"New CA student test results: Over 50% unprepared for college" - USA Today
"Common Core Test Scores Paint a Somber Picture" - KCRW
"Students score low on California’s new standardized tests" - SFGate
"Common Core test scores show state’s daunting challenge" - San Francisco Chronicle
California's school test scores reveal vast racial achievement gap - San Jose Mercury News
It has been difficult to miss the headlines about the widening racial achievement gap in California. While the previous STAR tests showed consistent progress in narrowing the gap between the performance of Latino and African-American students and their Asian and white counterparts, the new test results tell a rather different story.
The San Jose Mercury News reported that: “While 72 percent of Asian students and 61 percent of white students statewide met or exceeded standards in English, only 32 percent of Latino students and 28 percent of African-American students matched that achievement.”
Math results were bleaker still: “69 percent of Asians, 49 percent of whites, 21 percent of Latinos and 16 percent of African-Americans met or exceeded standards.”
Educators point to a number of factors behind the disconcerting results. The new tests are based on the Common Core State Standards, with an emphasis on open-ended questions that draw on critical thinking skills and require students to explain their answers in writing. In previous years, rote fact memorization was sufficient for the multiple-choice-format STAR test. The deeper level of thinking demanded by the Common Core is new to students and teachers in many local schools and adopting curriculum and teaching methods aligned with the standards is proving challenging. This is particularly true in schools already underperforming in other ways - schools that serve large numbers of Latino and African-American students.
While the results are generally disheartening, at Breakthrough Silicon Valley we see some bright spots on the horizon. Breakthrough students have taken the Common Core processes in stride even as some of their schools have struggled to do so. In our middle school program, students work collaboratively to solve math problems and explain their thinking, both verbally and in writing. Program Coordinators, David Tarula and Christina Tran-Kenyon, describe this learning as student-driven versus teacher-led.
As David explains, “During the After-School Program, the role of the teacher isn’t to tell them if they are right or wrong but rather to facilitate and guide their learning. The teacher will ask guiding questions to help the students arrive at their conclusion. By verbalizing their method of arriving at a problem, students are able to error analyze and identify their personal stumbling blocks. Students work closely together and are encouraged to try multiple methods."
We are confident that our program not only prepares, students for standardized tests, but more importantly to one day be active participants in an increasingly complex workplace where teamwork, communication skills, perseverance, resourcefulness, and creativity will be highly valued.