SCV elementary districts’ state test scores decline

First grader Natalia Ramirez, right, plays go-fish with classmates during an intervention group held at Newhall Elementary School in Newhall on Wednesday, 111021. Dan Watson/The Signal

The state Department of Education released its state assessment data, and overall test scores indicate a decline in English and mathematics at all grade levels including for elementary students in the Santa Clarita Valley. 

According to the 2021-22 California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, also known as CAASPP, some of the elementary school districts saw a smaller decline in test scores and some even saw an increase in its students English or math scores.  

“It was a tough transition and, unfortunately, it’s going to be something that’s with us for a long time,” said Fred Malcomb, member of the Castaic Union School District’s board of trustees, who represents Trustee Area C.  

“The two years that we were out due to COVID, and then transitioning back, it hasn’t been easy for a lot of kids,” he added. “We’ve put a lot of support in place for the kids. But we have some outstanding teachers, and administrators and our staff who are amazing and working with the kids.” 

From the 2018-19 school year to these recent results, student test scores dropped in English language arts by approximately 2% and rose by approximately 1% in the Saugus Union School District. In the Newhall School District, student test scores rose by 4% in ELA and dropped by approximately 6% in mathematics. 

“The nation has been preparing for the data that would quantify learning loss experienced by students during the pandemic,” read a statement from Saugus Union School District officials, which was released back in late September regarding preliminary testing data.  

In the Castaic Union School District, student test scores dropped by approximately 3% and 4% in ELA and mathematics, respectively, and in the Sulphur Springs Union School District, student test scores declined by approximately 10% and 11% in ELA and mathematics.  

Malcomb said the decline in student test scores, while something to be celebrated given the circumstances regarding the widespread learning loss, is still a significant number of students who need additional support.  

Malcomb, who also works as a counselor for Palmdale Aerospace Academy, said the academic challenges brought on by the pandemic are being exacerbated by mental, emotional and behavioral issues seen in students. 

He described different scenarios where some students may be fine, others needing to learn or relearn the dynamics of being in a classroom, or some students not knowing how to interact with other students.  

District officials shared the sentiment that their great staff, teachers and administrators can make a difference in students’ life. Though the pandemic will have lasting effects, there is hope that soon they will see the learning achievement gap shrink.  

SCV elementary districts’ state testing results 

The CAASPP includes the Smarter Balanced assessment system, the California Science Test, the California Alternate Assessments for special education students and the optional California Spanish Assessment. 

Districts administer the state tests starting in grades 3-8 and 11, as a way for the state and districts to monitor student progress. The science test is assigned for grades 5, 8 and once in high school, usually in grade 11, according to the Department of Education. 

CAASPP data showed that in the Castaic district, about 59% of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA. Approximately 43% of students met or exceeded state standards in mathematics.  

In the Newhall district, about 66% of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA. Approximately 62% of students met or exceeded state standards in mathematics. 

“I do feel we’re very proud that we’re still maintaining high academic achievement,” said Newhall district Superintendent Leticia Hernandez. “We’re also very proud that the board has approved our money to be used in a very strategic manner, so that it can help our students come back from COVID and with really targeted instruction.” 

According to Hernandez, there are still areas that need work, not just academically. District staff and administrators need to help students with their social and emotional challenges, and address chronic absenteeism, for example, she added. 

Substitute teacher Beverly Graham, center, works with first-graders during an intervention group held at Newhall Elementary School in Newhall on Wednesday, 111021. Dan Watson/The Signal

In the Saugus district, about 65% of students met or exceeded state standards in ELA. Approximately 58% of students met or exceeded state standards in mathematics.  

Students in the Sulphur Springs district had the largest decline in test scores for both ELA and mathematics at about 10% from test results in 2018-19. 

In the Sulphur Springs district, about 50% of students met or exceeded state standards. In mathematics, approximately 39% of students met or exceeded state standards. 

On the subject of why students struggled in understanding math more than ELA, Hernandez said that’s a question she’s been trying to examine and analyze, though it’s a bit difficult for her as she began in her role just a few months ago.  

“Overall, during COVID, math is so layered that if there were concepts missed, a lot of teachers had to a lot of reteaching,” Hernandez said. “Math is just one of those subjects where if there any gaps, you’re going to have to work even harder to fill in those gaps.” 

Anticipating learning loss, and the efforts to mitigate them 

The decline in state test scores in the SCV reflected a national trend that many educators anticipated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Education in the last two years has been impacted by several challenges including transitioning to distance learning back in-person, an increase need in addressing the mental and emotional health of students, and more. 

“With a prediction of losses in CAASPP test scores of 5% to 15% across the state, (SUSD) is seeing that its efforts with short-term independent study, intervention teachers and strong curriculum alignment have helped its students to have a different experience,” Saugus Union Superintendent Colleen Hawkins wrote in an email in late September regarding their preliminary testing data. 

Hawkins’ statement hits upon a general consensus among educators. Many anticipated student learning would suffer as a result of the pandemic, but the question educators poised was to what extent could they mitigate the impact. 

In previous conversations with The Signal, district officials discussed several actions taken to assist students to acquire skills and accelerate their learning, which include, but not limited to, identifying the needs of their students, hiring new staff to address students’ academic, mental and emotional needs, and adjusting or creating new curriculum. 

According to John Richard, president of the Castaic district’s board of trustees, the test scores are one piece of the puzzle, and there are so many factors that determine student success. But a main goal is to ensure that students are able to move on to the next level and eventually graduate from high school with their diploma. 

“I know that our administrators and our teachers, they’re trying provide all the tools necessary for the students so that they can go from one level to the next,” Richard said. “So, that they know how to process information, and they get all the building blocks in each and every grade level, then we’ll be ready to launch them when they graduate.” 

Richard also noted that most educators are breathing that sigh of relief as the 2022-23 school year marked the first full year of in-person instruction and the return of programs.  

“So just by the pure fact that we’re in class, and we’re with people, I am optimistic that all education will improve,” he added.  

Some district officials were unreachable for comment as of publication of this article as winter break continues. Some district staff are slated to return the first week of January, and the spring semester begins in the second week of January. 

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