State Reports Find Pasadena Unified Below State and County Student Proficiency Averages, Improving

Published : Thursday, October 4, 2018 | 5:39 AM

The latest state report on academic testing results shows Pasadena below county and state averages when it comes to students’ proficiency in English and math – which educators and parents alike attribute to socioeconomic factors — but also shows movement in the right direction.

About 44.7 percent of Pasadena Unified students’ met or surpassed the standard in English, compared with 48.9 percent county-wide and 49.9 percent statewide, according to the 2018 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, published by the California Department of Education.

In math, 34.9 percent of Pasadena Unified students met or exceeded the standard, compared with 37.5 percent of students throughout Los Angeles County and 38.7 percent at the state level.

The vast socioeconomic differences throughout Southern California largely explain the differences in test scores seen among different school districts, Pasadena Unified Board Member Scott Phelps said. He added that much of what goes into students’ success happens outside the classroom.

“What is producing these scores is not so much what’s going on in the school time, the six hours of the school day, it’s what’s going on outside of the school,” he said. “We know it’s about parental education and the resources.

Engaged parents can make all the difference, Phelps said. “The parental example, I think, is the most powerful force in humanity.”

The state report includes test results from 3rd- through 8th-graders, as well as 11th-graders.

While the result at only slightly below the county and state averages for proficiency, some other neighboring districts saw far higher proficiency rates. La Cañada Unified School District students, for example, had 87.8 percent of test scores meet or exceed the standard in English, and 85.1 percent in math.

But again, the number doesn’t tell the full story, said Pasadena Unified teacher Jason Robert. His duties include teaching calculus to middle school students.

“Looking at this data in summary form is misleading at best because you don’t have identical groups. You’re not comparing apples to apples when you’re comparing PUSD to, say, La Cañada, San Marino or South Pasadena,” he said.

“You’re not accounting for the fact that people who live in those communities make far above the cutoff for socioeconomically disadvantaged. And when you make far above that amount than paying for outside instruction or tutoring is a no-brainer,” Roberts said. “If you are not price-sensitive to that couple hundred dollars a month or $100 a week to getting your kid up over the bar on something as important as math or reading, you’re going to pay it. You’re absolutely going pay it.”

Pasadena Unified’s rates were slightly higher than those of the Los Angeles Unified School District, which saw a 42.3 percent proficiency rate in English and a 31.6 percent proficiency rate in math.

Test scores in Pasadena have improved over 2015. The percentage of students whose scores met the standard rose by 8.7 percent on the English exam, and 5.9 percent in the math section, the data shows.

And the number of PUSD students who exceeded standards also grew over the past three years, by 6.5 percent in English and 4.2 percent in math.

“Parent engagement has increased,” Phelps cited as one reason for the imrovement.

And particularly, with respect to the improvements in English scores, Phelps said school staff have cited a new program as a big help.

“They would directly attribute that to the program that we rolled out a few years ago called Balanced Literacy, where we invested a lot of money in classroom libraries and in (books) that are at the appropriate levels,” Phelps said.

PUSD parent Laura Diaz Allen said she’s pleased with the new numbers.

“My initial reaction is that we’re actually doing very well. We’re going in the right direction,” she said.

“I am the happiest I’ve ever been with my kids and the district. They are both thriving,” Diaz Allen said. “I can’t imagine them getting a better education at this moment, I really can’t.”

“My 13-year-old is taking calculus. Where in the country does that happen?” she said.

Norah Small, who has two kids at Blair High School and serves as president of the school’s parent, teacher, student association, said she was glad to see positive movement in the numbers, but doesn’t put too much stock in test scores.

“I think it’s encouraging to see that there is some increase, but I have to say that when it comes to my kids’ education and our school, I don’t particularly look at.. test scores,” she said. “I think that they speak more to the fact of what the child’s (socioeconomic) situation is rather than the success of the school.”

Tina Pham said she’s also pleased with the education her son is getting at Jackson Elementary School. And she, too, cautioned against putting too much emphasis on test scores.

“I just know that just from my experience with Jackson, had I just looked at the test scores, I would not have that sent my son there,” she said. “I’m very glad that we took the time to take the tour, because our eyes showed us a thing that the test scores would never show us. The programming was phenomenal. Teaching was phenomenal.

“So as a parent I had to get over the idea that test scores were the basis to judge schools,” Pham said. “In my opinion, it really shows that it’s largely a demographic function.”

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress report can be viewed online at caaspp.cde.ca.gov.

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