Student performance on California’s achievement tests in almost every subject at almost every grade level by every ethnicity has risen — despite recent cutbacks to education funding, according to 2012 STAR (Standardized Testings and Reporting) results released by the California Department of Education today.

But a substantial achievement gap persists between low-income and higher-income students, and between African American and Latino students and their white and Asian peers.

Overall, 57 percent of the 4.7 million students tested proficient or advanced in English and 51 percent scored at least proficient in math — a substantial improvement since 2003, when the tests were first based on state standards and included in a school’s Academic Performance Index (API). In 2003, 35 percent tested proficient or better in both English and math.

“In less than a decade, California has gone from having only one student in three score proficient to better than one student in two,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a statement.

The percentage of students in second grade scoring proficient in mathematics dropped by two points, and overall achievement in the General Mathematics CST and the Summative High School Mathematics test remained the same as last year, with 54 percent scoring proficient or higher in the latter. But in every other subject and grade, there was improvement over 2011 scores.

However, Doug McRae, a retired testing publisher from Monterey who was an adviser when the STAR tests were being developed, cautioned that the results are not quite as dramatic as they seem because some students who were doing poorly on the CSTs are no longer required to take them.

McRae, who analyzes results of the test each year, noted that over the past few years, more students in special education have been taking the California Modified Assessments (CMAs) instead of the California Standards Tests (CSTs), which are the regular STAR exams. To be eligible to take the modified assessments, students must have scored below basic or far below basic on the standards tests the year before, McRae said. Removing almost 210,000 students who did poorly on those exams tends to make the results a little rosier than they actually are, he added. The modified assessments did not exist in 2003.

In his analysis, McRae noted that there has been substantial improvement in the number of students who take Algebra I in 7th or 8th grade, as well as the number of those middle school students who test proficient or advanced. In 2012, 68 percent of students had taken Algebra I by 8th grade, and 53 percent scored proficient or advanced – a large increase since 2003, when 32 percent of middle school students took it and 39% tested at least proficient.

Substantially more African American and Latino students are taking Algebra I and succeeding in the course. But the achievement gap still remains between those students and their white and Asian peers, as does the gap between low-income and higher-income students.

In the most extreme example, 32 percent of economically disadvantaged African American students scored proficient or advanced on the mathematics test in 2012. That was exactly twice as many as in 2003. However, this year, 85 percent of higher-income Asian students scored proficient or advanced — a 53 percentage-point difference between them and their low-income, African American classmates. In 2003, the difference between the two groups was 55 percentage points.

A press release from the California Department of Education includes summaries of the data and charts, including breakdowns by ethnicity and income. The full test results are available on the California Department of Education’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) website. Under the STAR program, students can attain one of five levels of performance for each subject: advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic.