State test results show most Merced County students, as in previous years, are not keeping up with the state average.
Only the McSwain Union Elementary School District tested above the state average for meeting state standards in English and language arts with 58.75 percent, according to the 2018 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Smarter Balanced Assessment results.
McSwain Union also is the only county school district that tested above the state average for meeting state standards in math, with 41.25 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards.
However, Merced County educators are focused on the improvement many school districts have made since the state overhauled its testing and evaluation system about four years ago.
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“A challenge is that we’re below state average in more cases,” said Steve Tietijen, Merced County superintendent of schools. “But we need to do more than focus on that. The good news is that the majority of districts are seeing increases.”
Extenuating factors, including higher poverty rates, have become barriers to success in education in Merced County, Tietjen said, which is why some districts have placed priority on programs for students whose parents may not have finished school and who don’t have an “academic support system” at home.
The focus also has been on long-term growth rather than the difference in scores from the previous year. Many smaller school districts’ scores can vary greatly if families move in and out of the districts, Tietjen said.
“It’s always a challenge to look at (test scores) for school districts with under 300 students,” Tietjen said. “Are test scores a valid indicator of the content the state wants teachers to teach? Yes. Are they a reliable indicator of what students can do at any time of any day? No.”
According to a Sun-Star analysis of the data, 15 of the county’s 20 school districts have seen improvements in the number of students meeting or exceeding state standards for English and language arts since 2015. Nineteen school districts have seen improvements in math in that period.
One of the school districts that has made strides in test scores is the Le Grand Union Elementary School District.
About 34.6 percent of the district’s students met or exceeded state standards in English and language arts. It was 26.58 percent for math.
Test data shows it was 26 percent in English and language arts and 11 percent in math, in 2015.
Superintendent Scott Borba, who is relatively new to the district but familiar with its inner workings, said the district looks closely at individual student data and has a “laser focus” on identifying the individual needs of students.
“No program is ever going to raise student achievement,” Borba said. “It’s the people. ... We’re making sure we use research-based practices, and focusing on that. We’re looking closely at local data and at the state level.”
An example of that is the school district’s response after identifying an area of concern across the district last year, the students’ “number sense,” which is a construct of mental skills that helps people work with numbers in a variety of ways.
The district, with help from the Merced County Office of Education, brought in coaching and instituted “Number Talks” sessions with students. The five to 15 minute sessions have students solve math problems mentally, with nothing to write on or work with, while explaining their thinking.
Students in Merced County, as a whole, in 2018 lagged behind the English and language arts state average of 49.88 percent by more than 10 percentage points. Just 24.82 percent met state standards for math, compared with the state average of 38.65 percent.
Results for specific school districts and schools can be accessed at https://caaspp.cde.ca.gov/sb2018/Search.
Here’s what percentage of students in each school district met or exceeded state standards in English and language arts (ELA) and math (MATH), according to analysis of test results.
- State Average: 49.88% ELA, 38.65% MATH
- Merced County Average: 39.22%, 24.82%
- McSwain Union Elementary: 58.75%, 41.25%
- Ballico-Cressey Elementary: 49.02%, 25.98%
- Atwater Elementary: 47.47%, 34.84%
- Winton: 47.23%, 35.4%
- Merced Union High: 45.23%, 18.59%
- Merced River Union Elementary: 42.31%, 24.28%
- Snelling-Merced Falls Union: 41.51%, 26.41%
- Plainsburg Union Elementary: 40.79%, 21.06%
- Le Grand Union High: 40.4%, 26.53%
- Merced City Elementary: 39.87%, 25.33%
- Weaver Union: 38.76%, 34.23%
- Los Banos Unified: 37.86%, 22.7%
- Delhi Unified: 36.33%, 23.77%
- Hilmar Unified: 34.91%, 19.15%
- Le Grand Union Elementary: 34.6%, 26.58%
- Livingston Union: 34.34%, 23.58%
- Planada Elementary: 31.72%, 12.55%
- El Nido Elementary: 30.17%, 18.1%
- Gustine Unified: 28.87%, 17.02%
- Dos Palos Oro Loma Unified: 24.05%, 12.43%
Here’s how much each school district’s test scores for meeting state standards improved or decreased since 2015, according to analysis of test results. The numbers are percentage increases or decreases between 2015 results and the latest results.
- State Average: 13% ELA, 17% MATH
- Merced County Average: 23%, 31%
- Le Grand Union Elementary: 33%, 122%
- Winton: 28%, 54%
- Atwater Elementary: 28%, 45%
- Weaver Union: 34%, 43%
- Dos Palos Oro Loma Unified: 27%, 24%
- Planada Elementary: 59%, 14%
- Merced City Elementary: 37%, 41%
- Los Banos Unified: 35%, 19%
- Livingston Union: 18%, 31%
- Gustine Unified: 20%, 22%
- McSwain Union Elementary: 3%, 38%
- Delhi Unified: 1%, 19%
- Le Grand Union High: -8%, 121%
- Merced River Union Elementary: 51%, -3%
- Hilmar Unified: -3%, 13%
- Ballico-Cressey Elementary: 2%, -16%
- Merced Union High: -8%, -7%
- Snelling-Merced Falls Union: -6%, -29%
- El Nido Elementary: -3%, -33%
- Plainsburg Union Elementary: -22%, -19%