CAASPP gains slow; gaps not closing

Oct. 6, 2017

The public results of 2017 scores for California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress tests in English language arts and mathematics revealed little academic growth and persistent achievement gaps.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said he was pleased that students maintained the progress made in year one and two of testing and urged students, teachers and parents to continue to aim high.

“I’m pleased we retained our gains, but we have much more work to do. We need to work diligently to narrow achievement gaps and make sure all students continue to make progress,” he said. “It’s important to remember that these tests are far more rigorous and realistic than the previous paper and pencil tests. We are asking more of our students, but for a good reason – so they are better prepared for the world of college and careers.”

This is the third year of the computer-based tests, which use California’s challenging, seven-year-old Common Core Standards that ask students to write clearly, think critically, and solve complex problems, just as they will need to do in college and 21st century careers.

Statewide, in all tested grades, 48.56 percent of students met or exceeded the ELA/literacy standards, a 4.56 percentage point change from 2015. In mathematics, 37.56 percent of students met or exceeded standards, also an increase of 4.56 percentage points from 2015.

California State Universities and many community colleges consider high marks on these tests for 11th grade students a reliable sign of readiness for college-level work. The California Department of Education says this year’s results indicate 59.76 percent of grade 11 students are ready or conditionally ready for credit bearing college work in English language arts, with 32.14 percent ready or conditionally ready for credit bearing college work in mathematics.

The CDE provides tools to help parents, teachers and schools understand and use CAASPP results, online at http://testscoreguide.org/ca.

The flat test results have intensified a growing concern that the equity focus in California’s education system is not being properly implemented.

Ryan Smith, executive director of the Education Trust-West, released a statement expressing alarm that progress has slowed and achievement gaps persist.

“Three-fourths of Latino students are not meeting standards in math, and more than two-thirds of African American students are not meeting standards in ELA or math,” he said. “Even more troubling, gaps for English learners appear to be widening in both math and English language arts.

“We should respond to these results with a sense of urgency. California also needs to recommit to equity, not only in policy, but in practice.”

The mission of the Education Trust-West is to recognize achievement gaps that impact students of color and low-income students and to advocate strategies to close those gaps.

“California started down the right path when it adopted the Common Core Standards and moved to the Local Control Funding Formula – these were the right policy decisions,” Smith said. “The Smarter Balanced assessments are more rigorous because they measure the types of high-level skills students need to be ready for college or a rewarding career. But in passing these policies, our state made a promise to students and families that we have not yet realized. We set high standards and offered local communities more freedom and flexibility. Unfortunately, we’ve made the wrong turn by not providing the deep, ongoing supports that are needed to shift practices at the ground level.”

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst said California is moving in the right direction, pointing out that both the high school graduation rate and college eligibility rate are at all-time highs. But he admits there is more work ahead to ensure that students can demonstrate a mastery of standards through testing.

“We would like to attain the same progress on our new assessments that California is experiencing on other measures of school success,” Kirst said.

The SBE continues its work on refining the California School Dashboard, a new way of evaluating schools and districts based on multiple measures of success.

Torlakson recently noted progress on a key college readiness measure, announcing that more students in California are taking Advanced Placement and Scholastic Aptitude Test exams.

High school students taking college-level AP tests went from about 300,000 to nearly 370,000 from 2013 to 2017. Participation in AP tests increased among nearly all segments of California’s diverse student body during that period, Torlakson said. The number of Latino students taking the tests went up 6.5 percent, and African Americans went up about 3 percent.

The number of graduates who scored at least a 3 out of 5 on an AP exam during high school – a result that may qualify for college credits – increased from 185,000 to 226,000 from 2013 to 2017. Some demographic group results also increased. The number of Latino students reaching a 3 or above grew from 54,000 to 82,500.

In addition, 52 percent of class of 2017 graduates took the SAT, higher than the national average of 46 percent. Participation rates and test results also increased for the SAT and Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Tests. For example, the number of 11th grade students taking the PSAT went from 156,000 to 220,000 from 2013 to 2017.

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