pleased that even with setbacks, we tend to have our scores increase significantly.”

Grass Valley’s schools showed mixed results, with Bell Hill Academy a bright spot; Lyman Gilmore and Scotten schools rank near the bottom countywide, however, with scores in the 35-38 percent range.

“Our scores have been low for years, so our focus has been what work are we doing to improve proficiency” said Superintendent Eric Frederickson.

Seventy percent of the students in the district are economically disadvantaged, he said.

“Our test scores, compared to the state average for that subgroup, are higher than the state average,” Frederickson said. “And if you look at other schools in the county and you pulled that subgroup, we scored higher. I don’t like to make excuses (but) you have to compare apples to apples.”

Similarly, Frederickson said, Grass Valley has the highest percentage of English language learners in the county and did well compared to the state average.

“It’s an awkward conversation,” he said. “We are taught not to put people into groups, but we have to address (these) subgroups.”

Frederickson said, overall, he feels positive about the growth being shown in his district.

Union Hill School District showed a drop across the elementary and middle schools this year, also ranking near the bottom of the county’s scores. Superintendent David Curry said the new approach to testing, and some curriculum changes, have been challenging.

“Overall, it’s still a new process,” he said. “We are making the changes we need to make to show improvement.”

The road ahead

According to Lay, improving the county’s test scores could have a multi-faceted approach.

“One thing that could be looked at is what curricula did each district pick, and how was it implemented — and also how much time is spent on the subject,” he said.

Because the test is computer-based, even the device used to take the test can impact results, Lay added. So making sure students are comfortable with taking the test is one approach, he said.

“Kids might be frustrated by the mechanics of the test, not the content,” he said. “That could be a factor for some of the students.”

Educators across the district stressed the importance of the “comprehensive” new data.

Now, Lay said, teachers can use the data to track success by gender, disability status, economic status, ethnicity, English language fluency, migrant status and parent education level.

“You can change your teaching style, to reach out to the kids” who need more help, he said.

Kiefer said the county office wants to act as a resource. She and Lay both say many teachers were reaching out before school had started, wanting to focus on improving their instructional strategies.

“We’ve never had this kind of collaboration and support,” Kiefer said. “It’s an exciting time.”

Contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at lkellar@theunion.com.


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