George Boardman: Everybody gets to take responsibility for Nevada County’s school test results
Observations from the center stripe: Leadership edition
KUDOS to the Nevada City Council for making a serious financial commitment to economic development. It’s about time elected officials provided some leadership on the issue … I HOPE the upcoming races for supervisor include some serious discussion about economic development instead of the usual platitudes and bromides that pass for political discourse around here … IF DRUG manufacturers want to see their worst nightmare — price controls — come true, all they have to do is keep jacking up the prices of old drugs by 5,000 percent … ANY PICKUP truck that’s cleaner than my car isn’t a real pickup truck … I KNOW the calendar says autumn, but it’s not really autumn until I have to wear long pants every day … WHEN PEOPLE say “Yogi Berra,” you smile. What better legacy can a man leave? … BERRA, WHO was always modest about his many baseball accomplishments, said: “Behind every great man is a great woman. An umpire was usually behind me” …
One of the enduring myths of western Nevada County is how great our schools are. The phrase ranks right up there with “panoramic view,” “marble counter tops” and “family friendly” in the sales pitch of every Realtor in the county.
Well, those Realtors better hope new arrivals to the county don’t check the 2015 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) issued earlier this month by the state Department of Education. Their clients may decide there are better places to get their children educated.
CAASPP (get used to another clumsy acronym) replaces the old STAR achievement tests and, in the words of Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of public instruction, is designed to serve as a baseline to measure future progress in the new Common Core curriculum.
Education officials were apprehensive leading up to release of the test results. Perhaps not coincidentally, the old STAR test results suddenly disappeared from the state Department of Education’s web site. After enough people in the right places complained, the test results were restored.
The CAASPP results did little to instill confidence. Statewide, 44 percent of students met or exceeded the standard for English language and literacy, and 33 percent made the grade in math. (The test was given last spring to students in grades 3 through 8 and the 11th grade.)
The achievement gap between wealthier and poorer students worsened under the new tests, according to an analysis done by the Sacramento Bee. Under the STAR system, wealthier students met state standards at a rate 1.5 times that of poor students. The gap has increased to 2.5 times with the new test.
As you would expect, white students outperformed the state average: 61 percent were proficient in English and 49 percent in math. (The most proficient students were Asians: 72 percent in English and 69 percent in math.)
So how do students in the second whitest county in the state — that would be us — stack up against their peers? Are they being properly prepared for college and the increasingly complex world they’ll have to live in?
For starters, I took a look at the 11th grade test results at our two largest high schools; these students have been in school long enough to reach their level of competence, and aren’t likely to change much as high school seniors and beyond.
Some 84 percent of Bear River juniors met or exceeded the standard for English language and literacy, indeed an impressive performance. Half of them achieved the same level of competence in the math test.
The results weren’t so good at the high school district’s largest school, Nevada Union. Just 55 percent met or exceeded the standard on the English test, and a dismal 30 percent reached the same level of competence in math.
Part of the explanation for these numbers is the performance of students in NU’s biggest feeder district, Grass Valley Elementary. There, 43 percent of eighth graders were competent in English and 32 percent met the standard in math. Many of these students are now freshmen at NU.
While the poverty rate in Nevada County is below the state average (12 percent vs. 15.9 percent), you can see the impact on test scores in schools with a lot of financially disadvantaged students.
Over 72 percent of students at Ready Springs School are from low-income families, according to Penn Valley Elementary school board member Ann Driver. Just 42 percent of the students were at or above the standard for the English test, and 25 percent performed that well on the math test.
While schools need to be held accountable for the performance of students (particularly when you consider all the money we spend on them), parents play a larger role in these test results than many will admit.
Ask any teacher (full discloser: My daughter is a teacher) and they will tell you that behind every good student is a parent or parents who take education seriously and provide the encouragement and support their children need to succeed.
The percentage of high school graduates and people with at least a bachelor’s degree in Nevada County is higher than the state average, but a lot of their children don’t seem to be getting the message about the value of good education. There still are parents who view school as a child care service until their kids are old enough to work full time, and others who place all the blame on the school when their child does poorly. (If I got a bad report card when I was in school, I was in trouble, not anybody at the school.)
Then there’s the issue of common courtesy and civility necessary for learning to take place. Teachers have to tolerate behavior today that would get a student suspended if not expelled when I was working my way up the K-12 ladder.
If your child is not doing well, don’t automatically assume it’s the school’s fault.
George Boardman lives at Lake of the Pines. His column is published Mondays by The Union.
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