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CUSD pleased with STAR test score gains
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Results of the 2012 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) released by the California Department of Education on Aug. 31 contained news that was both good and bad for the Ceres Unified School District.

"Overall things are looking pretty good," said Supt. Scott Siegel.

The 2012 STAR results show students in CUSD are making progress in English and language arts.

"We had strong gains in English," noted Siegel.

A greater percentage of students moved up into the proficient and advanced categories in that subject with a decrease in lower performances.

However, CUSD slipped a little bit in secondary grade levels in math. Siegel believes that's due to students taking more advanced classes earlier in an accelerated model and earlier testing. Dismal proficiency test scores were experienced at Central Valley High School where only 15.3 percent were proficient, 24.4 percent at Blaker Kinser Junior High and 27 percent at Cesar Chavez Junior High School. By contrast, Westport Elementary tested School 76.8 percent of students proficient in math.

Siegel said that scores at a couple of Ceres schools were fairly flat, including Westport, Caswell and Adkison.

"Westport is down a tiny, tiny bit but they are so high they are remaining high," said Siegel.

Westport, a rural school that draws students from poorer, less educated and mostly Spanish-speaking households, has made great gains, said Assistant Superintendent Mary Jones.

"They are doing very, very well," said Jones. "They are at a level now that takes a really huge push to increase those scores some more."

She attributed their success to the school being "very consistent in application in instructional strategies that help kids to learn. When you walk through the school you see the focus, you see kids learning."

The STAR program is divided into four subcategories of tests. Under the program, California students attain one of five levels of performance on the California Standards Tests, giving an overall view of students' learning for each subject tested: Advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic.

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

Approximately 4.7 million students participated in the 2012 STAR program, with 57 percent scoring proficient or above in English-language arts, three percent more than last year, and 51 percent scoring at proficient or above in mathematics.

"In less than a decade, California has gone from having only one student in three score proficient to better than one student in two," said Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. "That's nearly 900,000 more students reaching proficiency now than in 2003, a remarkable achievement that represents real, sustained improvements in learning."

Test results often mean little, said Siegel, at schools where the numbers of students are tested small. Results can widely fluctuate when numbers of tested are small, such as the under 40 who tested at Whitmore Charter High School. Whitmore Charter Home School has only 25 students "one student could throw those numbers one way or the other," said Jones.

Endeavor High is also small.

In the CUSD, the English-language arts category had the largest increase, with 53.5 percent of second- through 11th-graders testing proficient level, compared to 49.9 percent last year. In mathematics, of the second- through seventh-graders tested in the district, 48.8 percent scored in proficient or advanced range this year, compared to 45.4 percent last year. In history, of the eighth- and 11th-graders tested in the district, 46.8 percent scored in the proficient or advanced range this year, compared to 45.8 percent last year.