It’s that time again: Kids are at their schoolroom desks and the latest round of standardized test scores are about to appear.
With the new school year freshly afoot and new beginnings underway, Monique Dollonne — mother, local education activist and founder of the Coalition for Accountability in Education, which is in the process of receiving nonprofit status — is looking for another fresh start.
She wants the general public to be as passionate about education as she is. Dollonne is back at the drawing board — this time to communicate her displeasure with test scores and what she calls a lack of understanding by the public regarding how well kids in the Ventura Unified School District are not doing.
“Right now, we’re organizing training with parents outside the system,” said Dollonne of the coalition. “We’re reaching out to parent leaders.”
Dollonne’s take on the public school system is that it is somewhat like a corporation, in that taxpayers are like stakeholders entitled to the right to question the status quo. According to Dollonne — and denied vehemently by Ventura Unified School District Superintendent Trudy Tuttle-Arriaga — standardized test scores are distilled to the public in the most favorable light. This is the concept, among others, that Dollonne is striving to communicate to the community — and the concept that Arriaga says is simply untrue.
Though statewide Academic Performance Index, or API, reports are scheduled for release today, California Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, reports were released last week. The STAR reports are used to calculate both API scores and AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) reports, and provide more detailed information about test performance, such as break-downs of performances by grade level, than do individual API scores.
The STAR scores students in grades two through 11 as advanced, proficient (roughly, a grade of ‘B’) basic, below basic and far below basic in the subjects of English-language arts, math and science, social science and history. According to the 2005 STAR report for the Ventura Unified School District, among the 1,311 11th-grade students tested, 54 percent scored below proficient in English-language arts — with 24 percent at basic, 13 percent at below basic and 17 percent far below basic levels. Of the district’s 11th graders tested, 45 percent scored proficient and advanced, with 18 percent scoring advanced and 27 percent scoring proficient.
In 2006, the performance of the 11th grade in English-language arts changed slightly. Again, 54 percent tested in the below-proficient categories, with 22 percent basic, 14 percent below basic and 18 percent far below basic. There was a jump in the advanced category, with 25 percent advanced, while 21 percent scored proficient.
The STAR report also illustrated gains made, such as in the district’s second grade. While 50 percent scored below proficient in 2005, 45 percent were below proficient in 2006.
While the figures aren’t particularly high, Arriaga contends that the Ventura Unified School District has outperformed all other districts in the county, as well as those in the state. “I think you’ll find we are higher than the county and state,” Arriaga said. “The bottom line is that we’re proud of our results.”
According to the state-administrated AYP system, 23 percent of all students in all districts must be proficient or advanced by 2013. Dan Munday, director of the Ventura Unified School District’s Student Performance and Evaluation Program, says the district is already there. According to a Ventura Unified School District progress chart, for instance, the percentage of proficient and advanced students in math for grades two through five in 2006 was 70 percent as compared to about 62 percent countywide and roughly 58 percent at the state level.
Munday said the district uses test scored to pinpoint and solve problems. “There are areas where we have to have growth,” he said. “None of us are blind to that. This is the information we want to share with parents, teachers and the public.”
And while it’s impossible to deny the district has made progress, it’s also impossible, Dollonne said, to deny that, of those tested, 45 percent of second-graders, 53 percent of third-graders, 38 percent of fourth-graders, 43 percent of fifth-graders, 49 percent of sixth-graders, 44 percent of seventh-graders, 48 percent of eighth-graders, 41 percent of ninth-graders, 50 percent of 10th graders and 54 percent of 11th graders tested below proficient in 2006.
For Dollonne, the coalition is about doing what needs to be done to make sure the underperforming youth get what they need. “How is it progress that, in many cases, half our kids are below proficient in English-language arts?” asks Dollonne. “We shouldn’t celebrate mediocrity.”
Mary Haffner, a member of the Ventura Unified School District board, said the district struggles to fine-tune its practices by targeting problem areas. “I want that question to be constantly asked: ‘What could we do better, and how could we better serve?’ … I don’t know anyone in the district who doesn’t want to help our kids succeed and who isn’t working toward helping them do that.”