Fewer Than Half of California Students Met College Readiness Standards

Fewer than half of California public school students are prepared for the academic challenges of college, according to results released Wednesday from the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP).

The tests, based on state Common Core standards, were taken on computers by 3.2 million California students between third and eighth grade and in 11th grade, starting in January. The tests are also known as the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments.

The test results indicate that overall, only 48 percent of students met English language arts standards, and 37 percent met math standards. Still, that’s an improvement over last year, when 44 percent met English standards and 34 percent met math standards.

In Los Angeles Unified School District, the state’s largest, the scores were even lower. Only 39 percent met English standards and 29 percent met math standards, according to the Los Angeles Times. Again, those are still improvements over 33 percent and 25 percent, respectively.

When examined closer, the results show some troubling patterns along ethnic lines. Math scores for African Americans only improved by 2 percentage points year over year, from 16 percent to 18 percent meeting or exceeding standards. African American English scores were moderately better, improving by 3 percentage points from 28 percent competency in 2014-15 to 31 percent competency in 2015-16.

Latino students saw 3 percentage points of improvement in their math scores, from 21 percent competency to 24 percent competency. And their English scores fared slightly better, rising 5 percentage points from 32 percent in 2014-15 to 37 percent in 2015-16.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson tried to put a positive spin on the results.

“The higher test scores show that the dedication, hard work and patience of California’s teachers, parents, school employees and administrators are paying off,” Torlkason said in a prepared statement. “Together we are making progress towards upgrading our education system to prepare all students for careers and college in the 21st century.”

The superintendent acknowledged that California schools and students have “more work to do.” But he also said “our system has momentum,” and expressed confidence that “business, political and community leaders will join parents and educators to help continue supporting increased standards and resources for schools.”

In contrast, the Education Trust–West, a nonprofit research, policy and advocacy organization, said Wednesday: “We need faster progress for all students and swifter gap closure for our students of color, English learner and low-income students. If not, it will be decades before some groups of California students are fully meeting standards and are on track for colleges, careers and life.”

In contrast to their African American and Latino classmates, Asians and whites did much better on the assessments. Asians improved 4 percentage points in English language arts, from 72 percent competency in 2014-15 to 76 percent competency in 2015-16. Their math scores went up 3 percentage points from 69 percent to 72 percent.

White students improved 3 percentage points in English from 61 percent in 2014-15 to 64 percent in 2015-16. Their math scores went up 4 percentage points from 49 percent to 53 percent competency.

The latest CAASPP test was only the second year it was administered. Before that, California used the Standardized Testing and Reporting system (STAR). Results from 1998 to 2013 can be viewed on the STAR website.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].