Newhall School District breaks records with state testing scores

Photo courtesy of the Newhall School District.
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Overall, the Newhall School District achieved new heights in math while continuing to perform above state levels in English language arts on the 2018-2019 state testing.

Officially known as California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, the state’s standardized tests cover topics such as mathematics, reading and writing skills under the Common Core State Standards.

In both mathematics and english language arts, the Newhall School District — which now has three 2019 National Blue Ribbon schools — surpassed the statewide average in both subjects with 68.66% and 69.07% met or exceeding statewide standards in English language arts and math, respectively.

In the state of California, 50.9% of third through sixth graders met or exceeded standards on English language arts, and 39.7% passed the math CAASPP.

District Superintendent Jeff Pelzel said that in nearly every grade level of the district, for mathematics there was “cohort growth,” or improvement by a class from year to year. In ELA, there was cohort growth in fourth, fifth and sixth grade.

“At every grade level, in the last five years, we either beat the record or tied the record in highest score for math,” said Pelzel.

Pelzel attributed the district’s success to what the district has been doing in recent years in terms of educating their educators.

“In mathematics, we have spent four years on very very intense professional development and training for our teachers,” said Pelzel. “We’ve spent four years digging deep, refining our practice and we have chosen a really, really strong curriculum.”

Additionally, the district has been using “response to intervention” strategies, or ensuring that if a student needs more support on a particular standard, they’re given more time with a teacher, and if they understand a given subject, they’re given an opportunity to grow.

“We’re moving kids around within their grade level needs, so one teacher might take kids that are in the enriching section in a larger group, another teacher takes some kids and does maybe a particular standard … and another teacher takes another group that has even more foundational skill (issues) into a smaller group. It’s really differentiated.”

While the district saw an improvement in mathematics, Pelzel acknowledged that their English language arts scores did drop from last year. In 2016-17 the district’s ELA score was 70.22% and 71.13% in 2017-2018. Pelzel, however, said he is not worried about the drop.

“That’s a very typical fluctuation,” said Pelzel. “We just finished our second year of the curriculum so you have teachers that are learning and making adjustments to the curriculum at this point.”

Pelzel noted that the district did have ELA and math scores hovering around the same number, which he says is unusual, with math typically being 5 to 10% lower than ELA.

The district is facing challenges in addressing the gap between English-only students and English-learner students, and students with disabilities versus students without disabilities.

NSD students with disabilities scored 28.72% in English and 28.60% in math. The statewide average was 16.26% and 12.61%, respectively. NSD English language learners scored 26.67% in English and 32.88% in math. The statewide average for ELLs was 12.69% in English and 12.58% in math.

“I’m not OK with there being a significant gap there,” said Pelzel. “Our biggest challenge, and what we are focused on, is supporting our English learners and supporting our students with disabilities and ensuring they have equal outcomes with all the kids in our system.”

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