For the first time in a decade, the percentage of Sonoma County students considered proficient or advanced in key academic subjects has declined, according to data released Thursday by the California Department of Education.
<a href="http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article/99999999/multimedia/110819558" target="_blank">View the 2012-2013 STAR test score database.</a>
Fewer students scored proficient or advanced in English language arts, history-social science and science when the statewide tests were conducted in the spring. Math results remained even between 2012 and 2013.
"Our schools will need to concentrate on English-language arts as county scores in this content area were down at most grade levels," Sonoma County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent Mickey Porter said in a statement. "It is a SCOE priority to help them in this effort."
The drop mirrored declines across California, where a slightly smaller percentage of students were deemed proficient or advanced in math, English language arts and science than in 2012. In social science, the percentage of California's students considered proficient or advanced increased 0.6 percent over last year.
In Sonoma County, 58 percent of students scored proficient or advanced in English language arts, down three percent from 2012. The percentage of students who mastered the social science test went from 48 percent in 2012 to 47 percent this year. In science, the percentage of proficient or advanced students fell from 61 percent to 59 percent. Fifty-two percent of students scored proficient or advanced in math, the same as in the spring of 2012.
The California Standards Test, the major component of the Standardized Testing and Reporting program, was given to approximately 4.7 million second- through 11th-graders last spring, including more than 53,000 students in Sonoma County.
Many area officials are still sorting through the data, trying to determine how the scores will affect a series of high stakes scores and report cards that penalize campuses and districts for failure to meet ever-increasing academic targets laid out under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
In addition to the federal accountability system, the current test scores are used by the state to determine each school's Academic Performance Index. Those rankings, along with results from federal academic assessments, are expected to be released by the Department of Education in September or October.
The current system of penalties and accountability remains largely in flux as schools across California and the nation begin adopting the Common Core curriculum and assessment system — a program that many educators expect to replace much of No Child Left Behind.
That change in focus has been pointed to as one reason students failed to make gains for the first time in years.
Experts across the state also said the lag could be attributed to years of steep budget cuts which have forced teacher layoffs, increased class sizes and slashed support programs for struggling students.
"We went through several years of financial reductions which takes a lot of your support staff and professional development out of the picture," said Steve Jorgensen, superintendent of Cloverdale School District. "I think that would have an effect."
"In our district, it hasn't impacted the diversity of classes that are offered that are closely assessed by (STAR), but it has certainly affected class size and the number of school days," said West Sonoma County Superintendent Keller McDonald.
Superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education Steve Herrington said that while budget cuts are to blame for the elimination of summer school, intervention programs as well as a shortened school year and an increase in class sizes, some districts are simply shifting focus from the current test to the new Common Core curriculum which is billed as an entirely new way to teach concepts and assess learning.