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CUSD happy with higher test scores
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The release of the STAR tests taken in spring had Ceres Unified School District (CUSD) officials grinning last week.

The 2010 Standardized Testing and Reporting results released by the California Department of Education show students in the CUSD are making progress in English language arts, history, math and science, with more students falling in the proficient to advanced range than last year.

"Overall the district did pretty well this year," said Assistant Superintendent Mary Jones. "We're pleased how our kids are doing but there's always more work to do."

Districtwide students are collectively 49 percent in the proficient and advanced category.

"Wouldn't it be great if all our students were proficient?" rhetorically asked Jones. "But that's not realistic."

The STAR program is divided into four subcategories of tests, but it is the California Standards Tests that give an overall view of students' learning. The CSTs are standards-based tests that measure the learning of English language arts, mathematics, science and history/social science. Under the STAR program, California students attain one of five levels of performance on the CSTs for each subject tested: Advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic. The State Board of Education has established the proficient level as the desired achievement goal for all students, which is consistent with the federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

Students across the state improved their scores from last year, with a larger proportion than ever scoring proficient or higher.

In the CUSD, 49.9 percent of second through 11th graders tested at the proficient or advanced level in English language arts, compared to 46.6 percent last year. In mathematics, of the second- through seventh-graders tested in the district, 45.4 percent scored in the proficient or advanced range this year, compared to 42.3 percent last year. In history, of the eighth- and 11th graders tested in the district, 45.8 percent scored in the proficient or advanced range this year, compared to 43.8 percent last year.

Some of the greatest gains in the county included three schools in Ceres - Hidahl, Caswell and Walter White elementary schools.

"We're very proud of them," said Jones.

CUSD has an expectation for schools to increase their standings by five percent per year and pays attention to the percentages of students being moved out of the bottom levels of "far below" and "below basic."

Schools that will need to work harder on their scores include Don Pedro and Walter White. Blaker Kinser Junior High School. Only 15 percent of Don Pedro fifth graders were proficient at science; by contrast Hidahl had 64 percent proficiency.

"The individual schools set their goals based on test results. They'll need to focus on individual needs to move them up."

Blaker Kinser, said Jones, has made gains this year but said "they just need to work really hard on their instructional strategies that they're using."

Westport is an example of one school excelling despite representing the lowest school socio-economically speaking.

Westport boasts 68 percent proficiency in English/language arts, 76 percent in math and 35 percent in fifth-grade science.

"We know kids can do well no matter where they come from," said Jones.

Spratling Middle School in Keyes, and Ross Middle school in Hughson posted solid improvements in reading and math. Ross also posted gains in history and science.

Approximately 4.7 million California students participated in the 2011 STAR program, with 54 percent scoring proficient or above in English language arts and 50 percent scoring at proficient or above in mathematics, the highest percentage since the program's inception in 2003, according to the Department of Education.

"The significant and sustained improvements we've seen for nine consecutive years prove how hard teachers, school employees, administrators, and parents are working to help students achieve despite budget cuts that have affected our schools," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. "Their heroic teamwork is paying off for California."

An emphasis on science and math proficiency has been made at the state level, as Torlakson hopes to prepare students to succeed in the global economy - something his Transition Advisory Team outlined in the report, "A Blueprint for Great Schools."

"California had 44,000 more students proficient in its most demanding mathematics test and 147,000 more students testing proficient in biology than just eight years ago," Torlakson said. "That's significant progress, and it shows the enormous potential we have to accomplish even more as we carry out the "Blueprint for Great Schools' and focus on preparing even more students to thrive in our competitive economy."