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Math Assessments Give San Diego Students Testing Boost

Researchers have found that San Diego city school students made big gains on state math tests when math proficiency was assessed with another year-end exam.

— California math teachers have been able to voluntarily use assessment tests from the California Math Diagnostic Testing Project free of charge since the 1980s. But San Diego Unified mandated the test for certain grade levels from 2001 to 2007.

A new study from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) shows the mandated testing led to student scores increasing, while voluntary use didn’t. The assessments were used to place students in classes, but probably also gave entire school math departments a perspective they were missing.

“It allows them to really sit down and look at individual students strengths and weaknesses, but also to look at patterns across entire classrooms and cohorts. And then they can redesign their teaching in light of what they discover,” said Julian Betts, a policy fellow with PPIC who co-authored the study with Youjin Hahn, assistant professor at Monash University, Australia, and Andrew Zau, statistician for the San Diego Education Research Alliance at UC San Diego.

Betts said about 10 percent of student test score gains could be attributed to their placement in groups based on mathematic ability and another 1 percent could be linked to suggesting struggling students enroll in summer school. That's why coordinating schoolwide instruction seems like a possible explanation for the gains, which were enough to raise a student from the middle of the testing pack, or the 50th percentile, to the 57th percentile of students tested.

San Diego Unified mandated the end-of-year assessments for students exiting elementary and middle school as part of an effort to use data to support the district's student retention and achievement, according to Ron Rode, San Diego Unified executive director of accountability.

In 2008, schools switched from using the year-end assessment to using benchmark tests that students take multiple times a year to help teachers tailor their instruction. Districtwide, student scores on state math tests have continued to rise in each year since that change.

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