Sonoma County students improve in reading, math results despite 2017 wildfires
While the October 2017 firestorm had profound emotional and physical effects on school communities in Sonoma County, standardized test scores released this week indicate gradual improvement in students’ math and English scores.
Over half of county students, ?51.25 percent, met or exceeded English Language Arts standards, and 38.61 percent met or exceeded math standards, according to results released by the California Department of Education on Tuesday. It’s an improvement from last year, when less than half, 48.6 percent, met or exceed English standards, and 36.6 percent met or exceeded math standards.
“The fact that student progress maintained and even increased in such an unprecedented year is remarkable,” said Lyndsey Munn, director of data and assessment at the Sonoma County Office of Education. “Every single student and adult in the educational system was affected by last year’s disaster.”
In its fourth year, the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress - a group of computer-based standardized tests - was administered statewide last spring to over 3 million students in third through eighth grade, plus 11th grade.
Sonoma County students fared better in English than their counterparts statewide, and were on par with them in math.
Across California, less than half of students - 49.88 percent - met or exceeded English standards, and 38.65 percent met or exceeded math standards. The English results improved by 1.32 percentage points, while the math results rose ?5.65 percentage points.
State Superintendent Tom Torlakson was optimistic about the improvement, but said more work must be done to narrow achievement gaps.
“We’re encouraged by what we see, especially since these tests are more rigorous than previous paper and pencil tests. However, we need to make sure all students continue to make progress,” Torlakson said in a release.
Statewide, 64.86 percent of white students and 76.41 percent of Asian students met or exceeded English standards, while only 32.27 percent of black students and 39.16 percent of Hispanic or Latino students met or exceeded reading standards.
The results signified consistent, yet gradual improvement for all students since the tests were first administered in 2015, but a significant achievement gap still loomed. Only 19.74 percent of black students met or exceeded math standards this year, compared with 53.57 of white students and 73.54 percent of Asian students.
In Sonoma County, the achievement gap continued to narrow, with Hispanic and Latino students experiencing greater progress in English Language Arts and math compared with other types of student groups.
The county results, however, don’t take into account its largest district, Santa Rosa City Schools, where its 16,000 students - over half of whom are Latino or Hispanic - did not take the standardized tests. Last school year the state granted a waiver to the district, which was among the worst hit by the October 2017 wildfires.
The district had a campus and school farm destroyed in the firestorm, and more than 800 Santa Rosa students lost their homes. Additionally, instructional time was lost when schools were forced to close for three weeks after the fires.
Just over 28,000 students in the county took the exam this year, far less than the year before, when 36,000 students took it. About 8,000 students in the Santa Rosa district are in the grades that would have been tested, according to the Sonoma County Office of Education.
Test results varied between districts in the county. Sonoma Valley Unified School District students scored below the state and county, with 41.29 percent meeting or exceeding English standards, a slight decrease from last year. They had a slight increase in math, with 27.96 percent of students meeting standards.
“This initial data is important in the story of our schools and district. It is one data point and many others are generated about teaching and learning in our classrooms every day,” said Superintendent Socorro Shiels. “I am confident that our diligent and experienced professionals, teachers and principals alike will use this and other information as part of their toolbox moving forward.”
The West Sonoma County Union High School District had 64.80 percent of its students exceed or meet English standards, nearly 15 percentage points higher than state results.
“We are very proud of our students’ accomplishments,” said Superintendent Toni Beal, who credited committed teachers, a variety of programs and a supportive community for the district’s success.
Similarly, 62.02 percent of Petaluma Joint Union High School District students met or exceeded English standards. Petaluma Superintendent Gary Callahan noted the steady increase in his district from third to 11th grade.
“We’re really pleased,” Callahan said. “It’s one indicator but it’s an important one for us.”
You can reach Staff Writer Susan Minichiello at 707-521-5216 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@susanmini.