Students in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district made small improvements in the second year of new state standardized tests, according to recently released data.

About 71 percent of SMMUSD students who took the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress met or exceeded the standard in English and 60 percent passed the math portion of the exam. That’s a slight increase over the numbers from the previous year, when 68 percent of local students reached the English benchmark and 57 percent hit the goal in math.

The data arrive as educators and local officials begin the 2016-17 school year with a focus on improving equity across the district, where achievement gaps have persisted along racial and socioeconomic lines. The district is currently working with education reformist Pedro Noguera to implement strategies to make demographic background less predictive of academic success.

The minor gains logged for SMMUSD mirror slightly boosted scores across the state, where 49 percent of students met or exceeded the language arts standard and 37 percent reached the math standard. Those figures were 44 percent and 33 percent, respectively, in the previous cycle.

Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement that student familiarity with the recently implemented testing system likely contributed to the increases. The tests, which are given to students in grades 3-8 and 11 and which align with Common Core standards, are designed to examine critical-thinking and problem-solving skills.

“The higher test scores show that the dedication, hard work, and patience of California’s teachers, parents, school employees, and administrators are paying off,” Torlakson said in a press release. “Together we are making progress towards upgrading our education system to prepare all students for careers and college in the 21st century.

“Of course there’s more work to do, but our system has momentum. I am confident that business, political and community leaders will join parents and educators to help continue supporting increased standards and resources for schools.”

The digital exams are customized in real time, yielding tougher questions when students submit correct answers and easier questions when they get something wrong. The tests also include so-called “performance tasks,” which assess students’ depth of understanding. Individual results are sent to parents by mail.

“These positive results are based on a new college and career readiness assessment that is online, and expects students to demonstrate critical thinking and problem solving skills unlike the old, multiple choice tests they replace,” State Board of Education President Mike Kirst said in the release.

SMMUSD students fared far better than their L.A. Unified peers, who met or exceeded English and math standards at rates of 39 percent and 28 percent, respectively. Santa Monica-Malibu students also performed slightly better than their Culver City Unified counterparts, who posted passing rates of 66 percent in English and 51 percent in math.

But local pupils were not as successful as their Beverly Hills Unified peers, 77 percent of whom passed the English portion of the exam and 64 percent of whom reached the benchmark in math.

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