Hills schools rank high in STAR scores

09.06.2012 | San Jose Mercury News | Rebecca Rosen Lum

OAKLAND — Students at Oakland hills schools outperformed peers statewide on standardized tests administered in the spring, according to the state’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) results.

But after the state Department of Education released test results last week, at least one local principal said high expectations — not privilege — were the determining factor in the high marks.

The STAR results showed how many California students, grade 2 through 11, demonstrated proficiency in language arts, math, science and history. Statewide, 57 percent scored at a level of proficient or better in language arts and a bare majority — 51 percent — did so in mathematics. Throughout the county, students did a bit better, with 62 percent in language arts and 55 percent in math.

But in the Oakland Unified School District, the hills were alive with the sound of achievement.

At Montclair Elementary, nearly 92 percent of students scored well in language arts, more than 90 percent performed well in mathematics, and 95 percent met or exceeded expectations in science.

It’s all about high expectations, said Principal Nancy Bloom.

“We have a school culture of high expectations,” said Bloom, who has been at the helm of Montclair for seven years. “I don’t believe in teaching to the tests. I believe in teaching to the standards. My job is to remove every possible obstacle in our teachers’ way.”

Bloom began her career as a teacher in a Fruitvale area school whose students faced numerous challenges. Although her class encompassed 18 home languages, she said the students scored higher on standardized tests than any other class in the school.

The Montclair school population is 56 percent white; the remainder is evenly distributed among other racial backgrounds. No matter the conditions, students will internalize the message they cannot achieve if schools set the bar low, she said.

At Hillcrest School, 90 percent of students scored proficient to advanced in most subject areas; more than 96 percent did so in history.

“I have to admit, our kids come in prepared,” said Hillcrest principal Lissa Hines. “Let’s be honest. When they have supportive parents, it makes a huge difference.”

Most have had the benefit of preschool enrichment, Hines said. But the new “transitional kindergarten,” in which children younger than 5 can gain the benefit of various enrichments, will narrow the advantage gap, she said.

“That is one of the best things that has happened (in public schools) and it’s going to make a huge difference,” she said.

Students scored in the 80s and 90s percentiles at Chabot, Crocker Highlands, Joaquin Miller, Peralta, Thornhill and Redwood Heights elementary schools.

At Oakland Tech, 53.2 percent did well in language arts, still outperforming peers statewide. But less than 29 percent did so in math. At Montera Middle School, 65.3 percent displayed proficiency in language arts. Other Montera scores included: 51 percent in history, 49 percent in math, and more than 72 percent in science.

And at Skyline High, students scored below the state averages in all subject areas, with slightly more than 10 percent showing proficiency in mathematics.

Not all grades took all tests. Science components were given to grades 5, 8 and 10; mathematics to grades 2 through 7, and at the end of courses; and history, grades 8 and 11 and at the end of courses.

Scores have been steadily rising since 2003 — the year tests were brought in line with curriculum, state Superintendent Tom Torlakson said in a press statement.

“In less than a decade, California has gone from having only one student in three score proficient to better than one student in two,” he says, adding, “As pleased as I am by the great progress many students are making, the deep school budget cuts of recent years make it ever less likely these gains will continue. Preventing further cuts and beginning to restore what’s been lost are essential to helping every student learn and prepare for the future.”

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