Berkeley students improve on 2013 STAR tests

Berkeley High School. Photo: Lance Knobel

The number of students performing at the target level on state tests increased at Berkeley High School and a number of other schools this year. Photo: Lance Knobel

Berkeley students improved on the California Standardized Testing and Reporting assessments this year, according to data released Thursday by the state Department of Education.

State-wide, scores declined marginally, as the percentage of students who performed at the proficient level or above — the target level for all students — decreased by less than one percent in mathematics, English language arts, and science. But in Berkeley schools that percentage rose on average in each category: in math, the number of students meeting the target level increased by 2.3 percentage points; in English, it increased by 0.4; in science, it increased by 2.8; and in history, it increased by 4.5 percentage points since 2012.

In addition, the total percentage of target-level scores in Berkeley remained higher than the state average in all subject categories.

“We have very, very high performances,” Debbi D’Angelo, director of evaluation and assessment for Berkeley Unified School District, said.

District Superintendent Donald Evans said that his office is still reviewing and analyzing the data. He and D’Angelo would know more about the district’s progress when the Adequate Yearly Progress and Academic Performance Index reports come out in September.

Evans said one issue the district will continue to address is the ongoing disparity in performance between different racial subgroups. African-Americans and Latinos continue to perform at lower levels in general compared to their white and Asian peers. (A data summary showing the percentage of target-level scores among different racial subgroups is not available from the Education Department.)

“We know that there’s more work we can do,” he said.

The STAR program encompasses four tests that are divided into subject categories, and is administered to students grades two through 11 each spring. The state and local education departments focus on data from the primary component, the California Standards Test, which is also the data reported in this article.

Some grades are exempt from testing on certain subjects — the English language arts test is the only subject test administered to all grades. Because of this, average scores often don’t reflect all grade levels and, additionally, the score changes since 2012 vary significantly between district schools.

The table below shows the city and state averages from this year and last year. Scroll down to find individual score reports by school. Search for more school district and individual school test results on the state Education Department website.

Screen shot 2013-08-09 at 2.13.32 PM

BHS and B-Tech STAR tests

Middle & elem take 2 Elementary take 2

In some Berkeley schools, particularly elementary schools, the number of students who performed at the target level dropped this year. At Cragmont, Jefferson, John Muir, Oxford, Thousand Oaks and Arts Magnet elementary schools, the number of target-level scores decreased in all three categories tested (English, math and science). Some of these declines were more severe than others; one of the most drastic changes was a 15.7 percent decrease in target-level scores on the science test at Oxford Elementary.

D’Angelo explained that the performance of elementary school students may have been impacted by the district’s current transition into the common core state standards system, a new testing system that is now used by 45 other U.S. states in an effort to provide a unified set of standards across the country. This is the last year the STAR program will be used.

“Teachers are working very hard, going through a new curriculum,” D’Angelo said. She said elementary math classes in particular have been undergoing a transition in the way they are taught.

This past year, some elementary schools participated in a field-test for the common core assessments, a computer-based testing system that is designed to go beyond multiple choice and ask students to think critically. According to D’Angelo, this takes “a very collaborative approach.”

“The teachers and students are excited because its not just multiple choice,” D’Angelo said. “The common core state standards are world standards that really dig deeper.”

Willard Middle School: no longer under consideration for the REALM Charter School

Willard Middle School: one of the Berkeley schools where percentage of target-level scores has increased notably

Still, despite decreased scores at some elementary schools, the city-wide average was brought up by schools like LeConte, Washington, and Rosa Parks elementary schools, Willard Middle School, and Berkeley High School, where the percentage of target-level scores increased notably in all categories.

Since the STAR program was finalized in 2003 to align with state standards, scores have improved dramatically throughout the state. That first year, just 29 percent of students were proficient or above in history and 35 percent met that level in math, science and English. In 2013, 49.4 percent of California students in history, 51.2 percent in math, 56.4 percent in English, and 59.1 percent in science have reached proficiency.

Attendance for the state tests at Berkeley High School is an issue that teachers and school administrators have worked to improve in recent years. Superintendent Evans said that, although the district is still attendant to this issue, it is less of a problem than it once was. D’Angelo explained that test attendance in Berkeley as a whole is above the state goal of 95 percent.

“Each year, Berkeley High School has made a concerted effort to have the students take the test. This last year what we’ve seen is a continued growth,” she said. “The next step is having the students take it seriously.”

Berkeley High was on a list released Friday of 242 schools where students taking the STAR tests were known to have posted images to social media websites. However, state spokeswoman Pam Slater explained that only 16 of those cases involved images of legible test materials, and Berkeley High was not one of them. Rather, she said, the images were likely blurred snapshots of the classroom or the back of a teacher’s head.

Camille Baptista is a summer intern at Berkeleyside. She grew up in Berkeley and now studies at Barnard in New York City, where she writes for the Columbia Daily Spectator.

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • Woolsey

    The charts should be corrected. Why does the second chart on the left for Berkeley High have a category for “Mathematics (grades 2-7, and end of course”. Similar disconnects throughout. Berkeley Tech, English language arts had 8.3% proficient in 2013 (?!?). That is appalling. Or maybe an error since it applies to “grades 2 – 11”.

    At Berkeley High 62% are proficient in English language arts which is better than Berkeley Tech but still horrible. History and math are much worse (but perhaps mislabeled). The director of evaluation and assessment says “We have very, very high performances” – that’s actually very, very funny.

    Would be useful to include a comparison with schools in other developed countries.

  • Camille Baptista

    Woolsey: Thanks for keeping an eye out.
    The reason there is a math category for “grades 2-7 and end-of-course” for Berkeley High is that end-of-course (EOC) tests are not grade-specific. I apologize if that wasn’t clear. Most high school students take the math test as an EOC test. Here is the explanation of EOCs from the Department of Education:

    “The EOC CSTs—Algebra I, all CSTs for mathematics for grades eight through eleven, science for grades nine through eleven (except the Grade 10 CST for Life Science), and World History—are not grade-specific. They are administered to students who have completed, or will complete by the end of the school year, a course that aligns with a particular EOC CST. The EOC column summarizes the results for all students within the school, district, county, or the state who took each course- or discipline-specific test.”

    The charts, including the titles of the rows and columns, are copied exactly from the state Department of Education website, and you can see those tables here:

    I also re-checked the B-Tech scores. I believe the reason they are low compared with Berkeley High is because B-Tech is an alternative school for students who are struggling.

    I agree that it would be interesting to compare these scores with those of students in other countries, but since standardized testing systems are completely different across countries (even across states), I believe the scores wouldn’t be comparable.

  • Camille Baptista

    I hope this information is helpful!

  • Thanks for handling that so well.
    Tracey Taylor
    Twitter: @berkeleyside @UnchartedIdeas @ebnosh
    Join us at* Uncharted: The Berkeley Festival of Ideas

  • dianarossi

    I am so done with these STAR tests and am glad that the state is phasing them out. I feel that once again, we have used our children as an experiment and that that experiment has failed. Perhaps one of the reasons that Berkeley High kids have trouble taking these tests seriously is that by high school many of the students might be experiencing a kind of “testing fatigue” in regards to standardized testing. As a group high school students take: the CAHSEE, district assessments in English, department assessments in Science, the PSAT (twice), the SAT, SAT subject tests, various AP tests and/or the ACT. And I must have left out a test or two:) Also, often the STAR tests are NOT aligned with the learning — the students are tested on material not yet taught in class or even on material that had been taught the previous year (so not too fresh). Add to the mix that by high school, many students are becoming savvy to the ways of the adult world and the dysfunction of high school. I have heard of some high school teachers offering small bribes to get students to show up for STAR testing, (i.e.. extra credit). The STAR tests are a waste of time and money and many of the high school students look at testing week as a way to get out of three days of schoolwork. When are we going to figure out a better way of learning if our schools are doing what we want them to do — educating whole people who will go out in the world and make it better?
    (Well, that is what I would like schools to do. I am sure we don’t all agree on this.) But I don’t mean that we need to set the bar low on ANYTHING! Of course, we need high academic standards. But this 13/14 year mania in regards to metrics and scores has not produced a more educated populace. There are still students in my 16 year-old’s classes who read at a 5th grade level; and my husband’s remedial level community college writing classes are often bursting at the seams. Many, many young people are graduating from our high schools without basic reading and writing skills.
    I am sorry that I don’t have any answers, only questions, but after 14 years of dealing with our public education system I am very cynical about all this emphasis on measurement.

  • guestorious

    The main reason students have a hard time taking these tests seriously is that their teachers tell them not to take the tests seriously because they don’t want any accountability for the failure of the BUSD 2020 Vision program.

  • BUSD Parent

    Guestorious, I disagree with your assessment. Over the past 15+ years, my kids’ teachers worked very hard to encourage students to take tests seriously and to help students prepare academically, emotionally, etc.

    I, the parent, never took the state-mandated tests seriously because the tests are not created to be of use to my kids. What does it mean, really, if my kid scores “advanced” or “proficient” or “below proficient?” The terms are vague, and we never get access to the scored test and questions once the kids have completed the things and results are in, so we have no basis for evaluating our kids’ progress based on these things. If the tests are of use to anyone, it’s to the teachers and/or administrators, not to the kids and their families. Perhaps this is why the high school has a hard time getting full participation . . . by the time the kids are in high school, they realize these things really aren’t created for their benefit, and they’re a pain, so why show up? My own kids do take the tests because we tell them it helps the school for them to do that, and they like their schools (imagine that), but we make no pretense of telling them the tests are important to them personally.

    Diana–glad you’re happy to be done with STAR, but I do believe the state is just moving from one experiment to another that you may find equally frustrating.

  • bgal4

    New standardized tests tied to the new standards “Common Core” will take their place. Berkeley will have to improve technology infrastructure for test administration. Maybe the district will finally move their technology and assessment dept into the 21st century.

    I do not agree with the notion that it poor participation is due to test fatigue. Under Common Core assessments will be more frequent and varied.

    The ability to measure achievement is not the devil, it is implementation of educational programming which undermines student success.

  • Woolsey

    Thanks Camille – but it is still confusing. I can’t understand how grades 2 – 7 are relevant to Berkeley High performance. Similarly, why are grades 5, 8, identified for Berkeley High science. Maybe this means the high school students are proficient at 5th and 8th grade science (and also 10th grade) at a rate of 62% but this proficiency drops to 49% when they complete the HS science curriculum?

    I can see that end-of-course performance could be non year-specific. For example, someone might complete Algebra or Calculus in grades 10, 11, 12. I presume that High School kids don’t get proficiency credit for completing end-of-course 2nd grade long division or something similar. By the way, all the grade schools and middle schools had math proficiency better than 50% — often much better. What the heck happens in high school that the proficiency drops to 33%? (Maybe they get hooked up with the dealers in Civic Center Park?) What does this mean for the country when this is the best that can be produced in a wealthy city (median house value $830K) which is the home of a preeminent university.

    Oops gotta go watch Family Feud reruns…

  • Woolsey

    Re: comparison with other countries: “On the 2009 PISA assessment of 15-year-olds, the United States performs around the average in reading (rank 14) and science (rank 17) and below the average in mathematics (rank 25) among the 34 OECD countries.”

    Also, the US spends more per student than any other country except Lichtenstein. Sort of like our medical system – very high cost, mediocre performance.

  • sarah

    Woolsey, the table is labeled the same for all schools. High school students don’t take the 2nd grade test. High school students take the end of course test for whichever course they are enrolled in. AlgI, Geo, Alg2,etc.

    The grade 2 to 7 data isn’t included in the table for Berkeley high. Only the EOC scores.

  • sarah

    Where is the data for REALM?

  • suzy

    This community should consider the star test scores of Black students at BHS. There is too much glossing. 17% of Black 11th graders, 29% of black 10th graders, and 33% of Black ninth graders received proficient scores in English. In algebra 1, 0% of 11th graders, 4% of 10th graders, and 2% of 9th graders (this is usually taught as an 8th grade course.) In Geometry, 0% of 11th graders, 6% of 10th graders, 10% of 9th graders. Summative math: 8% of juniors at proficient level . world History: 20%. U.S. History:15%. Biology: 13% of 9th graders, 5% of 10th graders. Chemistry: 11% of 10th graders, 2% of 11th graders. In physics, only one student was tested.
    These numbers are appalling. Equally sad is the pretense that “all kids will go to college” – letting those who can’t feel like complete failures, instead of being given the help and options they need.
    Our community should be ashamed.

  • rhuberry

    Is the disparity of scores between Black and White students about the same at the elementary school level?

  • Woolsey

    If middle school is any indication, white students who try hard get some minor harassment (e.g., being called “nerd” on daily basis). For black students the peer pressure is much more intense. Studying and being responsive in class means “trying to be white.” This is particularity intense for males. I’m surprised the results are as good as they are. But, you all know this – ask your kids in school why the results are what they are.

  • Guestalicious

    instead of being given the help and options they need.Our community should be ashamed.

    What, exactly, would you add to the agenda for “our community” ? What “help and options” do you feel have not been made available by BUSD? Can you point to another school district that spends more time and energy on the “achievement gap” ?

    Is there a reason you’ve left the parents of these children off your list? Aren’t they primarily responsible for their children’s education? Since you’re into shaming people, why are you reluctant to call them out?

  • EAO

    Camille – Would you direct me to your source information? I’m quite curious about the seemingly across the board issues with declines in elementary science.

    Also, solidarity from another Berkeley kid – Seven Sister alumna!

  • Hildah

    Testing such as these only help the corporations that sell them. If all the money that is spent on testing would be used for smaller classrooms and individualized teaching we would all be better off.

  • Guest

    That’s a bit extreme.

    Without standardized tests, how do you propose to determine that those smaller/individualized programs are and continue to be effective? What metrics would you use to verify that we are indeed “all better off” ? Should we just take your word for it? Turn a blind eye to incompetence? Revel in the magical thinking for which BUSD is famous?

    To be sure, *these* tests might not be the right yardstick, but to say that *all* money spent on testing should be redirected is naive and not a little stupid.

  • EBGuy

    Dear Families of Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, and Cragmont Schools,

    As you may know, the Berkeley Public Schools have been experiencing steady growth in enrollment for several years, and in particular at our elementary schools. While we had projected for continued growth, this year sixty-six more students than previously expected have enrolled in kindergarten to date. This surge in the number of entering students will require at least three additional kindergarten classes in order to maintain our small class sizes. We wanted you to know that this will mean that an additional kindergarten classroom is being added at each of your schools.

    Over the last six years, enrollment in our elementary schools has grown from 631 kindergarten students in 2007 to the current kindergarten enrollment of 862 for the 2013-14 school year. We have 231 more students entering our kindergartens than six years ago, and students are still coming to be enrolled.

    We believe the growth in kindergarten enrollment is due to several factors, including:

    – An increase in number of families choosing public over private and parochial schools for both economic and educational reasons;

    – Excellent teaching and a well-articulated curriculum in our vibrant school communities with strong family involvement; and

    – The option of transitional kindergarten for young five year olds, as mandated by the State of California.

    We have accommodated the growth in kindergarten enrollment over time through a variety of measures: turning computer labs and other flexible spaces into classrooms, adding portables to some schoolyards, and offering “out-of-zone” schools with space to students. The construction project at Jefferson will add five additional classrooms to the school, but meanwhile, space constraints and other factors limit our options for available space.

    We thank you for your support, and for welcoming these new students and their families into your school community.


    Donald Evans, Ed.D., Superintendent

    Neil Smith, Assistant Superintendent, Educational Services

  • Hildah

    I can tell you because I have been part of a very effective program that worked in a public school system. Standardized tests tell very little and teachers end up teaching to the tests instead of teaching creative and critical thinking skills.. There are several yardsticks that can be used to determine how much a student knows. You are showing your lack of knowledge in this subject. Further, calling me stupid shows your lack of creative and critical thinking.