MERCED -- In the spring, students groaned, teachers tensed and administrators sweated through the annual ritual of state testing. After a four-month delay, the results have arrived.
For 2012, Merced City elementary schools made steady progress on the STAR, Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran said. Eighth-graders also made strides, especially in English and science.
"We believe we will have one more 800-plus school," Parga Duran said, referring to No Child Left Behind numbers to be released in October.
The STAR, or Standardized Testing and Reporting program, is the first of a series of school assessments that will roll out through the year. These scores, high school graduation rates and a host of other measures will be folded into a single No Child Left Behind school score. School ranking in the spring.
Second-graders through high school juniors take state tests in English and math every year. Fifth-graders also take a science test. Eighth-graders take history and science tests, in addition to English and math. High schoolers take tests as they finish the course.
Merced Union High School District students moved forward in English tests across the board.
Numbers compiled by Albert Gonzalez, district administrator of curriculum and assessment, showed Atwater High freshman and juniors making 9-point gains. Buhach Colony and Golden Valley juniors also shined. Sophomores, districtwide, stayed basically flat.
Algebra scores, however, made impressive jumps over last year. Livingston High gained 18 points and Buhach Colony 14 points. Golden Valley, Merced and Atwater high schools also had more students master solving for "X" and "Y."
The change over five years shows sweeping gains by Golden Valley, Merced and Livingston in raising expectations for math. Golden Valley went from less than 1 in 10 students in algebra class reaching proficient to nearly 1 in 3.
Gains in elementary schools across the county helped those scores rise.
Since 2007, Atwater Elementary moved up 17 percent in English and 21 percent in math. Superintendent Melinda Hennes said Latino youth outpaced their classmates, narrowing the gap that persists in statewide numbers.
"Teachers truly believe that all of their students can master the standards. They see it happen every day in their classrooms," Hennes said. Her district gives teachers more say over districtwide instruction, using a peer-review program for further training.
This year's STAR test results mark the ninth year California students overall inched upwards statewide on mathematics and English exams.
Approximately 4.7 million students participated statewide in the 2012 STAR program, with 57 percent scoring proficient or above in English-language arts and 51 percent scoring at proficient or above in mathematics. Those figures show a 3-point rise in English and one percentage point in math.
"In less than a decade, California has gone from having only one student in three score proficient to better than one student in two," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. "That's nearly 900,000 more students reaching proficiency now than in 2003 -- a remarkable achievement that represents real, sustained improvements in learning."
The scores are the highest percentage since the tests were fully aligned in 2003 to California's content standards, which describe what students should know for each grade and subject tested.
In the early years of statewide assessments, what was tested did not always match what was taught. For example the U.S. History test was generally given the year before high schoolers took the course.