City schools' test score rise is slow but sure 

For the second year in a row, San Francisco schools have slightly closed the gap in state standardized testing scores between black and Hispanic students and their peers.

As the students in San Francisco Unified School District filed back into class Monday, the state released the scores that schoolchildren across California received on the standardized tests they took in the spring. The exams are intended as a barometer of progress for schools, districts and the state as a whole. Schools that do not show progress in their test scores can face penalties or closure.

San Francisco district officials Monday acknowledged that the gains made in the so-called achievement gap are so slight that it would take decades for the students to catch up.

School Superintendant Carlos Garcia admitted the gains were faint. This year, he said, he will pressure school principals so that black and Hispanic children make more substantial improvements.

“Our goal this year is [for black and Hispanic students] to make double-digit improvements,” he said. “Because now we know we can do it — we know we can make progress.”

He also said The City’s elementary school students made far larger gains than high school students.

This year, he said, the focus will be on middle schools and ninth-graders. As for high schools, he said “you can’t expect them to make [major progress] when it’s so late [in their education],” he said.

As a whole, the district made improvements in test-taking abilities. About 56 percent of the students scored proficient or better at English-language arts — 2.3 percentage points higher than last year.

In comparison, the state average was 52 percent proficient or above in English — a 2-percentage-point improvement from last year.

San Francisco second-through-seventh-graders did better in math: 65 percent scored proficient or higher, a 0.3-percentage-point improvement.

It’s not clear how San Francisco students’ math skills are compared to the state’s, because The City counts the math scores slightly differently than the state does. Overall, about 48 percent of California’s students tested well in math, a 2-percentage-point improvement.

Garcia said tests are not always the best predictors of learning, but, he said, they are important, particularly because the state and the federal government have the power to shut down schools and districts that do not show improvement in test scores.

“I’m not a big proponent of testing kids, but they’re here to stay,” he said.




Program helps struggling students pass peers

When the school scores at Sherman Elementary School dipped slightly last year, Principal Sara Shenkan-Rich decided something had to change.

The school — located in Cow Hollow — succeeded, and even surpassed its goals in closing the achievement gap in state testing scores between students.

To do so, teachers closely examined every student who had scored low, provided them with tutoring, took extra time to get them excited about reading and writing, and involved their parents.

Teachers would sometimes throw a pizza party for a student to celebrate their learning a difficult concept. Every student in the school was given a plan just for them to help them improve.

The students who scored low in the past caught up to and even surpassed their peers.

“We really targeted and provided those kids with exactly what they needed, and it worked,” Shenkan-Rich said.

One of the crucial steps the school took to improve students’ scores is reading and writing workshops for every grade, where students are encouraged to read books they are excited about, and talk to their peers about what they think about the books. The goal is to introduce children to the joy of learning, and everything falls into place from there.

Shenkan-Rich mentioned one day last year when a fire alarm went off during a reading workshop.

“They didn’t want to leave,” she said. “They just love reading.” — Katie Worth

Importance of state scores

California released the STAR scores Monday.

The state’s standardized tests and why they matter:

- Every spring, students in grades two through 11 take a series of tests that make up the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, program.

- Results of the tests are used as barometers of progress for individual schools, districts and states, and schools that do not show adequate progress face possible state or federal penalties.

- The main exam in the STAR program, the California Standards Test, or CST, is aligned with the state’s academic content standards for each grade level.


Test questions

A sampling of the questions students must tackle on the California Standards Test.

Grade 4 English

Use this thesaurus entry to answer this question.

buck n. 1. male deer, stag, ram. 2. Slang. Dollar.
v. 1. leap, spring, jump; hop, skip, prance. 2. throw, unseat.

According to the thesaurus, another word for “male deer” is buck or

B   prance
C   stag
D   dollar

Grade 4 math

267 ÷ 6 =

A   43
B   43 R3
C   44
D   44 R3

Grade 7 English

Read this sentence from “Cable Cars in San Francisco”:

Hallidie believed that the cables would be strong enough to pull the cable cars up the steep slopes of the city.

Which words from this sentence are adjectives?

  strong, steep
B   would, enough
C   slopes, city
D   believed, pull

Grade 7 math

The atmosphere normally exerts a pressure of about 15 pounds of force per square inch on surfaces at sea level. About how much force does the atmosphere exert on a surface 30 square inches in area?

A   2 pounds
B   15 pounds
C   45 pounds
D   450 pounds

Grade 10 English

Which of the following words is derived from the name of the Greek god of sleep?

B   titanic
C   hypnotic
D   geocentric

Source: California Department of Education

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