California Releases Annual Test Scores—Stagnant Results, Persistent Gaps

Jill Tucker, SF Gate, September 27, 2017

Every year, state education officials release standardized test scores — and every year they say the same thing: The achievement gap persists.

This year’s scores are no different.

Education officials across California released their scores Wednesday, each highlighting what they saw as positive news in the data while lamenting the stubborn, and in some cases widening, achievement gap.

Despite decades of effort and billions of dollars in funding, test scores for white, Asian American and wealthier students are much higher than those of their black, Latino and low-income peers. On computerized tests administered in the spring, for example, just 19 percent of African American students were proficient in math, compared with 73 percent of Asian American students.

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The achievement gap actually widened, though, including a 58-point difference between white and black San Francisco students in English — a 77 percent proficiency rate compared with 19 percent.

“Closing the opportunity gap remains our top priority,” said San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Vincent Matthews.

Statewide, results changed little year-to-year, with just over 37 percent of students meeting state standards in math, up a fraction of a percent from 2016 scores. Slightly more than 48 percent were proficient in English, a half percent down from the previous year.

On the plus side, said state Superintendent Tom Torlakson, this year’s results maintained the significant gains made between 2015 and 2016. But there was a caveat.

“I’m pleased we retained our gains, but we have much more work to do,” he said. “We need to work diligently to narrow achievement gaps and make sure all students continue to make progress.”

That has been a nearly constant refrain for decades, with state and local education officials as well as several U.S. presidents pitching reforms intended to close the gap.

Some efforts have focused on bettering preschool, others on lifting teacher performance. President George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind policy threatened low-performing schools, while President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top program made struggling schools compete for pots of cash.

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So far, nothing has worked, at least system wide and over the long haul.

“If it was the state’s highest priority then something would have been done by now,” said Ryan Smith, executive director of the Education Trust-West, a nonprofit group focused on the achievement gap. “I question if the state believes we can ever close the gap for low-income students and students of color.”

Smith said the state must not only increase funding for education to put California on par with other states but also track how districts are spending the money and hold them accountable.

“Sixty years after the Little Rock Nine and we’re still talking about providing quality education for all students,” he said. “Where’s the urgency?”

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