In the year before schools across the country switch to national tests, the 2013 state STAR results remained stagnant for Mission District high schools.

Results show that both John O’Connell and Mission High have only moved a few percentage points up or down from 2012.

Despite the stagnant STAR results between 2012 and 2013, there has been a general trend of upward growth in both of the Mission’s high schools, the results show. Throughout the 2000s, Academic Performance Index (API) scores for both schools fluctuated in the 500 range. So far, this new decade has been averaging in the low to mid 600 range.

To some extent, the reaction from the two schools reflected that upward trend.

John O’Connell jumped from a score of 596 in 2011, to 666 in 2012. It was the third highest API score gain in schools of the same size in California. This year they dropped 10 points to 656, but retained the same percentage of students who scored at the proficient or higher range on STAR testing in both math (30 percent) and language arts (35 percent).

The academic performance score at Mission High rose slightly to 641 this year, from 639 in 2012. This increase, however, was a bit down from its score of 632 in 2011.

Mission High School students dropped one percentage point in language arts — from 37 to 36, scoring at proficient or above; and gained two more percentage points in math from 41 to 43 percent, scoring at proficient or above. Both schools, however, are working towards, if not looking forward to, the implementation of the new performance test.

The new national tests “will be closer to what we really want our students to be able to do,” said Susan Ryan, assistant principal at John O’Connell, of the real-world focus the test has.

Designed around the new Common Core State Standards, the new Smarter Balanced Assessments are supposed to create a more complete picture of students’ abilities.

Students will be tested over the last 12 weeks of the school year and will have their depth of understanding, writing and research skills assessed. These skills were not quantifiable with the multiple-choice nature of the STAR testing, educators said.

“Common Core standards are deeper, more rigorous, and clearly more relevant for our student’s lives,” said Eric Guthertz, principal of Mission High School. Ryan agreed, saying the new exam will have questions to better suit the knowledge of students of many different backgrounds. Such comprehensiveness would be an improvement from the limited background STAR exam questions cater to, according to Ryan.

The Principal of John O’Connell, Mark Alvarado, is optimistic as well. “We’ll know how students are doing in a formative, rather than a summative way,” said Alvarado, who is committed to ensuring that his students learn the standards. “Hopefully this is a better test,” he added.

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Justin Richmond has been educated all over California, including Orange County, Los Angeles and Berkeley. It’s an experience, he says, that will help him cover community colleges and high schools. He's particularly excited to explore how the Mission's schools reflect the Mission.

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