Nearly three-fourths of Fresno County students scored above the state average on both English language arts and mathematics standardized tests last year.
In fact, the same contingent of Fresno County students tested above the state average in English language arts for the past three years.
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But when you add in the remaining one-fourth, the county’s test scores dip below the state average for both English and math.
Those students who are dragging down the county average? They’re attending Fresno Unified schools.
Fresno Unified Still Lags County, State
The academic performance findings were provided in a recent communication from Fresno Unified staff to district trustees. The report looks at five years of data for meeting or exceeding proficiency standards on the Smarter Balanced Assessment Tests that are administered at the end of the school year to students in grades three through eight and 11.
The report found that when Fresno Unified scores are subtracted from Fresno County’s totals, the county outperformed the state average in both English and math last year — for the first time over the past five years.
The Fresno County Superintendent of Schools Office did not respond to numerous requests for comment.
District Posts Bigger Gains Than County, State
Katie Russell, Fresno Unified’s instructional superintendent, said the assessment results also show that the district improved at a faster pace than the county or state over the past five years.
She noted that Fresno Unified topped both the rest of the county and the state with an 11.7% gain in math assessment scores over the five years. The county, minus Fresno Unified, had a 9.7% increase in math, compared with a 4.7% increase for the state over that time period.
In addition, she said, the district tied the rest of the county with a 10.5% improvement in English language assessments, compared with the state’s gain of 6.9% over the same period.
Those gains occurred even though Fresno Unified has a greater percentage of students who are in low-income homes, or are English learners or in the foster system, Russell said. In Fresno, nearly 89% of students are disadvantaged, English learners or in foster care, compared to 69% for the rest of Fresno County and 45% for the state as a whole, she said.
“As you can see the demographics are not similar,” Russell told GV Wire in an email interview. “Fresno Unified students reside in much more challenging ZIP codes … yet those who work in Fresno Unified have embraced this challenge and are working hard every day to ensure that all students grow and achieve.”
Focus on Math Instruction
Fresno Unified’s math scores have been climbing about 3% yearly over the past four years, according to the district report. The district made improving math instruction a goal for the past two years, focusing on student performance and teacher instructional strategies, Russell said.
Through the use of “professional learning communities,” she said, the district encourages a collaborative culture among staffers who identify through testing results and other information when students need assistance and provide interventions that promote continuous improvement and help close achievement gaps.
Russell said the district’s four-year growth trend in English and math scores is due in part to how Fresno Unified has allocated money provided through the state’s Local Control Funding Formula, which gives additional money to school districts with high numbers of disadvantaged students, such as Fresno.
The district has used those funds for additional instructional time at 40 schools (including more hours for teacher professional learning), expanding early learning programs, supports for English-language learning and African American student performance acceleration, more middle school teachers to reduce class sizes and interventions, and eliminating combination grade classes in elementary schools, she said.
“Fresno Unified will continue to focus on the strategies that we’ve been implementing over the last several years that have led to student academic growth in both ELA and math,” Russell said. “We will continue to ensure that we close the achievement gap by focusing on the skills students need to improve a grade level or more each year.”