School district officials and education boosters received some mixed news this week with the release of standardized test scores. While overall scores for public school students here improved in every subject area of the STAR exams, the data shows an achievement gap still exists between Asian and Caucasian students and their black and Latino counterparts.

The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District has enacted programs to close the achievement gap, including those that target students falling behind or at risk of dropping out — AVID, Connect For Success, and Young Collegians, to name a few — but it’s clear that more needs to be done.

As more funding from the state is taken away from schools, it begs the question, are we spending too much money on extracurricular activities and not enough on core educational programs? When boosters organized to raise funds as part of the Save Our Schools campaign, closing the achievement gap didn’t seem to be high on the list of reasons to donate. It was all about saving the arts, sports programs and teaching positions.

It’s time to reexamine spending priorities. While it’s nice to have students win awards for playing music, or for scoring touchdowns, if 28 percent of Latino 11th graders and 50 percent of black 11th graders do not have a basic understanding of English, those accolades lose their luster. Not every student is destined for a university, but they still need a basic understanding of two key subject areas that will help them later in life.

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