New Student Tests; Usual Wealth Disparity; Even Lousier Scores

Thursday, September 10, 2015

New statewide school test scores released Wednesday, which use Common Core standards for the first time, are either a starting point on the map to future accomplishment or a sad measure of how far we have strayed.

Either way, the numbers aren’t good.   

Only 44% of students (third- through eighth-grade and 11th-grade) met or exceeded English standards, and just 34% did that well in math. Both of those numbers are a lot worse than two years ago when students last took the old kind of standardized multiple-choice STAR test.

Instead of paper and writing implements, students used computers to take the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) exam, which emphasizes critical thinking, problem solving and analytical writing.

Only 56% of 11th-graders were deemed college-ready in English and just 29% in math.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the test was “our first academic check-up” and called it “a baseline we will build upon.” That may be a valid argument for comparisons across time, taking into account new technology, new teaching standards and harder tests.

It does nothing to explain the wide disparities across the state between low-income families, some ethnic groups and English learners and the rest of the students. The state Department of Education press release calls it a “persistent achievement gap.”

English learners, overall, met or exceeded standards in English and math 11% of the time. Everyone else scored 69% in English and 55% in math. Low-income students scored 31% on English and 21% on math. Other students scored 64% and 53% on English and math, respectively.

Only 28% of black students passed English, compared to Latinos (32%), whites (61%) and Asian-Americans (72%). Sixteen percent of black students passed math, compared to Latinos (21%), whites (49%) and Asian-Americans (69%).

Overall, girls and boys each passed math at a 34% rate, but girls did much better in English, 49%-38%.  

The new scores are red meat for a culture that wants to shape school policies and procedures (including pay and tenure for teachers) around standardized testing and graded analytics. But former Superintendent Bill Honig pointed out to the Los Angeles Times that the data is easy to misinterpret.

The tests for 11th-graders are designed to measure college-readiness, not general aptitude and knowledge, and, “Not everybody is going to attend a four-year college,” he said. Success rates would be much higher if the tests were designed to measure if students were ready for community colleges or two-year schools.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

New School Test Results: Not So Good (by Maureen Magee, San Diego Union-Tribune)

New California Tests Present Sobering Picture of Student Achievement (by Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times)

Less Than Half of Students Meet New Reading, Math Standards (by Christine Armario, Associated Press)

Barely Half of California's Students Are Ready for College, According to New Test Results (by Chris Rauber, San Francisco Business Times)

California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) Results (California Department of Education)

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