Education

California test scores inched up last year – with wide gaps. See how capital area schools did

Test scores rose only slightly for public school students in the Sacramento area and statewide last year, and a wide achievement gap remains between the haves and the have-nots, according to new data from the California Department of Education.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond expressed “deep concern” that the improvements weren’t consistent across grade levels and students of color.

Students at public K-12 schools throughout the state take the Smarter Balanced Assessment each year to measure their ability to meet Common Core math and English standards.

The results showed that about 51 percent of students met or exceeded standards in English and language arts, only a 0.99 percentage point increase from the year before. About 40 percent of students met or exceeded standards in math, a 1.08 percentage point increase from the year prior.

The test assesses students in grades 3 through 8, and 11. Students and their results can be categorized in a wide variety of groups: disability status, gender, economic status, ethnicity, English language fluency and more.

Reported student group results show 27 percent of low-income students, 21 percent of African American students, 28 percent of Hispanic or Latino students, and 13 percent of English language learners are meeting math standards.

All four of the Sacramento region’s counties saw minor improvements in the proportion of students meeting or exceeding English standards from 2017-18 to 2018-19. The same held true for math standards, except scores in Yolo County were essentially flat.

A higher proportion of students met math and English standards in El Dorado and Placer counties than in Sacramento and Yolo counties, a longstanding trend that correlates roughly with how wealth and poverty are distributed in the region.

Some Sacramento-area school districts scored slightly lower than the state average.

About 43 percent of students met English language arts standards, and 33 percent met math standards in Sacramento City Unified School District.

Other area school districts, like Elk Grove Unified, scored above the state standards: 56 percent of students met ELA standards, and 45 percent met math standards.

Among districts where at least 500 students were tested, the largest percentage-point improvement regionwide on math tests was at Auburn Union Elementary, where about 37 percent of students met math standards, up from 31 percent in 2017-18. The largest decline was at Placer Union High, where about 38 percent of students met math standards, down from 46 percent in 2017-18

Galt Joint Union High saw the highest percentage-point improvement among large districts on English tests. About 57 percent of its students met English standards last year, compared to 47 percent in 2017-18. Placer Union High saw the largest decline, with about 69 percent of students meeting English standards, compared to 75 percent in 2017-18.

Among schools where at least 125 students were tested, the largest percentage-point improvement regionwide on math tests was at Hillsdale Elementary in Twin Rivers Unified, where about 43 percent of students met math standards, up from 25 percent in 2017-18. The largest decline was at El Camino Fundamental High in San Juan Unified, where about 24 percent of students met math standards, down from 40 percent in 2017-18

Sacramento Charter High saw the highest percentage-point improvement among large schools on English tests. About 69 percent of its students met English standards last year, compared to 37 percent in 2017-18. Albert Schweitzer Elementary in San Juan Unified saw the largest decline, with about 40 percent of students meeting English standards, compared to 51 percent in 2017-18.

While there was a slight improvement in scores statewide, the results showed “persistent percentage of students not meeting standards, and in several grades, showing declining scores from last year,” Thurmond said in a statement.

Thurmond said he plans to work with experts to address the disparities in scores and close the achievement gap.

“Disparities between students of color and their white and Asian peers continue from year to year and demonstrate the importance of our priority initiative of closing the achievement gap. Education equity should mean equity for all students and right now, we are not there,” Thurmond said in a news release. “All students should have an equal opportunity to succeed academically and enter the workforce prepared with the needed skills to compete in the industries that drive our state forward.”

School districts throughout the state received their results in May.

The Education Trust-West, an Oakland based organization working for educational justice, called the results “A wake-up call” for educators.

“Students in high-poverty schools, which tend to serve more students of color, have dramatically less access to highly qualified STEM teachers and crucial coursework such as calculus or computer science,” The Education Trust-West’s Elisha Smith Arrillaga said in a statement. “California needs a plan to prepare, recruit, and retain many more STEM teachers — especially women and teachers of color — now.”

Smarter Balanced Assessment tests are part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP testing system. The system also includes the California Science Test; the California Alternate Assessments for ELA, Mathematics, and Science for students with cognitive disabilities; and a new, optional California Spanish Assessment measuring reading, writing mechanics and listening skills in Spanish.

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Sawsan Morrar covers school accountability and culture for The Sacramento Bee. She grew up in Sacramento and is an alumna of UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She previously freelanced for various publications including The Washington Post, Vice, KQED and Capital Public Radio.
Phillip Reese is a data specialist at The Sacramento Bee and an assistant professor of journalism at Sacramento State. His journalism has won the George Polk and Worth Bingham awards, and he was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting.
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