Editorials

Common Core’s mixed report card

Students including Imani Smith, center, work on a Common Core assignment involving chemistry, language and other subjects in February at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks. The first year-to-year Common Core test results landed this week.
Students including Imani Smith, center, work on a Common Core assignment involving chemistry, language and other subjects in February at Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks. The first year-to-year Common Core test results landed this week. rbenton@sacbee.com

The first meaningful grades are in for California’s Common Core learning standards. As with so many report cards, the results show much room to improve.

Statewide, scores rose incrementally from last year, when students in grades 3 through 8, along with grade 11, took the first English and math exams administered under new, and more rigorous, state standards. So the results, intended to measure progress toward college and career readiness, are moving in the right direction.

Unfortunately there was nowhere to go but up from last year’s baseline numbers. Last year, only one California kid in three met or exceeded the new math standards, and only 44 percent met or exceeded the standards in English – think of it as an F and a D on the first day of school in the two most important subjects.

This year, the statewide numbers moved up to 37 percent in math and 48 percent in English. And part of that gain was due to increased comfort with the computer-administered testing.

For black and Latino students, the results – while, again, modestly better than last year – were far lower than the state average, laying bare the state’s stubborn achievement gap.

In English, 73 percent of Asian American students met Common Core standards, compared with 31 percent of black students. In math, the gap was even more dramatic, with 67 percent of Asian kids above the line, compared with only 18 percent of black kids.

The good news is that scores rose from last year. The bad news is, there was almost nowhere to go but up.

That has serious implications, not only for the K-12 school system – where teachers enjoy some of the toughest job protections in the nation – but for public higher education, which in California has been under intense political pressure to diversify enrollment.

What does it mean, for example, to insist that the University of California enroll more Latino students from the state’s high schools when only 37 percent meet the requisite standards in English and only 25 percent are where they need to be in math?

Fortunately, these are very early days. Over time, these results and other data, including a new and multifaceted system for evaluating school performance, should give Californians a three-dimensional picture of the state’s educational challenges, and what works.

As it is, this week’s results held tantalizing nuggets. Why, for example, did English scores in one Natomas school shoot up 25 points while those in a Granite Bay school fell by 20? Why did San Francisco schools score so well while the Los Angeles Unified School District lagged the statewide average?

The future of millions of students depends on the answers to such questions. And on whether next year’s Common Core report card also improves.

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