California State Test Scores Plunge; Two-Thirds of Students Fail to Meet Math Standards

More than half of California students did not meet state English standards.
Female Elementary School Girl Writing in Class
Photo: Freepik

(The Center Square) – More than half of California students did not meet state English standards and two-thirds did not meet math standards in state assessments taken this year, according to test score data released Monday by California’s Education Department.

After facing scrutiny for delays, the state released the Smarter Balanced test scores on Monday, which showed the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards for math fell 7 percentage points (from 40% to 33%) in 2021-2022 compared to the 2018-2019 school year. Student scores also declined in English, with 47% meeting or exceeding the standard in 2021-2022 compared to 51% in the 2018-2019 school year.

The results were worse among students considered “economically disadvantaged” by the state. Nearly 79% of economically disadvantaged students did not meet or exceed state standards in math during the 2021-2022 school year compared to 48% of “not economically disadvantaged” students. 

Results also showed that 84% of Black and 79% of Latino students did not meet the state’s standards for math in 2021-2022. 

The data set emphasizes the challenges California schools are facing in the aftermath of the pandemic to address educational setbacks. Even before the pandemic, around 60% of students were failing to meet or exceed the state’s standard math and roughly 49% in English.

The state’s information was published just hours after the release of the NAEP National Report Card, which revealed nationwide declines in math and reading scores among 4th grade and 8th grade students. California saw declines across the board, except eighth grade reading scores, which saw no decline when comparing 2019 and 2022 scores.

In response to the NAEP scores, Gov. Gavin Newsom sent a news release with the headline, “California outperforms most states in minimizing learning loss…” The governor credited the state’s education spending and expansion of afterschool programs, saying California “focused on keeping kids safe during the pandemic while making record investments to mitigate learning loss and transforming our education system.”

California’s Smarter Balanced tests are given to most California students in grades third through eighth and 11th grade, while only around 4,000 California students took the NAEP. The data reveals student scores dipped compared to pre-pandemic school years, which some officials say was to be expected.

“These baseline data underscore what many of us know: that the road to recovery is long and our students will need sustained support over many years,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in a statement.

State officials were reluctant to release the Smarter Balanced test scores data. Officials initially announced that the data would be released at the end of the year, fueling speculation Thurmond, who is up for re-election, and other officials were aiming to lessen the blow before the Nov. 8 election. The department reversed course last month, announcing some data would be made public in October. 

The test results were met with criticism by Republican state lawmakers.

“It is no wonder these scores were kept under lock and key,” Senate Republican Leader Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, said in a statement. “They are a clear referendum on the failed policies advocated by the governor, legislative leaders, and the state superintendent of public instruction for years – not just during the pandemic. After shuttering schools for the better part of two years, student failure is on steroids.”

The state budget enacted over the summer included $128.6 billion for K-12 education, which included $8 billion in one-time funds to support a “learning recovery block grant” to fund learning recovery initiatives through the 2027-2028 school year. 

Assemblymember Kevin McCarty, D-Sacramento, said “closing the achievement gap remains a top priority” for him as chair of a budget subcommittee on education finance. He said there will be a legislative hearing on this issue when the Legislature reconvenes in 2023. 

“Our kids are more than just test scores, but like all indicators show, our kids suffered during the COVID pandemic,” McCarty said. “In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics predicted that closing pandemic gaps could take up to nine years.”

“The pandemic widened California’s already unacceptable achievement and opportunity gaps,” he added. “This is why we’ve made transformational, research-based investments in the 2022 California State Budget, like expanding Universal Transitional Kindergarten to all 4-year-olds and expanding access to after school programs – both of which have been proven to support learning recovery.”

This story was originally published by The Center Square and used with permission.

Madison Hirneisen
Madison Hirneisen is a staff reporter covering California for The Center Square. Madison has experience covering both local and national news. She currently resides in Southern California.

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