Standardized Test Scores Show Fast Improvement in California

Administrators, teachers and students are celebrating in California after the results of standardized English and math tests were released to show a significant improvement in the number of students scoring proficient or better. 57% of students in the state scored at least proficient in English and 51% for math.

“The good news has been the steady progress despite the chaos of budget cuts,” state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. “California has gone from having only one student in three score proficient, to better than one student in two — 900,000 more students than in 2003. This is not anything to rest upon, but it is a considerable measure of progress. We’re headed in the right direction.”

While there is celebration, there is also awareness that much more remains to be done. One in two is better than one in three, but still leaves half of students performing below grade level. There is also concern that Los Angeles is lagging behind the rest of the state with their English and math proficient percentages being 48% and 45% respectively.

This achievement lag in Los Angeles is likely caused by differing demographics, and the results have also brought attention back to the persistent problem of the achievement gap between white and Asian students and their black and Latino peers. A similar gap is also noticeable between students from high income and low income families.

Statewide, the persisting achievement gap correlates strongly to family income, but not entirely. In math, for example, black students with higher family income tested below white students whose families are at the poverty level. And Latino students whose families are not poor barely surpassed white students from low-income families.

“Income-based and racial gaps remain wide and intractable, even after a decade of school reforms aimed at narrowing these disparities,” UC Berkeley education professor Bruce Fuller said.

Of note is that problems seem to worsen as students progress through the school system as gains made at elementary level aren’t continuing through to high school. In LA Unified, 63% of elementary school students tested at grade level or higher, but only 30% of students in middle and high school were proficient.

LA Unified Superintendent John Deasy said that he was pleased with progress over time and that broader progress shouldn’t be forgotten alongside the improved test results. He noted that there has been a reduction in suspensions, an increase in attendance, and an increase in the number of students passing the state high school exit exam.

Another result that will please Deasy is that the schools where officials took controversial and aggressive action last year were among the most improved schools in the state — including results at four middle schools in the district where staff were required to reapply for their jobs, provoking outrage from teachers unions. Deasy will be relieved that his policy has been vindicated by the improvement in test results.