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Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

Lauren Foreman covers education for The Californian. Reach her at lforeman@bakersfield.com, at Facebook.com/TBCEducationReporter or on Twitter@TBCTheGrade.

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Katherine Scheler was a fourth-grade teacher at Horace Mann Elementary in the Bakersfield City School District in 2013-14. She'll be an intervention specialist at the school next school year.

K-12 REPORT CARD: FEW GAINS: The Kern County Network for Children released its annual Kern County Report Card last week with little good news about how kids fared in the 2012-13 school year except there was a drop in the percentage of children living in poverty.

Dropout rates lingered in the double digits at 16.2 percent in 2012-2013, a tick lower than the 16.8 percent in 2011-2012.

Local graduation rates -- a three-year average of 75.8 percent from 2010-11 to 2012-2013 -- failed to surpass the three-year state average of 78.7 percent.

And the percentage of third- and seventh-grade test-takers who earned at least proficient test scores in math and English dropped between one and four percentage points.

The test scores had been trending up before 2012-2013. Educators attributed the regression to students being taught according to new learning standards but being tested on the old standards.

They expect over time, as the new standards in learning and testing align, scores will rise.

In better news, the report found a slight decrease in the number of children living in poverty, something officials say substantially impacts student learning.

About 35 percent of Kern County children lived in poverty in 2011-12, which dropped about one percentage point to 33.9 percent in 2012-13.

Officials say the numbers are still high.

Glynda Martin, director of educational services in the Standard School District, said the Oildale-area district is trying to combat that through nutrition initiatives.

The district uses state funding to pay for a breakfast, fresh fruits and vegetables program that allows students in need to take food home.

When students receive proper nourishment, Martin said, they are more focused and attentive, and perform better.

Martin said the district has also implemented parenting classes.

"We've done everything we can to maintain high quality nutrition from pre-K to eighth grades," she said.

The Kern County Report Card showed while fewer children lived in poverty last year, more students participated in free or reduced price meals.

In Kern, 68.9 percent of students in 2102-2013 received free or reduced price meals, compared to 67.1 percent of students in 2011-12.

That increase corresponds with trends in a student population described by the California Department of Education as socioeconomically disadvantaged.

A student is classified as socioeconomically disadvantaged if he or she is eligible for free or reduced price meals, or neither of the student's parents received a high school diploma.

In Kern County, 72 percent of students in 2013-2014 are socioeconomically disadvantaged, up from 70.9 percent in 2012-13 and 67.7 percent in 2011-12.

Tom Corson, executive director of the Kern County Network for Children, said there are fewer children living in poverty but more students receiving free or reduced price meals because the county has done a better job of connecting families in need with available resources.

He added there is still work to do.

Poverty, hunger, child neglect and an educational achievement gap between general students and subgroups are still major issues in Kern County.

Other stats in the Kern County Report Card include:

* Kern County Child Protective Services reported 17,990 allegations of suspected child abuse or neglect -- an average of 49 children per day.

* Neglect was 93 percent of all reported child maltreatment.

* More than a third of Kern County families -- 36.5 percent -- whose householder had less than a high school diploma lived in poverty during 2012. For families with householders with at least a bachelor's degree, the poverty rate fell to 3 percent.

* Of adults at least 25 years old, 27.9 percent did not have a high school diploma in 2012-13.

TEACHER OF THE WEEK: Katherine Scheler, an elementary teacher since 2005, said her classroom hallmark at Horace Mann Elementary School in Bakersfield is motivating students to think beyond what they need to learn and to seek what they want to learn.

"A lot of kids will work as hard as they need to," she said.

But if a teacher can get them to be inquisitive and inspire them to want to learn, they are more likely to succeed in school and life, Scheler said.

WHAT YOU'RE SAYING: Here's the latest buzz from The Californian's Facebook page:

"Major stories developing today Part 1: A judge has struck down California's teacher tenure. Thoughts?"

To read the Californian story, visit: tinyurl.com/kkb5ggq

Mark Bartlett: "It's about time. Too many put in a few years and turn on the cruise control. It needs to be based on MERIT. Period."

Ryan Olson: "Just wait and see what happens when districts start firing good, experienced teachers because they earn 'too much.'"