Students in the Santa-Malibu Unified School District (SMMUSD) are improving their English language arts and math skills, according to Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) data for the 2004-2005 school year.

School district superintendent John Deasy and district chief academic officer Donna Muncey presented the data to the board of education Thursday, August 18th.

The scores are based on California Standards Tests, which are taken in grades two through 11.

History and science tests are taken in some grade levels.

“I was exceedingly pleased with the work of our students, teachers and principals,” Deasy said. “In almost every single case, our growth exceeded Los Angeles County’s growth, which is an important measure because we have always done better than the county and we are expected to do better than the county.”

The STAR average for Los Angeles County is heavily based on scores from the largest school district in the county, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD).

Deasy said SMMUSD scores are often higher than LAUSD scores.

California state education officials have established that students are considered proficient in an academic subject if they score 60 percent or above on a standardized test.

Students can earn one of five performance levels for each subject test — advanced, proficient, basic, below basic or far below basic.

“When we began the STAR testing in California, we had no grade level at 60 percent proficiency,” Deasy said. “California’s proficiency is an extraordinarily high threshold and is considered the highest in the country.

“There are now many grade levels in our district that have exceeded the proficiency and we are moving towards 70, 80 and 90 percent proficiency,” he said.

ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS SCORES — For school year 2004-2005, students in grade levels three, six, ten and 11 did not post average English language arts test scores above 60 percent proficiency.

The fourth-grade average for English language arts is the district’s highest, at 72 percent proficiency.

The lowest is the 11th-grade average, at 48 percent proficiency.

When compared to the Los Angeles County average in English language arts, all grade levels in SMMUSD exceeded the county average.

English language arts scores for African-American and Latino students in third grade dropped in 2004-2005 from district averages in 2003-2004.

Grade three is the first year students take the English language arts test without assistance.

In grade two, teachers read the test aloud to the students.

“We are trying to figure out how this change in the way the test is taken factors into the dip in scores,” Deasy said.

Ninth-grade students posted the largest English language arts improvement from 2003-2004 (51 percent proficiency) to 2004-2005 (65 percent proficiency).

“We are looking at all of this data to see what types of things are happening at Santa Monica High School and Malibu High School,” Muncey said. “Santa Monica and Malibu High Schools have been doing a lot of things differently and we are looking at explanations for the massive increase in ninth grade, which is really impressive growth for one year.”

MATH SCORES — Students in grades two through seven take general math standardized tests.

Beginning with grade eight, students take standardized tests based on a specific math subject and class they chose to enroll in such as general math, algebra or geometry.

“We are watching gains in every grade level, but the magnitude of the gains in sixth and seventh grades are not as high as the gains in second, third, fourth and fifth,” Deasy said.

“We are knocking on the door of proficiencies, which we have never seen in the district and they are above 70 percent.”

Math scores increased in 2004-2005 in grades two through seven from district averages in 2003-2004.

While third-grade students posted an eight-point gain and second-graders and fifth-graders posted five-point gains, sixth-graders posted a three-point gain and seventh-graders posted a four-point gain.

Year-to-year comparisons in eighth grade math scores are difficult to make because the number of eighth-graders taking a particular math test changes each year, Muncey said.

“We have a lot of work to do in mathematics, but some results are encouraging,” Muncey said. “Students who are taking the general math course are struggling with math and the basic concepts, but we now have a focus area for our next set of work plans at the middle schools.”

More than 300 of the 1,000 eighth-graders in the district took the general math test and a little more than 20 percent scored at proficient or advanced levels.

More than 600 eighth-graders took the algebra test and 50 percent scored at or above proficiency.

“Seventy-two of our eighth-graders took the geometry test, which is a record-high enrollment, and 96 percent scored at proficiency or advanced,” Deasy said.

When the STAR math scores are broken into student subgroups, Latino students posted yearly gains except in fourth grade where the scores remained flat.

Math scores in the district for African-American students in third grade dropped in 2004-2005 from 2003-2004.

MORE STAFF REPORTS — The STAR data that was presented to the board of education did not list the number of students in each category.

The number of students in each category is important because the margin of error is wider if there is a small number of students in a category.

“Some of the results are based on a sample size of 60 or 70 students,” said board member Jose Escarce. “[The margin of error] is plus or minus 13 points, and that is huge on either side.

“When the results look like they are fluctuating a lot, it may be because of random error.”

The number of students in each category will be listed when more extensive reports are presented to the board of education at future meetings.

In the meantime, the district will mail individual reports to students and parents.

Principals will receive STAR reports consisting of data for each school, each grade level and each classroom.

“This is really just the first ‘sunshining’ of these reports and we have not had a lot of time to go into the details,” said board president Emily Bloomfield. “It’s fair to give the staff time to parse the data and come back with more fully formulated ideas about what is going on.

“About middle school math in particular, we really want to understand that trend so that the scores go up.”