By Jerrold H. Jensen
Most of us probably dreaded the years of tests we faced before earning a high school diploma. As adults, we can now turn the tables and examine the test scores of the teachers and administrators. The results of their students reveal how effective they are in teaching and in using our tax dollars.
The California Department of Education posts test scores at dq.cde.ca.gov/dataquest. Their “Smarter Balanced Test” is given to all students between the 3rd and 8th grades and again in the 11th grade. It measures results in “English Language Arts/Literacy” and also in “Mathematics.” Tulare County 11th grade students generally perform close to the state results in the literacy portion but underperform in mathematics.
The accompanying table offers a recap of test results but it doesn’t tell the full story. Statewide, 62% of all students are classified as “Socioeconomically Disadvantaged.” The definition is “Students who are eligible for free or reduced priced meals; or have parents/guardians who did not receive a high school diploma.” Every Tulare County district has a higher poverty rate.
The four Tulare County high schools with the lowest rankings on test scores all have a student population where 87% to 97% are classified as “Socioeconomically Disadvantaged.” They also have a high percentage of students classified as “English Learners”—that includes 29% of Orosi High School’s kids.
By comparison, only 52% of Visalia’s Redwood High School’s students fall into the disadvantaged category and just 4% are classified as English learners. Lindsay High School matches Redwood in combined test scores but 95% of their students are disadvantaged and 27% are English learners. It appears Lindsay’s teachers deserve a pat on the back for their results in a more challenging environment.
Visalia’s El Diamante and Exeter High School have similar demographics with 59% of students considered disadvantaged and only 4% and 6%, respectively, are classified as English learners. El Diamante’s media arts academy program apparently helps them score higher in literacy.
All Tulare County districts assign 10% to 20% of their high school students to alternative programs where their results are largely unseen. They offer an option for disinterested and disruptive kids removed from mainstream schools. Generally, well over 80% or 90% of their students are disadvantaged and 30% to 50% are classified as English learners.
Exeter is a relative island of prosperity but 12% of their 11th grade students are enrolled at Kaweah High where only 15% passed the English/Literacy test and only 4% succeeded on the Mathematics portion. Over 87% of that school’s students are disadvantaged and 17% are English learners. Despite their test scores, they have a 56% graduation rate.
Similarly, over 16% of the public high school students tested in Visalia Unified are enrolled either in Independent Study or at the alternative Sequoia High School. Fewer than 2% of Sequoia’s students passed the English/literacy test and none passed the mathematics portion—but over 70% receive a high school diploma.
Should we question the value of our high school diplomas? California once required students to pass an exit exam to graduate but after canceling it, they retroactively awarded diplomas to those who had failed in previous years.
A recent U.S. News survey ranked California 44th for academic success in our K-12 schools. Have our high school diplomas become the equivalent of “participation trophies?” But posting the test scores at least allows comparisons with the state and with other schools and districts.
Next week—How many of our high school graduates meet the requirements for admission to the UC/CSU system?
Jerrold Jensen is a retired sales manager for an international consumer goods company. After 30 years of assignments in the Southern and Western U.S., he and his wife retired near family in Visalia. He enjoys analyzing data and tries to simplify it for readers before writing his guest columns for Central Valley publications.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Foothills Sun-Gazette newspaper.