The numbers are new, but the problem remains the same.

Vast achievement gaps linger along ethnic and socioeconomic lines in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district, according to recently released results from last year’s state standardized tests.

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.

But pass rates in the district varied dramatically across racial lines, according to the data. In English, they ranged from 50 percent for African-American students and 52 percent for Hispanic students to 82 percent for white students and 86 percent for Asians. Similarly, just 33 percent of black SMMUSD test-takers and 39 percent of Latino students met or exceeded standards in math, while white and Asian students’ rates climbed to 74 percent and 82 percent, respectively.

“The achievement gap is pernicious and persistent and we all need to work together to find solutions that help all groups rise, while narrowing the gap,” Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement.

Torlakson has proposed an office within the state Department of Education that would be devoted to efforts that address the achievement gap. Indeed, disparities at the local level are mirrored by similar gulfs across the state, where ethnic and socioeconomic factors remain strong predictors of success rates.

For example, whereas 64 percent of white students met or exceeded standards in English, just 37 percent of Latinos and 31 percent of African American students reached the same benchmark.

Scores for students in all three groups jumped a few percentage points from last year’s numbers at both the district and state levels, meaning the gaps persist.

This year’s figures were released as SMMUSD works with educational reformist Pedro Noguera to implement strategies to improve equity across the district. Noguera, who was hired last year to address achievement gaps that have persisted for years in local schools, told district employees during his keynote speech at the Santa Monica High School convocation last month that SMMUSD administrators, teachers and staff must foster a system of mutual accountability to reduce the predictability of ethnic background on student success.

But the achievement gap exists beyond racial lines as well, as evidenced by the major disparities on state tests between wealthy students in the district and their poorer peers.

About 48 percent of district students deemed economically disadvantaged met or exceeded the English standard, far below the mark of 79 percent for their wealthier counterparts.

Similarly, just 35 percent of economically disadvantaged students passed the math portion of the exam, while that figure jumped to 70 percent for the remainder of the test-taking population.

The district’s work to improve equity comes as it searches for a long-term superintendent to replace Sandra Lyon, who is now running the Palm Springs Unified School District. Chris King and Sylvia Rousseau are leading SMMUSD on an interim basis through the end of the calendar year.

jeff@smdp.com

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