New state data shows that California students made solid gains on academic achievement tests for English and math last year, but the news is not all positive.
The state Department of Education on Tuesday released results from the 2009 Standardized Testing and Reporting Program, also known as the STAR tests.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said the scores are cause for celebration.
The results show that half of the state's students scored at the proficient or advanced level in English-language arts in 2009. That's up from 46 percent in 2008.
The number of students meeting those levels in math rose to 46 percent, up from 43 percent the previous year.
"I am pleased and encouraged to see that for the seventh year in a row, California public school students continue to improve," O’Connell said. "Half of our students are now proficient in English-language arts. This is particularly impressive if you consider that seven years ago, only 35 percent of students met this bar."
The scores were not all stellar. They showed performance of African American and Hispanic students continues to lag behind that of white, Asian, and Filipino students regardless of economic status in most cases.
O'Connell said the number one priority of his office is to close that gap.
"We must continue to push our education system to better serve all students. I remain committed to making changes at the state level to support the work being done at the school and district level to close the gap." O'Connell said.
In English, for example, 73 percent of Asian, 68 percent of white and 66 percent of Filipino students scored at the proficient or advanced level. That compares with 44 percent of American Indians, 37 percent of blacks and 37 percent of Hispanics.
Despite overall academic progress, "far too many of our students, especially students of color, are still not meeting proficiency," O'Connell told reporters Tuesday. "Today we have an economic imperative to close the achievement gap."
O'Connell said he was concerned that deep budget cuts to public education would undermine the academic gains made in recent years and widen the achievement gap.
"We simply cannot afford to see the progress that we've made over the last several years be undone," he said. "We have world-class content standards. We have high expectations for all students. Yet we're funding public education like a third-world country."