San Marino Excels in State Assessment Tests

The instruction changed. So did the test. As well as the method of administering it.
But San Marino’s public school students barely blinked in the midst of all this upheaval. And when the new California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress results were released last week, the San Marino Unified School District came out on top statewide in proficiency.
In the CAASPP tests, administered this spring, 84% of San Marino’s students in grades 3 through 8 and 11 met or exceeded the state standards in each of the categories of English language arts/literacy and mathematics. That proved to be the best in California, ahead of La Cañada Unified and Piedmont City Unified in Alameda County, each of which had an aggregate percentage of 83.5% for the two categories.
“I am beaming with pride,” SMUSD’s superintendent, Dr. Alex Cherniss, said in a statement. “… Congratulations to the students, teachers and administrators whose time and efforts led to these incredible results.”
San Marino Unified ranked No. 1 in the state in the Academic Performance Index for a period of 11 straight years, through 2013, before the state did away with the STAR program (standardized testing and reporting), which determined API rankings.
As California phased in the Common Core state standards, a new testing system was implemented, the computer-adaptive Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Field tests were conducted in 2014, followed by live tests this past spring, and this is the first year for which scores have been released.
The 3rd-grade teachers at Carver and Valentine elementary schools should take special pride in the test results. In the mean scale scores, SMUSD’s 3rd-graders ranked first in the state in both English and math.
In mean scale scores in English, SMUSD ranked second in the state for the 4th grade and was third statewide for high school juniors. In math, SMUSD was second in grades 7 and 11.
By the same measurement, La Cañada was first in English in grades 4, 5, 6, 7 and 11, and first in math in grade 6. Palo Alto was first for math in grades 4, 8 and 11. La Cañada and Palo Alto shared the top spot for 8th-grade English and 7th-grade math. Piedmont City led the way in 5th-grade math.
“The scale score is important, and I certainly can understand any school district celebrating that,” said Gary McGuigan, San Marino’s assistant superintendent for instruction. “We tend to look at what used to be the API, where the focus was, ‘How many students scored proficient or higher?’ For us, 51% exceeded and 33% met. That’s what we’re really looking at. Then we look at those students who need to get to that standard met.”
A staggering 74% of San Marino’s 3rd-graders were found to exceed state standards in English language arts and literacy (compared to a meager 18% statewide).
The daunting task of instituting Common Core — which places new emphasis on critical thinking, problem solving and analytical writing — was coupled with the challenge of developing the necessary technological assets for instruction, and, critically, testing.
“All districts knew this day would come,” McGuigan said. “It was a huge undertaking — a lot of work over three years, especially with our technology people. We couldn’t do it without them, and vice versa.”
San Marino’s strong results stood in sharp contrast to statewide results, which found that the majority of students fell short of standards. Only 44% hit the mark in English and just 33% in math.
“The results show our starting point as a state, a window into where California students are …” Tom Torlakson, the state superintendent of public instruction, said in a statement. “California’s new standards and tests are challenging for schools to teach and for students to learn, so I am encouraged that many students are at or near achievement standards. However, just as we expected, many students need to make more progress.”
Torlakson also suggested that because this was the first year of the new tests, and because they are so different from the STAR program, they can be used as a baseline for measuring future progress.
Cherniss thanked parents and community members for their ongoing support of the SMUSD. He added, “Our work never ends and our commitment to innovation and student engagement is our ultimate standard.”

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