California students are making steady gains in English and math, with more than half meeting proficiency targets, according to standardized test results released Monday by the state Department of Education.

Statewide, 54 percent of students in grades 2 through 11 were proficient or advanced in English language arts and 50 percent were proficient or advanced in math -- the highest percentage since the Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, system began in 2003. Students are rated advanced, proficient, basic, below basic or far below basic.

East Bay students scored slightly higher than those statewide, with nearly 61 percent of Contra Costa County students in grades 2 through 11 proficient or advanced in English-language arts and about 55 percent meeting proficiency goals in math. Alameda County's scores were roughly the same, with 60 percent proficient or advanced English and 55 percent in math.

Scores at districts in the East Bay varied widely, however.

The Antioch district in Contra Costa County saw its scores overall hold steady at about 47 percent proficiency in English and 38 percent in math. But Stephanie Anello, the district's associate superintendent of educational services, said budget cuts took a toll on the educational environment at schools.

"One of the programs cut was class-size reduction in grades K-3," she said. "As a result, many teachers were moved to new grade levels and sites -- while also grappling with increased class size."

Although scores for second- and third-graders didn't fluctuate much, the district saw fourth-grade scores drop slightly, from 58 to 54 percent proficient in English and from 62 to 60 percent proficient in math.

"Though any decrease in student achievement is disheartening," Anello said, "the two-year (overall) upward trend remains positive and we anticipate that next year we will regain the small ground lost this year."

In the high-performing Acalanes Union High School District, more than 80 percent of students tested proficient in every subject except math, where 56 percent of students are proficient. That's a slight improvement from last year, when 53 percent of math students tested proficient.

Math, particularly algebra, is an area the district has tried to improve in recent years, Superintendent John Nickerson said. He added that the district is focusing some intervention programs on students who struggle with the subject.

"The CST is just one measurement of what we do, but it is an important measurement and our teachers do continue to better align their curriculum and assessment processes, and I think the results indicate that," he said.

Proficiency levels remained steady at 75 percent in English and 76 percent in math in the San Ramon Valley school district. However, spokesman Terry Koehne said scores dipped a little at some grade levels.

"We're certainly pleased more of our students continue to achieve proficient or advanced status," he said. "It's tough when you're already a high-performing district."

The Oakland district in Alameda County raised its English proficiency 3 percentage points to 44 percent and its math proficiency level by 1 percentage point to 45 percent. But Betty Olson-Jones, president of the teachers' union, said she thinks tests are too pervasive and that scores often reflect the socioeconomic status of communities.

"We're facing unprecedented budget cuts," she said. "How in the world are children supposed to learn and teachers supposed to teach, especially when we're forced to teach a prescriptive curriculum?"

English and math tests are given to all students through ninth grade. Science is tested in fifth, eighth and 10th grades. Students in grades 8 and 11 take history-social science tests. Modified tests are available for some special-education and English-learner students.

This is among the first batch of scores to be released in the upcoming test-result season: STAR scores are used to calculate a campus's Academic Performance Index, or API, which is expected to be released Aug. 31, and to calculate Adequate Yearly Progress according to No Child Left Behind, which also will be released Aug. 31.

Staff writers Paul Burgarino, Eric Louie and Jonathan Morales contributed to this story.

STUDENTS SCORING "PROFICIENT" OR BETTER
Reading/writing Math
CALIFORNIA 54% 50%
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY (overall) 61% 55%
Acalanes 85% 56%
Antioch 47% 38%
Brentwood 66% 69%
Byron 62% 65%
Canyon 80% 70%
John Swett 46% 42%
Knightsen 64% 68%
Lafayette 85% 85%
Liberty 53% 26%
Martinez 67% 62%
Moraga 92% 91%
Mt. Diablo 57% 52%
Oakley 56% 53%
Orinda 92% 92%
Pittsburg 41% 42%
San Ramon 84% 78%
Walnut Creek 81% 80%
West Contra Costa 42% 38%
ALAMEDA COUNTY (overall) 60% 55%
Alameda city 67% 59%
Albany 77% 77%
Berkeley 61% 54%
Castro Valley 74% 66%
Dublin 75% 69%
Emery 40% 36%
Fremont 76% 70%
Hayward 41% 37%
Livermore 67% 60%
Mountain House 54% 40%
New Haven 55% 46%
Newark 53% 48%
Oakland 44% 45%
Piedmont 88% 83%
Pleasanton 83% 72%
San Leandro 46% 36%
San Lorenzo 43% 37%
Sunol Glen 84% 86%
  • Detailed school, district and county scores are at http://star.cde.ca.gov.
  • Read more in the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.
    Source: California Department of Education