This week, many Sonoma County school districts will begin a new school year on a down note. After small but steady advancements in STAR test results, scores dropped this year, marking the first time in a decade that they declined.
According to results posted late last week, 58 percent of students in Sonoma County scored proficient or advanced in English-language arts. That's down 3 percent from 2012.
Meanwhile, 47 percent of students scored at proficient or advanced levels in social science, down from 48 percent in 2012. In science, the decline was more pronounced. The percentage of proficient or advanced students dropped from 61 percent in 2012 to 59 percent this year. About the only positive news to be found in the overall scores is that the number of students who scored proficient or advanced in math stayed the same — at 52 percent.
The results are disappointing, but they're not unique. School districts across the state experienced similar declines.
Overall statewide scores dropped by less than 1 percent, which state education officials contend is due to reduction in class resources and an increase in class sizes because of recent budget cuts.
Considering that, as state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson noted, the scores showed "remarkable resilience despite the challenges" by teachers. But educators are pointing to another possible reason for the drop in scores — the fact that the STAR test itself will soon be obsolete.
California and most other states are in the process of moving to the Common Core curriculum and an assessment system that will replace STAR testing as well as many programs created through the federal No Child Left Behind legislation.
The Common Core curriculum already is in the process of being adopted in many school districts in Sonoma County. But schools are still required to complete the older Standardized Testing and Reporting program.
Such a complicated transition is nonsensical. Teachers and school administrators face enough challenges in trying to educate today's children without being slaves to two curricula and assessment programs.
For all its faults, the STAR assessment has served its purpose for more than a decade — giving a uniform picture of academic performance in certain key disciplines. And despite the program's many failings, there has been progress.