SMMUSD HDQTRS — School officials received good news on Tuesday when state test results showed that students in the district continue to show improvement but there’s some concern that the state budget crisis could be reflected in the scores next year.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District saw improvements in the proficiency levels of four of five major testing categories for the Standardized Testing and Reporting Program (STAR), including English language arts, which covers grades two through 11, mathematics for two through 11, history for grades eight and 11 and science for grades five, eight and 10.

While the rate of growth of the scores is slower than in L.A. County and the state, students in the SMMUSD continue to perform better than their peers in other districts.

“When you start to reach a higher level of proficiency, it becomes difficult to maintain that pace of growth we had in the earlier years of the program,” Maureen Bradford, the director of assessment, research and evaluation, said.

Students overall improved from 67 percent proficiency in English language arts last year to 69 percent this year. Mathematics saw a small increase from 55 percent to 56 percent, while history saw a bigger jump, from 52 percent to 57 percent.

General science saw an increase of 66 to 69 percent, while the category of end-of-course science — biology, chemistry, physics and earth science — that is administered to all students freshmen through juniors who are enrolled in those courses saw a dip from 48 percent to 47 percent proficiency.

“These relatively small gains over the prior year are part of a longitudinal pattern of steady and continuous improvement,” SMMUSD Superintendent Tim Cuneo said. “This multi-year upward trend is a result of the high caliber of our classroom teachers and their ongoing efforts to improve instructional practice.”

But all five categories have seen substantial growth since 2002, the largest margins going to history and general science, both of which have experienced a 17 percentage point increase.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell said during a Tuesday morning press conference that test results in California have also seen improvements. In the area of English language arts, proficiency has increased by 15 points since 2003, translating to more than 655,000 students. There are 509,000 more students proficient in math in that same time period.

“I’m particularly pleased when we have significant growth when you consider California has one of the most rigorous standards in the nation and in light of a extraordinarily challenging budget this year,” O’Connell said from Wendell Holmes Middle School in the San Fernando Valley.

There are concerns that the state budget crisis could impact the results next year.

“This year, perhaps more than any other, every school in every state will be forced to do more with very less,” O’Connell said. “This will be a significant challenge and require a disciplined and focused approach.”

SMMUSD faces several challenges after making a number of changes this year, including increasing class sizes and cutting a house at Santa Monica High School. Bradford said that textbooks, instructional materials and funding for professional development will also be stretched thin next year.

“The increased class sizes in our primary grades may or may not impact how effective our teachers are able to meet the needs of all learners sitting in the chairs,” Bradford said.

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