Less than half of all students in Kern County who took a statewide standardized test met or exceeded standards for English language arts and mathematics in 2018-2019, but local educators say the numbers show a different story.
According to California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress data, 43.21 percent and 28.83 percent of all Kern County third-through-eighth and 11th grade students met or exceeded standards for ELA and mathematics, respectively, in 2018-2019.
By comparison, state numbers show that 50.87 percent and 39.73 percent of students met or exceeded standards for ELA and mathematics, respectively.
Local educators are aware the numbers do not paint a positive picture for the county at face value, but they point to growth over the past few years.
Heather Richter, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools administrator of continuous improvement and support, noted that since 2015, Kern County’s percentage of students that met and exceeded ELA standards increased by 10.2 percent, while California increased by 6.9 percent over the same period.
Likewise, Kern County’s percentage of students that met and exceeded mathematics standards increased by 6.8 percent, compared to California's 5.7 percent increase.
"We’re increasing and closing the gap faster than the state, but there’s still work to do," Richter said.
Despite those boosts, there is still no avoiding how low the county fares compared to the state, and there are several factors that could be contributing to it. One of which is income inequality. Richter said 74.6 percent of Kern students are socioeconomically disadvantaged compared to 60.9 percent in the state.
"There are challenges for living in poverty. One would be access to literacy, exposure to academic language in the home," she explained. "We recognize that here at the county office ... we're looking at students living in poverty and how we can build support."
Parent centers have been implemented throughout districts to focus their attention on education, and many school sites are focusing on early intervention during transitional kindergarten and preschool years to "really accelerate that learning," according to Richter.
CAASPP data also shows individual district numbers:
For all third-through-eighth grade Bakersfield City School District students
- 35.66 percent met or exceeded standard for ELA
- 22.28 percent met or exceeded standard for math
For all third-through-eighth grade Panama-Buena Vista School District students
- 52.33 percent met or exceeded standard for ELA
- 37.34 percent met or exceeded standard for math
For all 11th grade Kern High School District students
- 51.14 percent met or exceeded standard for ELA
- 21.00 percent met or exceeded standard for math
Rosedale Union School District had the strongest numbers, with 64.30 percent and 56.54 percent meeting or exceeding standards for ELA and math, respectively.
Lori Aragon, BCSD coordinator II of data, assessment, and educational tech, said there are several factors that impact district students and scores. There is a high percentage of socio-economically disadvantaged students (90 percent), English language learners (28 percent) and first- and second-year teachers (16 percent).
However, like the county, the district has experienced growth. In the past five years, the percentage of all students who met or exceeded standards in ELA has increased by 11 percent, Aragon said. In math, the percentage of all students who met or exceeded standards has increased by 4 percent.
"We expect to make continuous growth over the next few years in both ELA and math. We believe grade level mastery of content standards in English language arts and math are critical for college and career readiness," she said in an email. "We will continue to promote a culture of student centered schools focused on meeting the academic, behavioral and social needs of all students."
She added BCSD will focus on employee retention, providing instructional feedback, creating and sustaining leveled libraries, continuing to professionally develop instructional staff in effective strategies to strengthen reading and mathematical skills and creating positive classrooms that provide safe and secure environments for learning.
Recently, the district held its annual State of the District breakfast and stressed a focus on literacy and mathematics for the 2019-2020 school year.
There are also several programs in place in the county to help students academically. Nine local school districts are participating in a two-year Kern Integrated Data System pilot program to share real-time student outcome data to assist in making informed decisions about what is best for students. Additionally, the county's 47 public school districts signed the Kern Education Pledge to transform the educational system and ensure education remains a top priority in the community. Equity is also a priority to ensure all students' needs are considered.
"For us, we’re excited that progress is being made and we’re outpacing the state," said Richter. "There’s work to be done — educators in our community are well aware of that and have a continuous mindset."