2018 state assessments show minimal gains; achievement gaps remain

The latest standardized tests scores for California’s students show relatively flat results from previous years with minimal progress made for students overall. While Latino students improved at a slightly higher rate than the average, African-American student improvements were smaller than the overall increase, contributing to a growing achievement gap that Education Trust–West says could take a generation or more to close.

California’s Department of Education made public the results of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, tests on Oct. 2, though schools and districts have had the information since May. Overall, roughly half of the students taking the test (49.88 percent) met or exceeded the state’s learning standards in English and about 38.65 percent, or roughly four out of 10 students, met or exceeded the standards for math. These results show students barely moved the needle on improvement with gains of up to about one percent in both math and English.

The achievement gap between student groups also remained stubbornly in place. Only 32 percent of African-American students tested met or exceeded the state English standards, and only 19.7 percent met or exceeded standards in math. For Latino students, 39 percent met or exceeded standards in English and 26.6 percent met or exceeded standards in math. Meanwhile, Asian students met or exceeded standards at a 76 percent rate in English and 73 percent in math, and white students met or exceeded standards at 65 percent and 53.6 percent respectively.

More positively, students in grades 3 and 4 showed the most improvement on the exam — an encouraging sign these students are making steady academic progress. At the high school level, however, the percentage of students in grade 11 meeting the reading standards dropped from 60 percent last year to 56 percent. Math scores for 11th grade students also declined by almost a point.

The tests, known as Smarter Balanced Assessments, are given annually in California to more than 3 million students in grades 3-8 and in grade 11, and are aligned with Common Core standards.  They are meant to be a snapshot of student performance and stress critical thinking and reasoning. As adaptive tests, the assessments adjust as they go based on a student’s answer to better match an individual’s level of learning.  For example, correct answers on the test lead to harder questions. The long-term goal is for the CAASPP to gauge student’s readiness for college or careers. To support this process, the Local Control Funding Formula launched in 2013 to provide more funds for schools with struggling students, including those living in poverty, in foster care or those learning English as second language. Based on the 2018 results, there is still much more work to be done.

“The score increases in grades 3 are encouraging,” said CSBA Policy Analyst Mary Briggs. “Unlike students in the middle or upper grades, all of their educational career has been instruction aligned with the Common Core standards. However, the fact that the 11th-grade scores declined 3.8 percentage points in English language arts and 0.8 percentage points in math is troubling. Furthermore, California must continue developing its systems of support and increase funding levels to help districts address the persistent gaps in student achievement.”