California Test Scores Show Little Progress With Foster Children

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pixabay, Creative Commons)

With the release of the Smarter Balance test scores in California last month as part of the new assessment system referred to as CAASPP came the news that while test scores did slightly improve, large equity gaps continue to persist.

For the first time, the scores of the state's foster youth have been separated by education officials, finding that these students are learning less than their peers. As the scores for the 2014-15 school year show, the first year that scores of the new, harder exam were reported, 18.8% of students in the foster care system met or exceeded standards on the English exam in comparison with 44.2% of their non-foster peers across the state. Results were similar in math, with 11.8% of foster students meeting or exceeding standards, while 33.8% of their non-foster peers did the same.

Foster students were also found to have a lower participation rate on the exams. While 27,651 foster students, 89.8% of those enrolled, took the English exam, 96.1% of non-foster students participated. Meanwhile, 27,475 foster students, or 89.3%, took the math exam in comparison to 96.3% of their non-foster peers, writes Joy Resmovits for The Los Angeles Times.

Experts believe the lower participation rates to be a reflection of the difficulty with which children move through the foster care system. A study performed by the nonprofit educational research organization the Center for the Future of Teaching and Learning at WestEd found that just two-thirds of foster students remain in the same school each year. In addition, it was discovered that one in ten have attended three schools over the course of just one school year.

According to the nonprofit Legal Center for Foster Care and Education, each move to a different school results in a loss of between four and six months of learning.

A number of laws have been passed in the state in an effort to improve the educational achievement of foster children. In addition, $10 million was added to the budget by the state in 2015 to be put toward the funding of a new law that would help to ensure that county education offices' Foster Youth Services Coordination Programs could serve a greater number of foster children.

Meanwhile, despite a push to make teachers more accountable for the level of achievement of their students, a recent ruling by Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Barry Goode put down the efforts made by the Bay Area group Students Matter. The lawsuit hoped to require 13 school districts in the state to include student standardized test scores as part of teacher evaluations.

"The Legislature endorses many uses of those tests, including evaluating pupils, entire schools and local educational agencies," Goode wrote in an opinion released Monday. "But it does not say the results should be used to evaluate individual teachers."

While the language used for the case was based upon the Stull Act, passed by the Legislature in 1971 requiring school districts to "evaluate and assess" teachers that "reasonably relates" to the progress of students, Judge Goode found a way around the language.

"There are serious questions about whether, and the extent to which, a pupil's standardized test score is ‘reasonably related' and ‘applicable' to the performance of a given teacher," Goode wrote.

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