Pasadena Unified's Test Scores Cause Achievement Gap Angst

Published : Tuesday, August 30, 2016 | 5:07 AM

Last week’s release of California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) tests scores for the state’s public school students has created a certain amount of angst rippling through educational circles and parents alike.

Locally, just 42 percent of Pasadena Unified students exceeded or met standards in English Language literacy, while 31 percent of students exceeded or met standards in mathematics. Though these scores may seem low, they are a 6 percent increase and a 2 percent increase from last year, respectively.

Pasadena Unified’s Superintendent Brian McDonald emphasized the testing shows the district is moving in a positive direction.

“The results of the CAASPP assessments confirm that our district is headed in the right direction with our college and career programs and with the investments we are making to address — at the root — the long-term issues that have slowed achievement by some groups of students,” said McDonald. “We still have much work ahead to address the achievement gap.”

To Jelena Hasbrouck, the Communications Manager of The Education Trust-West, a California organization that advocates for educational justice, while the uptick is positive, it’s simply not going up fast enough.

“I understand why folks want to focus on the positive, but from our standpoint, there needs to be more of a sense of urgency,” Hasbrouck said. “We think there’s more that can be done. The numbers being low enough that they need rapid progress is really what should be talked about.”

According to Hasbrouck, there exists a education gap between people living in poverty and those who do not — one that cuts across racial lines.

“When we look at the numbers, one of the things we look at is how long it will take to close this gap if we’re going at the same rate we are going now,” Hasbrouck said. “If we look between last year’s results and this year’s results and use that as a rate of improvement, then Black students won’t be meeting the math standards until 2057, and that’s unacceptable.”

The CAASPP tests, which can take up to four hours to complete and are administered over a period of several days, are designed to measure the students’ depth of understanding, writing, research, and problem-solving skills.

According to Peter Tira, a spokesperson for the California Department of Education, this year marks the third year the CAASPP was used to assess students.

An assessment of the CAASPP found that it did a better job of determining college and career readiness compared to previous the iterations of it, Alyssa Schwenk, Director of External Relations of the Fordham Educational Institute confirms, but that the gap between low-income students and others needs to be solved.

“From our perspective, the results obviously show that a lot of work that needs to be done, particularly around the closing gaps between low income and minority students with the rest of the state,” Schwenk said. “These tests give parents a stronger and more accurate idea of how their child is doing.”

Though many attribute poor test scores to undisciplined parenting, Hasbrouck said many studies confirm that minority parents deeply care about their children’s education and future in terms of academics, so putting the spotlight on parents for their children’s test scores is unfair.

“When you actually look at the data, we see studies that Black and Latino parents are the most likely to value college,” Hasbrouck said. “A study from Houston also found they are also more likely to check their child’s homework, so we have the idea that it comes down to families, but we what we actually see is that there’s a culture of low expectations that kids of color and low-income kids face when they get to school, so either consciously or subconsciously, Teachers don’t think they’re going to achieve at the same level.”

Pasadena Unified’s Chief Academic Officer, Shawn Bird, said that it’s difficult to judge an entire school or district by a single test, but that the achievement gap between students still needs to be addressed.

“Our scores improved overall from last year, but several schools saw greater gains,” Bird said. “The CAASPP results also indicate that we have some work to do in closing the achievement gaps that exist among our students. We have plans that are currently being implemented that we believe will help to narrow this gap.”

Josephine Kim, a professor of education at Harvard University, said two factors in the modern world can lead to overall test scores that are lower: a rise in mental health issues and globalism. According to Kim, being an immigrant or a first-generation child to the United States could cause a language barrier, while being mentally ill might make it tougher to be able to understand what is being taught. Kim said a counter to this is tailoring education to the needs of specific students rather than uniformed teaching standards across all classrooms.

“The test scores are just a symptom of a deeper, more pervasive issue, whether it’s a community problem or a family one,” Kim said. “Generally speaking, we have set way of teaching, and we’re in an era where we have to be creative about how we translate information because there are huge difference in how individual students learn.”

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