Downey Unified posts big increase on math section of state tests, language arts less impressive

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson discusses STAR test results Aug. 15, 2011 at Reseda High School

RESEDA- Downey Unified  students’ basic math skills showed big increases last year, according to results from state tests released Monday.

Math scores in grades two through seven increased 2.9 percent, far outpacing the 2-percent increases shown by students statewide. And high school students posted a 5-percent gain in Algebra I and a 6-percent gain in Algebra II.

Downey’s language arts scores increased by 1.5 percent, less than the state average of 2 percent.

Downey Unified Superintendent Wendy Doty did not return two telephone calls to her office Monday.

Downey Unified School Board Member Donald LaPlante said the district concentrated on math after disappointing scores last year.

 “That’s where we were focusing – all the math stuff,” he said.  “We went to the new text books, made everything align.”

He was glad the effort yielded results, but he wondered if all the emphasis on math took away from language arts.

“What would have been really disappointing would have been if we threw everything at our math scores and we didn’t see results,” he said.

At a press conference at Reseda High School on Monday, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson touted the statewide increases, saying they were remarkable considering massive budget cuts made to schools the last two years.

Even so, the increases were smaller than in years past.

“This is not enough,” Torlakson said. “We have serious work to do to improve these scores even further.”

He called on the legislature to restore education funding.

Torlakson also noted the performance gap between blacks and Latinos when compared to white and Asian students.

“We still have that achievement gap for Latino Californians,” Torlakson said.

He pointed out that scores for blacks and Latinos were increasing at the same rate as their white and Asian counterparts, but he said schools had to do more to close the gap.

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy also spoke at the conference, pointing out that Garfield High School in East Los Angeles posted some of the biggest gains in the state.

“The last three years (at Garfield) are nothing short of amazing,” Deasy said.

The school posted a 7 percent increase in the language arts section of the state tests.

“It tells me poverty is not destiny,” he said of scores at Garfield and other schools.

Union members cautioned against making too much of the state results.

“(The scores) are only a small part of the picture,” said Warren Fletcher, president of United Teachers Los Angeles. “These numbers show perseverance by teachers and by students during some of the most punishing budget cuts in recent history.”

The data were part of the Standardized Testing and Reporting Results, which is released every year and and makes up a  major component of each school’s Academic Performance Index, a score used to gauge whether schools are meeting academic targets.

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