San Marino Gets Top Marks in State Testing

The Common Core State Standards have been in place for three years now in California education, and it’s clear San Marino’s public school students have begun to master them.
In state assessment test results released Wednesday, 90% of San Marino Unified School District students met or exceeded state standards in English language arts/literacy and 87% hit that mark in math. The aggregate percentage of 88.5% is tops for unified school districts in California, exceeding the 87% figure posted by second-place Piedmont City Unified and 86% by third-place La Cañada Unified.
San Marino’s performance represented a significant jump from last year, when the district’s average for the two categories was 84%.
“What’s great is we increased at a higher average than the other districts in the top 10,” Superintendent Dr. Alex Cherniss said. “That’s hard to do when you’re at the top. The fact that we were able to do that was really impressive.”
The testing encompassed students in grades 3 through 8, plus 11, last school year.
One year ago, there was a bit of a local tiff over exactly who was No. 1 in the state, based on scores released by the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress. San Marino averaged its English and math percentages and declared that it had come out on top. The SMUSD justified its criteria by pointing out that the former state assessment system, the Academic Performance Index, measured students who met or exceeded standards.
Nearby, La Cañada Unified claimed the top spot based on different criteria: mean scale scores by grade level. By that measure, the LCUSD produced the highest scores statewide in six of 14 categories.
But San Marino stormed forward in that measurement this year, particularly in the lower grades. It was No. 1 in the state in seven such categories: 3rd-grade English and math, 4th-grade English and math, 5th-grade math, 6th-grade English and 7th-grade English. La Cañada was tops in three categories.
In the statewide mean scale scores, San Marino was also second in English in grades 5 and 8 and in math in grades 6 and 7. It was third in 11th-grade math.
“It is simply amazing that we continue to remain the No. 1 school district in California,” School Board President Nam Jack said in a statement. “The marvelous success is directly attributable to the efforts of our superintendent, administrators, teachers and staff, as well as the support of our parents and community, all of whom collectively strive to provide an optimal learning environment for our outstanding students.”
San Marino jumped six percentage points in its English language arts proficiency, from 84% of students last year to 90% this year. It was a remarkable achievement in light of the fact that the district is only now adopting a new English curriculum aligned to the Common Core standards. Over the last couple of years, teachers have been improvising in that area.
“We’ve done a real good job tailoring our instruction, making sure it is Common Core-aligned,” Cherniss said.
In math, San Marino transitioned to a new curriculum two years ago, and Cherniss said teachers are getting comfortable with it. That is reflected in the assessment testing: Last year, 84% of SMUSD students were judged to meet or exceed standards, while this year that figure climbed to 87%.
“What I’m most proud of,” Cherniss said, “is not just our achievement and being No. 1 in the state, but our growth. That’s really telling. I know we have smart kids and dedicated teachers, but we really try to focus on continuing achievement. That’s hard to do when you’re at such a high level already.”

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