Sonoma County students made slight strides in the latest round of Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program results, according to data released today by the California Department of Education.

The percentage of local students who scored proficient or advanced in the English language arts portion of the exam moved from 55 last year to 56 this year.

In math, students scoring proficient or advanced went from 50 percent to 51 percent in the latest numbers.

All scores are based on tests taken last spring.

Second through eleventh graders take the English language arts exam. A general math test is given to students in grades two through seven, after which students are tested in individual math disciplines.

Carl Wong, superintendent of the Sonoma County Office of Education, predicted schools across the county and state will struggle to show even modest gains this year in the face of ever-deepening budget cuts.

"I think this may be the last year of grace before we really see some significant impact on the core quality of education in California," he said.

Since 2007-08, state revenue to Sonoma County schools has dropped 18 percent, according to the Office of Education. Factor in cuts to cost-of-living adjustments that schools are accustomed to receiving and the loss surges to 25 percent.

"We continue, as a nation and as a state and county, to hold very high expectations for students and high demands of staff for quality of education. But when you look at the funding trendlines, they are going in one direction and demands in another," Wong said.

Statewide just more than half of California students scored proficient or advanced on the English language arts portion of the 2010 STAR, up from exactly 50 percent the previous year.

In math, students upped their scores from 46 to 48 percent.

The release of the data begins a series of high-stakes assessments and rankings using test results from the STAR test given to students in grades two through 11 last spring.

The results from STAR are used to determine each school's Academic Performance Index, the state's ranking system. The goal for all schools is an 800 API out of a possible 1,000.

The STAR scores are also used to determine whether districts, schools and subgroups have met requirements laid out in the federal No Child Left Behind Law. Federal benchmarks rise each year until all students in all subgroups are expected to reach proficiency by 2014, a target many educators call unrealistic.

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