By ARIANA APOSTOL-DOOLEY
Irvine Unified School District (IUSD) ranked the highest in Orange County for its achievements in both Math and English standardized testing. Last year, students from grades 3-8 and 11 took part in the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CASPP). 77% of IUSD students met or exceeded expectations on the English Language Arts/Literacy section, and 74% met or exceeded expectations on the Math section.
Several factors may account for IUSD’s outstanding performance on the CASPP. One factor that may play a role in higher test scores could simply be the education and average income received by citizens of each city. According to the City of Irvine, 97% of the Irvine population has a high school education or higher, and the average income is around $90,000. In Tustin Unified, where students scored around the middle of the spectrum, more than 80% of the population has a high school education or higher, and the median income also lies in the middle of the spectrum at about $73,000 a year.
According to the Center for Public Education, parental education plays an important role in student achievement. A vast majority of Irvine students have the advantage of their parents’ higher level of education. A study at the University of California, San Diego suggested that for each $1,000 higher a family’s income was, its child’s scores in math and reading were about 6% higher. This could also explain the lower scores in Santa Ana Unified, which scored second to last in the county in both math and English. Only 53% of the population has a high school education or higher, and the median income is almost $40,000 less than that of Irvine.
Additionally, the US Census Bureau reported that 47.8% of the population in Santa Ana and around 36% of the population in Tustin is comprised of immigrants, which puts those students at a disadvantage for literacy in English and understanding academic language in schools. The Newport-Mesa school district also scored near the middle of the spectrum on the CASSP; however, its high average income and relatively educated population breaks the pattern of correlation between student achievement and parent income and education, so its performance may be attributed to different factors.
While high achievement levels in districts such as Irvine and low achievement levels in districts such as Santa Ana can primarily be attributed to parental education, income and literacy, each district’s individual efforts to improve education also seems to play a role in how well they score. IUSD focuses on achieving its Continuous Improvement Efforts (CIE) program, which aims to get students engaged in academics and teach them new ways of thinking that align with the California Common Core standards.
While academics are important to their district, these schools also work to foster responsibility and curiosity in their students that goes beyond schoolwork. In the Santa Ana School District, administration aims to “Prepare All Students for Success in College and Career.” Since Santa Ana has a large number of English Language Learners and first generation immigrants, the district has decided to focus more of its attention on catching students up to the level they need to be at to succeed in school.
Many districts have to focus their concerns on ensuring that students are at the level they should be at and improving the infrastructure of their schools rather than going above and beyond achievement-wise. Since IUSD has an educated and relatively wealthy group of parents with children attending schools in Irvine, the district is able to sidestep many of the basic concerns that schools are faced with and can instead work on improving its students’ critical thinking and problem solving skills. While IUSD has “outperformed both state and county score averages,” as superintendent Terry Walker said, much of the credit for students’ performance may be attributed to circumstances in Irvine more than anything else.