Merced County Times Newspaper
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Fall testing for students reveals data that’s ‘sobering’

Leaders on the Board of Education for the Merced City School District were forewarned that the fall assessment report they were about to hear was only the first of three for the year, and when combined, they would have a more accurate measure of how students were progressing toward standards.

It’s baseline data, they were told.

The district’s presenter, Audry Garza, pointed out that some 10,300 K-8 students participated in the “iReady” testing program for both Reading and Math placement at the start of the school year, when they were all entering new grade levels.

But those considerations at the board meeting on Tuesday night did not prevent the subsequent show of frustration.

“It’s sobering,” said Trustee Birdi Olivarez-Kidwell.

“I can’t imagine the high schools inheriting this, and having to work with this,” said Trustee Priya Lakireddy.

“This does not look good on us period,” Trustee Beatrice McCutchen said. “And we talk about us doing amazing things. Amazing things are getting our kids scores up. … Sitting here listening to it, made me want to throw up.”


Here’s the reality of the baseline data:
  • Across the entire district, 45 percent of students are “Reading” two or more years below grade level, 37 percent are reading one grade level below, and 18 percent are reading on or above grade level.
  • Likewise, 48 percent of students are two or more years below grade level in Math. 44 percent are one grade level below, and 8 percent are on or above grade level.
  • The performance of new eighth graders was particularly striking:
  • 58 percent are Reading two or more years below grade level, according to the testing.
  • 67 percent are two or more grade levels below in Math.
  • When it came to English-language learners:
  • 66 percent were Reading two or more years below grade level, and only 1 percent were on or above grade level in Math.
For Black students:
  • 50 percent were reading two or more years below grade level, and 59 percent were two or more years below grade level in Math.
  • Students with disabilities and foster kids accounted for similar results.


The district’s Garza pointed out that the baseline data results for Fall testing has not changed much in recent years. Overall reading and math levels have remained relatively the same from 2021 to 2023.

“We do expect growth over the year,” she said, adding that more students were tested this year than in previous years.

She also detailed district-wide actions to improve reading and math scores, and those were heavy on continued professional development and training for teachers.

When asked what teachers thought of the testing, and whether they found it an accurate assessment of performance, Garza replied that the teachers she talked to could have “predicted the overall results.”

Members of the Board of Trustees debated the issue of improving student performance at length and seemed united in the idea that new initiatives were urgently needed. However, they were somewhat split on how to get there. Trustee Priya Lakireddy made a plea for more focused community forums or direct engagement with parents and caregivers to brainstorm ideas on how to prepare and motivate students for success. Trustees Jessee Espinosa talked about incorporating new, more fair assessment techniques.

“These tests define intelligence in a narrow way,” Espinosa said, “and that often ends up coming back to only double down on the inequities we see in society. The students who are performing low are going to get the low end of the stick. And students who perform high, will maybe get GATE, and other extracurricular activities, while other students will lose their electives for interventions.”

Trustee Olivarez-Kidwell mentioned strengthening partnerships with other local districts on expectations, as well as modeling and implementing proven educational strategies while working with the district’s teachers on more effective assessments.

Tuesday’s meeting was a long one — on the eve of the Times press deadline.

Stay tuned for more MCSD news. The board also talked about narrowing down the list of new search firms to find applicants in order to fill the open MCSD Superintendent position. The board is expected to choose a new search firm after efforts were paused last month when the board ended its contract with McPherson and Jacobson in the wake of controversial report by the company that was released without MCSD board authorization. The district has been without a top superintendent since the firing of Diana Jimenez last April.

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