Test Scores Slip Slightly in N-MUSD and Statewide

Standardized test results released Thursday show slight declines and improvements in academic categories for Newport-Mesa students.

The Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa. (Photo credit Walt Weis)
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Costa Mesa. (Photo credit Walt Weis)
By Adam Townsend and Nisha Gutierrez-Jaime

Standardized test results released Thursday show student scores in Orange County and across the state have dipped slightly.

Overall the decline in scores in some academic areas in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District were minimal. Fred Navarro, N-MUSD Superintendent, said the slight dip in some of the testing areas were expected, due to changes and uncertainty in the state's education system.

“After more than a decade of growth, N-MUSD maintains a respectable level of achievement," Navarro said in a released statement. We anticipated the slight dip in scores as our focus has changed during this past year as we prepare to transition to the Common Core State Standards.”

Statewide and countywide, there was actually very little change in the percentage of students deemed proficient or advanced in English, math, history and science. Most of the statistics show a dip of less than one percent.

Al Mijares, Superintendent of the Orange County Department of Education, said he was pleased with this year’s aggregate numbers. OC students outshine those in Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, he said.

“When you look at the largest counties in California, we continue to out-score those counties, and we have the same demographic challenges they do,” Mijares said. “You can’t say all our kids come from English-speaking homes with strong middle-class families.”

Mijares said the slight dips in percentages shouldn’t cause undue alarm.

“You’re always looking for ways to improve -- that’s an ongoing quest,” Mijares said. “We saw a little bit of a dip in the elementary grades, so we’ll have to study that and make sure it’s a statistical aberration, not a trend.”

Mijares also commended OC teachers’ “professionalism and competence” for helping students to maintain most of the testing gains from over the past decade despite layoffs and budget cuts.

The State Standards

The students in California from second through 11th grades take a battery of tests each year established by California’s 1999 Public Schools Accountability Act. The California Department of Education measures student achievement through Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR results, which it releases in bulk to the public and schools throughout the state every summer.

Students throughout the state slipped a few fractions of a percentage point in their test scores, but managed to hold on to most of the gains schools have made in test performance since 2003, when the education system statewide fully integrated STAR assessments into their operations, according to the education department.

“As you would expect for a school system in transition, results varied from grade to grade, subject to subject, and school to school, but the big picture is one of remarkable resilience despite the challenges,” said State Superintendent Tom Torlakson in a release this week. “While we all want to see California’s progress continue, these results show that in the midst of change and uncertainty, teachers and schools kept their focus on students and learning. That’s a testament to the depth of their commitment to their students and the future of our state.”

According to the state education department, not every kid takes the whole battery of tests, depending on grade level -- for instance, a second grader wouldn’t take high school biology just as a high schooler wouldn’t take second-grade math. There are a couple alternate and modified tests taken by kids with disabilities, and one in Spanish for kids who have either been in the country for less than 12 months or received instruction in Spanish, according to the department of education website.

But the majority of schoolchildren throughout the state take a test called the California Standards Test, which tests english language arts; history and social science; mathematics; and science.

Numbers throughout N-MUSD

The percentage of students deemed "proficient or advanced" dipped slightly in some categories, and increased a tad in other academic categories in the 2013 school year.

In English and Language Arts, 66.1 percent of students were proficient or advanced in 2013, while the year before 67.4 percent of students were proficient or advanced.

In history and social sciences, 61.3 percent of students were deemed proficient or advanced, last year 61.4 percent of students were deemed proficient or advanced.

In mathematics 60.5 percent of students were deemed proficient or advanced in 2013, in 2012 60.7 percent of students were deemed proficient or advanced.

In science 73.1 percent of students were deemed proficient or advanced in 2013, while 72.5 percent were deemed proficient or advanced in 2012.

Numbers Countywide

The number of Orange County students deemed advanced or proficient in English and language arts dropped a percentage point from 65.6 percent in 2012 to 64.6 percent in 2013.

Orange County’s proficient and advanced history and social sciences students in 2012 made up 61.1 percent of those tested as opposed to 60.8 percent in 2013.

Math scores dropped slightly as well. In 2012, 61.7 percent of students tested throughout the county were proficient or advanced in math, while only 60.8 percent were proficient or advanced in 2013.

OC science scores dropped in aggregate dropped by more than one percent. In 2012, 64.8 percent of students tested were proficient or advanced in science, while 63.3 percent of students in 2013 were proficient or advanced in science.

Numbers Statewide

In 2012, 57.2 percent of California students were deemed “proficient or advanced” in English and language arts, while only 56.4 percent met those standards in the 2013 school year.

In Math, 51.5 percent of students were advanced or proficient in 2012, but the 2013 kids shaved that number down to 51.2.

Similarly with science, 59.5 percent of 2012 students were proficient or advanced while only 59.1 percent of 2013 students showed the same aptitude.

A bright spot in the STAR report this year was that student tacked on a few tenths of a percent in their history and social science scores: the percentage of proficient or advanced students in 2012 was 48.8, which rose to 49.4 in 2013.

Starting in the 2014, the state will start changing up the kind of testing it requires of students, however.

Torlakson in January unveiled new tests that follow the guidelines set forth in the Common Core State Standards. Those recommendations were put together last year by a task force that studied new testing methods under a mandate by the state Legislature.

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