As a district, Santa Monica students improving in both math and English scores but students who are most in need of improvement continue to languish compared to their peers according to recent test results

As a district, Santa Monica students are improving in both math and English scores but students who are most in need of improvement continue to languish compared to their peers according to recent test results.

Students in the Santa Monica Malibu Unified School District participate in regular standardized testing to track their individual progress and their skills compared to other students.

Overall, the percentage of SMMUSD students reading at or above the state benchmark grew from 65% to 67% to 70% over the last three tests. Math scores have increased from 72% to 76% over the same time although they were stagnant over the last two tests.

While scores are improving across the entire population, some subgroups still lack behind.

The percentage of students classified as Urgent Intervention (scoring below the 10th percentile) who are English Learners, Serious Emotional Disability, Special Education, Latinx/Hispanic or African American/Black remains essentially unchanged over the last three testing cycles.

The test results presented at last week’s School Board meeting marked the end of the first full year testing cycle under the recently implemented Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP).

The LCAP is itself part of the budget process and is a state mandated process requiring districts to show it is working to address eight priority areas, including appropriate access to teachers, implementation of California’s academic standards, parent involvement, improved student achievement, student engagement, school discipline, fair access to classes and non-academic achievement in areas like sports or the arts.

In addition to just tracking student learning, the tests are also an opportunity for teachers to adjust their lessons and adapt.

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Jacqueline Mora said the District has learned a lot during the first year of implementation but she hoped teachers and principals would step up use of the testing results in coming years.

“We are hoping that in this next coming year, we’re going to see a greater participation in professional development across the board so that we can begin to see a greater increase in participation and also an acceleration of student learning as our teachers become more familiar with the tools and are able to more easily utilize them to inform their instruction on as quickly as the next day once the data is available,” she said. “But I think it’s really important to recognize that it’s the first full year of implementation. We’re excited to see the progress but there’s still a lot of work to be done as it relates to professional development and training.”

Officials said they hoped those tools, including detailed personal dashboards tracking students and more personal outreach to parents at events like Back to School nights would help make inroads with the students who are consistently ranked at the bottom of the testing bracket.

School Board member Alicia Mignano said there may be other factors contributing to some of the poor test results that she’d also like to see addressed in communications to parents.

“I also would like to encourage attendance,” she said. “I know that we’ve looked at the chronic absenteeism rates and so we could, you know, do a plug for attendance and how important it is for kids to be in the classroom with their teachers. That would be great at Back to School.”

However, she said parents who are concerned about test results should also understand that some students may exhibit success in other ways.

“I know that not every student does well on tests because they get anxious. I have one of those students who always gets a tummy ache right before he knows he’s going to take a test,” she said. “So just remembering that, that our children, you know, are not defined by these assessments, and that there are other ways to show proficiency and always remembering that.”


Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...