LONG BEACH — English-language learners in California schools showed gains this year, but still fewer than half were ready to join a fluent classroom, according to state test results released Wednesday.

The results of the 2011-2012 California English Language Development Test (CELDT) showed that 39 percent of the 1.2 million English learners tested were eligible to join a fluent classroom, up from 34 percent in the 2010-2011 school year.

Local school districts likewise showed improvement, though some, including Long Beach, still fall below the state average.

State Superintendent Tom Torlakson said the overall results show promising gains.

"We want every English learner to become proficient while making progress in all academic subjects," he said in a statement. "These results are making important strides toward English language fluency, which will help them tremendously as they work toward their educational goals."

The state Department of Education's CELDT is given to English learners in kindergarten through the 12 th grade each year to help determine whether such students are ready to enter a fluent classroom. School districts also take into consideration scores on other state tests, as well as the opinions of teachers and parents, when placing students.

Students in grades two through 12 must score at the early advanced or advanced level to meet the CELDT criteria for English-language proficiency.

The number of English

learners scoring at the advanced levels has jumped by more than 9 percent since 2006.

Los Angeles County showed gains this year with 38 percent of students meeting the CELDT criteria, up from 34 percent the previous year. The county tested more than 333,000 students.

The Long Beach Unified School District scored lower than both the state and county with 35 percent of its students who were tested meeting the criteria, up from 30 percent the previous year. The school district tested 16,000 students.

LBUSD spokesman Chris Eftychiou said the school district's criteria for testing and placing students is more rigorous than the minimal state standards, which may account for the lower CELDT scores.

Eftychiou said the more rigorous program is designed to help English learners boost their skills before they transition into fluent classrooms and help with overall academic performance.

"If the LBUSD criteria to redesignate students were lower, these students might have exited (the English learner program) but would then likely struggle as reclassified students," he said.

In ABC Unified, 48 percent of students tested met the CELDT criteria this year, up from 45 percent in 2010-2011.

Bellflower Unified saw some of the highest percentages in the area with 49 percent of its students meeting the criteria, up from 45 percent the previous year.

In Downey Unified, 42 percent of students met the criteria, up from 37 percent. In Norwalk-La Mirada Unified, 42 percent met the criteria, up from 38 percent.

An estimated 44 percent of students met the criteria in Paramount Unified, up from 39 percent the previous year.

California is home to the nation's greatest number of students learning English.

More than 23 percent of students enrolled in California public schools are English learners, and the majority - 71 percent - are enrolled in the elementary grades, according to the state Department of Education. An estimated 83 percent of English learners speak Spanish as a first language.

kelly.puente@presstelegram.com, 562-714-2181, twitter.com/kellypuentept