Common Core test results — some encouraging, others dismal — start a new measure of school accountability with a bang

By Gary Walker

Playa Vista Elementary School Principal Rebecca Johnson attributes her school’s successful Common Core results to a curriculum that teaches “mathematical thinking and problem-solving” skills  Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

Playa Vista Elementary School Principal Rebecca Johnson attributes her school’s successful Common Core results to a curriculum that teaches “mathematical thinking and problem-solving” skills
Photo by Jorge M. Vargas Jr.

(Click here to find Common Core test results for Westside schools)

Long before last week’s release of the new Common Core state standardized testing results, Playa Vista Elementary School Principal Rebecca Johnson’s teachers were already teaching students the skills they’d need to perform well.

The school’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) curriculum aligns well with the new exams, which Johnson and other educators say is much more demanding than the state’s previous testing model.

“In our curriculum, students are taught to demonstrate and articulate the kind of mathematical thinking and problem-solving associated with Common Core standards,” Johnson said.

The results back that up: The 540-student campus is one of only five LAUSD schools west of the 405 where more than half of students met or exceeded Common Core benchmarks for math and English.

Broadway Elementary School in Venice, Mar Vista Elementary School and Playa del Rey Elementary School are also on that prestigious short list.

At least half of the students at Open Magnet Charter School in Westchester, Goethe International Charter School in Del Rey and WISH Charter Elementary School in Westchester also met or exceeded benchmarks in both subjects.

Across all of LAUSD, only 33% of students passed the math test and only 25% passed the English test.

By contrast, most Santa Monica schools saw at least half their students pass both tests — an achievement for which SMMUSD Supt. Sandra Lyon credited an engaged local education landscape.

“We appreciate the efforts of our teachers, staff and PTA groups for helping our students understand the purpose of this testing and providing support to their students in preparation for these rigorous exams,” reads a statement by Lyon.

Not far from the affluent Playa Vista community, Playa del Rey Elementary School was also celebrating success and received a special letter of congratulations from interim LAUSD Supt Ramon Cortines.

“I have looked at your scores and you and your staff should be very proud,” Cortines wrote to Playa del Rey Elementary Principal Valencia Blue following a campus visit. “It was a pleasure visiting classrooms, to see what students are doing and to see the instructional leadership of teachers.”

At Playa del Rey Elementary, 53% of students passed the math test and 75% passed English — numbers Blue is especially proud of, considering that 61% of her students come from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

“Our veteran teachers know how to teach. We took a stronger focus in engaging our students on projected-based solutions and critical thinking,” said Blue, who also attributed the school’s success to a “dedicated parent group that has helped to supplement our technology needs, and hard-working teachers and support staff.”

For other local schools, the test results weren’t so encouraging.

Fewer than 20% of students at Marina del Rey Middle School, Mark Twain Middle School, Stoner Avenue Elementary School and Walgrove Avenue Elementary School passed the math tests. At Marina del Rey, Stoner and Mark Twain, fewer than 30% of students pass the English test.

At Venice High School, 17% of students met or exceeded the math benchmark.

At Westchester Enriched Science Magnets (formerly Westchester High), only 4% of students passed the Common Core math test.

Results for local charter schools also varied. Nearly three quarters of Open Magnet Charter students passed both tests but less than half of students passed either test at WISH Charter Middle School, Westchester Secondary Charter School, ICEF Vista Academy, and Animo Westside Charter Middle School.

But not everyone thinks the Common Core tests should be taken alone as a barometer for a school’s success.

“We can’t diagnose the context of education simply by looking at test scores. We need to take into account the impact of teacher turnover, [school] district politics, socioeconomics, access to technology and school leadership,” said Loyola Marymount University Professor Ernesto Colín, who specializes in urban education.

The good news, said Colín, is that test scores will likely improve as students and educators become more familiar with the Common Core standards.

“The new shift in testing and the [current] results are part of the growing pains,” he said.