Tuesday, Sep 10 2013 06:00 AM

Then and Now: Peas and carrots

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Claudia Elliott

Perhaps it is something ingrained from childhood, but when we get past summer vacations, Mountain Festival, Labor Day and I see the school buses running again, my mind seems to turn to serious subjects.

Here at the newspaper we've learned that many people aren't as interested as we are in serious subjects. Yes, we like fun stories as much as the next guy and we try to get them in the paper as much as we can. But there are serious subjects that concern our community and our society and we think it's our job to bring them to your attention.

Someone once likened this to making sure readers get their peas and carrots.

So, if you're still reading, you've had fair warning.


A couple of weeks ago our front page story reported on the local school district's test scores, recently released by the state. The headline read: "TUSD STAR test scores, some schools are down."

We've heard of a complaint that since some schools had improved scores, the headline should have read "some schools are up."

When we looked closely at the 12 scores reported (English and Math for each of the district's six schools), half were up over the previous year and half were down. So to be fair, we could have just as well said "some schools are up."

The scores, by the way, were the percentage of students at each school who scored at proficient or advance in the two subjects.

We could have flipped the numbers and reported the percentages of students who scored below proficiency. Sadly, those are not pretty numbers.

At Tehachapi High School, for instance, the 2013 math scores (down from 2012) show that more than 75 percent of students did not attain proficiency in math. And this was an increase (in lack of proficiency) from the prior year.

We live in a community with real rocket scientists in our midst and three-quarters of our high school students aren't proficient in math?

Fortunately, elementary and middle school math scores were better than those from THS -- in fact, they were up over the previous year at all three elementary schools and Jacobsen Middle School. Still, more than half of JMS students scored below proficient.

According to an article on the website, EdSource, this year California's STAR scores dropped across the board for the first time since the program was launched in 2003. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson was said to have downplayed the drop in scores, pointing to school budget cuts and teacher layoffs in recent years as a cause.

Voter approval of Prop. 30 last November may help in that regard, although I suspect that Tehachapi schools facing declining enrollment will continue to be financially challenged since funding is based on student count.

And the STAR testing program is about to become a thing of the past as public education moves into the new world of Common Core standards -- national competency standards and curriculum -- so it will be awhile before we'll be able to compare apples to apples again, testing-wise.

I do want to make clear that I'm not blaming our local schools here; I just think it's important for us to know how we're doing. Facing the uncomfortable fact that many of our students are not achieving proficiency in some important areas is matters more than whatever public relations value "up" in our headline versus "down" might have had.

Many people -- including volunteers who work with the group AST (Arts, Science & Technology Educational Corporation of Tehachapi) -- have recognized the challenge and are working to help support local schools. What we hope, when we publish articles like the one with the test scores, is that more people will become inspired to involve themselves in supporting our schools and students, because there certainly is a need to find ways to get our students to a proficient level or above.


CLAUDIA ELLIOTT is editor of the Tehachapi News. Send email to: celliott@tehachapinews.com or call 823-6360.

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