The latest results from annual testing indicate alarming outcomes for California’s students. The Smarter Balanced (SBAC) tests in math and English Language Arts (ELA) showed essentially no change in student performance from last year. That’s a problem – not even half of California’s kids met ELA standards and fewer than 40% met them in math and there was no improvement.

While some people may say the disappointing performance is because of the new tests, California’s outcomes on other assessments are equally as concerning. Consider the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), which measures 4th and 8th grade students nationally in reading and math and shows that less than a third of California’s students are meeting expectations. The most recent NAEP indicates only 29% of California’s 4th graders achieved proficiency in math and 28% in reading. In 8th grade, results weren’t much different – 27% of 8th graders achieved proficiency in math and 28% in reading.

​NAEP has been around in California since 1990. While California’s overall average scores have gradually improved since then, it has underperformed the national average in both reading and math, in both 4th and 8th grades, every year of the test’s administration.

​Of the 13 states who have reported their 2017 Smarter Balanced data, California also scores at or near the bottom. For example, when looking at each state’s percentage of proficient students, California is 13th out of 13 in 3rd grade ELA and 4th grade math. In 3rd and 5th grade math and 4th grade ELA, California is 12th out of 13. And when looking at NAEP scores from 50 states and the District of Columbia, California’s 2015 overall average scores are consistently near the bottom:

California’s performance is generally worse when you observe specific subgroups of students. For example, on the most recent NAEP, 4th grade math scores for students eligible for free or reduced-price lunch were last, 51st out of 51 states. Also on the most recent NAEP, 8th grade reading scores for students with disabilities were in 49th place. That’s a position completely unchanged from 12 years earlier. Other states, however, have made progress.

Similarly, SBAC illustrates struggling subgroup performance and achievement gaps. When considering all of California’s student performance on SBAC in ELA, more than 60% of white students meet or exceed standards, compared with less than 40% of Latino/a and African American students.


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