A first look at scores from state tests taken in the spring show slightly lower numbers overall, predicted as schools shift to common core before state tests make the change.
In essence, what's on the test is increasingly not what children are being taught.
"We started transitioning to common core about two years ago. What we didn't want to do is get to the '14-'15 school year and just start out blank," said Scott Scambray, superintendent of the Merced Union High School District.
The shift, one of the first nationwide, cost them points on the annual state Standardized Testing and Reporting assessments, known as STAR, but Scambray said it was the right move.
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"We really have two choices: We can work on the future, which is what's best for kids, or we can beat a dead horse," he said.
Merced City School District will begin implementing common core this year, said Annie Dossetti, assistant superintendent of educational services. The district dipped slightly in English scores and held steady in math, except for a 14 percent rise in algebra scores, she said.
The district dedicated a page of its website to common core information, including explanatory videos, said Merced City Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran.
"Districts and classroom teachers are at a transitional time in education," said Kathy Pon, assistant superintendent at the Merced County Office of Education. With federal law out of date, and new standards and online testing in the wings, it's a tough time to make sense of test results, she said.
A broad look at the numbers shows the need for change, with the vast majority of schools nowhere close to the 100 percent proficiency No Child Left Behind promised for all in 2014-15.
Five Merced County schools, all elementaries, hit 75 percent of students proficient in math: Peterson in Merced; Olaeta in Atwater; Sparkes in Winton, Hopeton in Snelling and Pioneer in Weaver. Forty percent of students meet math standards on Merced County campuses.
Statewide, 51 percent of students hit the bar in math and 56 percent in reading, down slightly from last year, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said today.
"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," Torlakson said.
However, he added, "The long-standing achievement gap among student groups remains a matter of great concern and considerable challenge. We must move forward now so that all children, no matter where they come from or where they live, receive a world-class education."
In Merced County, where more than a quarter of students are learning English, several district officials said helping those children must be more of a focus.
"Our (English learners) continue to lag behind," said Delhi Unified Superintendent Brian Stephens. Delhi is working to include strategies for those learning the language in common core instruction, he said.
"Preparing teachers for common core is now our focus," Stephens said.
The Merced River School District will put renewed effort into raising achievement by English learners, Superintendent Helio Brasil said.
The district cheered eighth-graders' gains in algebra this year, Brasil said, but he sees a need to educate students beyond the tested math and reading.
"I hope that the current federal administration officials will soon encourage a broader outlook. Our students need and deserve a well-rounded education," he said.
"With reauthorization of (federal education law) and implementation of the common core, a greater shift in focus for disciplines including history, civics, foreign languages and the arts will indeed move us in the right direction," Brasil said.
Education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339, and on Twitter, @NanAustin.
TOP 10 IN MATH
The top 10 Merced County schools by percentage of students scoring as proficient or above in math are shown with their school district.
77 — Allan Peterson Elementary, Merced City
77 — Frank Sparkes Elementary, Winton
77 — Thomas Olaeta Elementary, Atwater
76 — Hopeton Elementary, Merced River
75 — Pioneer Elementary, Weaver
74 — Donn Chenoweth Elementary, Merced City
73 — Peggy Heller Elementary, Atwater
71 — Shaffer Elementary, Atwater
70 — Mitchell Elementary, Atwater
70 — Planada Elementary, Planada
Source: California Department of Education
TOP 10 IN ENGLISH
The top 10 Merced County schools by percentage of students scoring as proficient or above in reading and writing are shown with their school district.
70 — McSwain Elementary, McSwain
69 — Gustine High, Gustine
68 — Allan Peterson Elementary, Merced City
67 — Thomas Olaeta Elementary, Atwater
66 — Ballico Elementary, Ballico-Cressey
65 — Charleston Elementary, Los Banos
65 — Peggy Heller Elementary, Atwater
63 — Cruickshank Middle, Merced City
63 — Donn Chenoweth Elementary, Merced City
60 — Merced Scholars Charter, Merced County Office
Source: California Department of Education