The 2007 California standardized testing scores, released last week, contain few surprises for the Palo Alto Unified School District, which remains among the top five kindergarden-12 districts statewide, according to district officials.
On average, 83 percent of students are proficient or advanced in language arts and English, up from the high 70s four years ago, according to Director of Assessment Bill Garrison.
"On the whole, Palo Alto remains a very strong district that is continuing to make progress," member Dana Tom said.
The exams, given annually to students in grades two through 11, involve 10 to 12 hours of testing of English and mathematics, Garrison said. High school students also take science and social science tests.
Unlike previous standardized tests that ranked students by percentile, the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program measures students' knowledge of grade-level subject matter, Garrison said.
Scores are classified into five categories: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic and far below basic. The state goal is to have all students score at a proficient or advanced level, according to STAR program materials.
Palo Alto's scores are not all rosy, however. They also show the persistence of the "achievement gap" between non-minority, economically stable students and their less fortunate schoolmates, several school board members acknowledged.
Among 10th graders, just 27 percent of economically disadvantaged students scored proficient or advanced in the English-Language Arts portion of the test, while 80 percent of financially better-off teens scored proficient or higher.
By ethnicity, 82 percent of white 10th graders scored proficient or better in English-Language Arts, 84 percent of Asians in the same grade, 36 percent of blacks and 37 percent of Hispanics.
On a positive note, Garrison said, individual scores can help a teacher and parents craft an improved educational program for students who are struggling.
The district is required to test 95 percent of students, however many juniors skip the exam because it coincides with other Advanced Placement tests, administrators have said previously. Last year, Gunn High School required STAR participation for AP and honors students.
According to test results, only 73 percent of Palo Alto High School juniors took the English portion of the exam, significantly fewer than the 93 percent participation at Gunn.
The district's results -- which can be viewed by school, ethnicity or a variety of other categories -- are available at http://star.cde.ca.gov/star2007/Viewreport.asp .
Lowell also pointed out that parents can view sample test questions by scrolling down on the http://star.cde.ca.gov page to click on the category "Slides, Blueprints, Guides, Released Test Questions, Assistance Packets."
At the end of August, the Academic Performance Index (API) scores, which are based on the STAR tests, will be released, Garrison said.
The API rankings quantify the performance of individual schools.