What the California Science Test Scores say about access and opportunity

The first statewide results of the California Science Test (CAST) were released by the California Department of Education in early February. The new assessment is tied to the California Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), which districts have been in the process of implementing since their adoption in spring 2013. Students in grades 5, 7,10, 11 and 12 take the CAST.

While NGSS implementation is a work in progress and will take time, what is clear from the scores is that achievement is low among all students and even lower among student groups that have been historically underserved. Overall only 29.9 percent of all students met grade-level standards.

Outcomes by economic status and ethnicity

The results for economically disadvantaged students reflect similar gaps found in Smarter Balanced tests for math and English language arts, with only 18.8 percent of economically disadvantaged students meeting or exceeding science standards, compared to 46.3 percent of non-economically disadvantaged students.

However, it is clear from the data that access to the curriculum continues to be impacted by not just economic status but by ethnicity. For example, all too familiar gaps persist among students by ethnicity (see Figure I).

Particularly striking is how many students of color, even if they are not economically disadvantaged, are not receiving the instruction and resources that allow them to meet or exceed standards. Even an economically disadvantaged white student is more likely to meet or exceed science standards than an African American student who is not economically disadvantaged.

The results of the CAST continue to show that many economically disadvantaged students and students of color in California have limited educational opportunities.

Outcomes by English learner status

For English learners, the outcomes in the CAST closely mirror the gaps between English learners and non-English learners in the Smarter Balanced math assessment. Only 2.9 percent of English learners met science standards, compared to 34 percent of non-English learners, a 31.1 percentage point gap. It is important to note that although English learners are, by definition, not proficient in English, they should still receive access to all content areas.

Outcomes by disability status

The science scores for students with disabilities show that they, too, are not receiving access to rigorous science instruction. Only 8.1 percent of students with a disability met or exceeded science standards, compared to 32.1 percent of students with no disability (See Figure 2).

Addressing gaps and available resources

These gaps are not necessarily just the result of how the California NGSS are being implemented, as these gaps are present in math and English Language Arts results as well. However, they are further evidence that more work needs to be done to ensure that the implementation of standards targets students that have been historically underserved and that more resources are placed in schools with a large proportion of high-need students — students who can achieve their potential if they are provided an opportunity.

It is also important to remember that there is much that governing board members can do to ensure that their district is meeting the needs of the state’s most underserved students when implementing new standards. From ensuring that course materials are culturally relevant to eliminating barriers for enrolling in rigorous coursework, many of the solutions to closing achievement gaps are found in districts and schools across California.

CSBA encourage board members to learn more about the implementation of NGSS, their potential for meeting the needs of our most underserved students and district strategies for effective implementation. CSBA has several governance briefs and resources that can support governance teams in this journey.

These resources can be found at www.csba.org/STEM.