State and national assessment data released on Oct. 24 confirms the decline in results that were expected in the first full administration of these tests since the COVID-19 pandemic sent the world into turmoil.
California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP), also known as Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments, data for the 2021–22 academic year show the impact of the pandemic on student achievement, with less than half of students (47 percent) meeting or exceeding standards for English language arts (ELA) — a 4-percentage point drop from 51 percent in 2018–19, before the public health crisis. The rate of students who met or exceeded math standards fell 7 percentage points from 40 percent to 33 percent between 2018–19 and 2021–22. However, some results hint that efforts to support academic recovery, such as expanded learning opportunities, are helping.
The release of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) showed the largest declines in math scores on record, and a less drastic though still worrisome drop in reading scores. The rigorous standardized assessment, also known as “the nation’s report card,” is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics to a nationally representative sample of students in grades 4 and 8. Administration of the test in spring 2022 was the first since the pandemic began. Declines spanned the political and demographic makeup of states, making it difficult to conclude the role the length of pandemic-related campus closures played in student performance, officials said.
“California education leaders were prepared to see lower test scores due to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, from remote schooling to keeping students and staff healthy when in-person instruction resumed statewide in the 2021–22 school year. While California fared better than other states in mitigating learning loss as measured by test scores, the depth of the decline is disturbing,” said CSBA President Dr. Susan Heredia. “These sobering results underscore the importance of dedicating substantial resources toward learning recovery — one possible reason why California’s scores dropped less than those in most other states. Nationwide results show us that declines occurred everywhere — regardless of how long students participated in virtual or in-person schooling. It is our responsibility to communicate this data and its implications transparently and use it to drive continued innovation and targeted interventions at the local level that help struggling students. Fortunately, there is plenty of research on how to do that, including through small group teaching, one-on-one tutoring, expanded learning programs and more.”
English language arts findings
- Disaggregated by race/ethnicity, all groups saw between a 2 and 6 percentage point decrease in meeting or exceeding ELA standards between 2018–19 and 2021–22, with the largest dips among white, Latino and American Indian/Native Alaskan students all dipping 5 percentage points to 61, 36 and 33 percent, respectively and those who identify as two or more races dipping 6-percentage points to 60 percent.
- Sixteen percent of students with a reported disability met or exceeded ELA standards, consistent with 2019 scores.
- Homeless students saw a 5-percentage point dip in meeting or exceeding ELA standards, from 33 percent in 2019 to 28 percent in 2022.
- Female students saw an overall 5-percentage point drop (56 percent to 51 percent) and male students saw a 3-percentage point drop (46 percent to 43 percent).
- Students who identify as two or more races saw the biggest drop in math scores for meeting or exceeding standards with an 8-percentage point change from 2019 to 2022 (55 percent to 47 percent) as did Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students (33 percent to 25 percent). All racial/ethnic groups saw between a 5 and 8 percentage point decrease in meeting or exceeding standards, with Latino students seeing the second largest dip from 28 to 21 percent.
- Students with disabilities saw a change of 2 percentage points from 13 percent in 2019 to 11 percent in 2022 in meeting or exceeding standards.
- Homeless students saw a 7-percentage point change in meeting or exceeding standards, from 23 percent in 2019 to 16 percent in 2022.
- Female students saw a difference of 7-percentage points in meeting or exceeding mathematics standards from 39 percent in 2019 to 32 percent in 2022, compared to male students who went from 40 percent to 35 percent, respectively.
Prior to 2021–22, California last required students to take the assessments in 2018–19, however, roughly 25 percent of students in grades 3-8 and 11 participated in the ELA and mathematics tests in 2021, according to CDE. “An analysis of that cohort — looking at the same students who took the test in 2021 and comparing their results to 2022 — showed steeper-than-normal achievement gains at most grade levels, a hopeful sign that the state’s robust investments in accelerating learning are paying off,” the department said in a release.
English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (ELPAC) data was also published on Oct. 24. According to Summative ELPAC results, English learners in grades 5-12 performed better on the assessments in 2022 than 2019 while students in the lower grades had slight declines. Nearly 16 percent of students who took the assessment earned the highest performance level, Proficient, meaning their written and oral English language skills are well developed. This is the same rate of proficiency as 2018–19.
- The average mathematics score fell five points for fourth-graders and eight points for eighth-graders since 2019, while reading scores decreased by three points on average for both grades.
- The percentage of students performing below the NAEP Basic level increased across both subjects and grade levels: In math, 25 percent of fourth-graders did not reach the basic level, nor did 38 percent of eighth-graders. In reading, 37 percent of fourth-graders were below the NAEP Basic level in 2022 — up from 34 percent in 2019 — while the percentage of eighth-graders not meeting the basic level increased from 27 percent in 2019 to 30 percent in 2022. The NAEP Basic level is the least stringent of the three achievement level goals set by the National Assessment Governing Board and represents partial mastery of the prerequisite knowledge and skills that are required to meet the NAEP Proficient level, which represents competency over challenging subject matter.
- Black, Hispanic and Native American students experienced larger-than-average dips on both fourth-grade tests, with more than 40 percent of Black and Native American students, more than a third of Hispanic students, and 14 percent of white students performing at that lowest level in math.
- On eighth-grade math assessments, more than half of students in poverty as well as Black, Hispanic and Native American students performed below the basic level in 2022, along with more than a quarter of white students. In eighth-grade reading, scores declined only for white students, by four points. Scores declined in fourth-grade reading for Native American, Black, Hispanic and white students.
- Surprisingly, there was no consistent evidence that gaps between low-, middle- and high-income students grew significantly, nor did gaps between students with disabilities and English learners and their peers.
- Charter schools saw the biggest declines in math, with fourth-graders dropping six points, and eighth graders by nine points — although eighth-graders in every kind of school (private, charter and traditional public schools) lost ground in math, as did fourth graders in both traditional public and charter schools.
- Despite concern that longer school closures in California would be especially detrimental to students, eighth-grade math scores fell by six points, compared to 13 points in Oklahoma, and seven points in Texas and Florida — all states where schools were able to reopen starting in fall 2020. For California fourth-graders, math scores fell by four points, compared to five-point drops in Texas and Florida, a six-point drop in Colorado and a 10-point drop in New York.
- California students showed no significant change in reading scores in either fourth or eighth grades, despite a majority of states showing declines. However, only about 30 percent of California eighth-graders are achieving proficiency in reading.
- Los Angeles Unified School District scores, while still low, also fared better than national averages when examining other large urban districts. LAUSD fourth-graders saw a four-point drop in math, compared to a nine-point drop in New York City and a 15-point drop in Baltimore City schools. The district was one of only four large school systems that saw no significant change in score for eighth-grade math.
In LAUSD, eighth-grade reading scores increased by 9 points — making it was the only large district to post a gain. Still, with the 2022 score increase, only about 28 percent of eighth-graders achieved proficiency in reading.