Tests show Calif. kids improving academically


For eight consecutive years, California public school students made steady academic progress. Today, 52 percent are reading at grade level or above and in 2003, only 35 percent were doing so.

In math, 48 percent are proficient or advanced and in 2003, only 35 percent were.

Some Bay Area school districts like San Francisco did even better than the state average, despite significant budget cutbacks.

"We're in a horrible situation. Across the state, class sizes are going up. Could those things have an impact? Yes, I think they could have an impact," Superintendent Carlos Garcia from the San Francisco Unified School District said.

This year, some school districts will impose furlough days.

"We haven't had furlough days yet, I don't know what they are going to look like. Certainly I believe we need more funding for public education. It's obvious that you get what you pay for. If you want quality, you need more money there. I'd like to see the state put more money into education," reading specialist Laurie Wager said.

In the meantime, some school districts have adopted innovative programs aimed at keeping scores on the rise. San Francisco schools have adopted the Reading Workshop program, allowing students to read at their own pace and level. The idea is to create a passion for reading.

"And as our students and teachers became better readers, there is no surprise that our science and math scores got better too," Sherman Elementary School Principal Sara Shenkan-Rich said.

Sherman Elementary in San Francisco and most Silicon Valley schools now have a successful program where an animated penguin teaches math using diagrams on the computer.

Finally, for a second year in a row, San Francisco students will be assessed every nine weeks -- especially helpful for English learners.

"If we see that the English learning students at third grade are the ones with the lowest test scores in the school, then we can talk about performance for English learning students at third grade," Ritu Khanna from San Francisco Unified School District said.

This year statewide, the achievement gap among African-American and Latino students remained relatively unchanged. But those two groups did much better in larger urban areas such as San Francisco and Santa Clara County.

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