A specialized testing program in San Diego has improved student math scores, possibly providing a road map for other public school educators, researchers say.
Mandatory use of exams created by a joint California State University and University of California program has produced dramatic test score gains for San Diego Unified School District students, according to a study released this week by the Public Policy Institute of California. In one case, a student moved from the 50th percentile in math to the 57th percentile in a year.
The CSU-UC initiative, called the Mathematics Diagnostic Testing Project, offers free course-specific tests and sends teachers feedback on individual students and the entire class – often within a week after testing in the spring.
The timely information from the specialized tests helped San Diego teachers identify student weaknesses more quickly than the state's current standardized testing process, institute researchers found. Julian Betts, a Public Policy Institute fellow and co-author of the study, said mandatory use of the service helped teachers address their students' math difficulties. The test also helped administrators better identify who truly needed summer school help, Betts found. San Diego began using the tests in 1999, but started to make them mandatory in the early to mid-2000s:
The timely information from diagnostic testing allows teachers to act quickly on what they learn about a student's math skills. More districts could use this type of testing to direct help to struggling students and place them in classes that will help them succeed.
The study's conclusions are based on an examination of San Diego student academic information from fall 2001 through spring 2007. Researchers had access to complete student files, including individual test scores, grades, courses taken and absences.
The specialized math tests have been available to public schools since 1986. The tests are optional tools and not every school district is using them, according to the study.
Last year, district officials collaborated with the institute to assess the impact of reading reform measures. That report questioned summer schools' effectiveness in improving reading scores after seeing targeted reforms in San Diego help struggling students during the school year.