Sonoma Valley student test scores still lag county, state

Sonoma Valley students’ results on standardized tests again lagged behind those of students in the county and the state.|

Sonoma Valley students’ results on standardized tests again lagged behind those of students in the county and the state, according to results released by the California Department of Education this month.

Twenty-eight percent of the Valley’s students met or exceeded Common Core State Standards in mathematics on the Smarter Balanced Assessment tests, while 39 percent of students in the county met or exceeded the math standards. Forty-one percent of the Valley’s students met or exceeded the standards in English, compared with 51 percent countywide.

A similar discrepancy existed in the results reported in 2017 and 2016.

“The scores are trending roughly the same as prior years,” noted Elizabeth Kaufman, the district’s associate superintendent for educational services.

Valley students’ math scores were a tad higher this year than those in the previous year. Last year, 26 percent met or exceeded the Common Core State Standards in mathematics, while 28 percent did so this year. With regard to English, last year 42 percent of the district’s students met or exceeded the standards, compared with 41 percent this year.

“This initial data is important in the story of our schools and district,” said Socorro Shiels, the Sonoma Valley Unified School District’s superintendent. “It is one data point and many others are generated about teaching and learning in our classrooms every day.”

Shiels took the reins of the district just months ago, in July; the entire senior executive staff of the district turned over between June 2017 and July 2018.

This is the fourth year for the computer-based tests, which were administered statewide in the spring. In 2015, the Smarter Balanced Assessment replaced the STAR standardized tests that had been in effect since 2000. Students take the tests in grades 3 to 8 and again in grade 11.

The discrepancy appears to reflect a disparity that is reflected throughout schools across the nation – the so-called “achievement gap.” Factors such as income and English language status are associated with lower scores. In Sonoma Valley, fewer than 30 percent of students classified as “economically disadvantaged” were shown as having met standards, according to the test results.

In Sonoma County, about 21 percent of the total student population is comprised of English learners, and 62 percent are English-only speakers.

In the Sonoma Valley Unified School District, 29 percent of the total student population is made up of English learners, with about 48 percent English-only speakers. Fewer than 10 percent of English learners in the district met standards in English language arts, according to the test results.

Another gap exists with regard to gender. Female students showed similar levels of proficiency to male students in math but in English, girls scored significantly higher across the district.

Asked how the district’s new leaders intend to improve student performance, Kaufman said, “The SVUSD educational community is working collaboratively to determine how best to address student outcomes in our district.”

Kaufman said the District English Learner Advisory Council will look at the test scores of students funded by the district’s Title III program and provide input on how to improve scores for English learners and students who are reclassified English language learners.

The latter refers to students who have been identified as students who have acquired proficiency in English.

Kaufman said she is looking at the results with teachers, principals, district administrators, parents, staff and the community “and putting our heads together to determine our best next steps for improving student outcomes,” noting that tests are just one measure.

Kaufman said the district is in its second year implementing its mathematics curriculum and “we are examining materials, including new textbooks for an English language arts and language development program adoption.”

“We are also providing professional development for our new mathematics and writing programs,” which is instruction for teachers in how to successfully impart these lessons.

“But our conversation in terms of school level and district accountability will focus on data, including these test scores,” Kaufman said.

Among eleventh-graders at Sonoma Valley High School, 53 percent met or exceeded state standards in English, Kaufman said.

Kaufman said only 31 percent of the Valley’s eighth-graders met or exceeded state standards in math.

Reach Janis Mara at

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