California Test Scores: English Improvement, Math Not So Much

The state of California released its standardized test results for English and math yesterday and it was a mixed bag. Overall scores improved but the gaps between racial and ethnic groups widened.

There will be a lot of analysis from all parties but I thought it important to highlight something California did with its results that you rarely see when test scores are reported.

There is a tendency to compare this year’s 4th grade results, for example, with last year’s 4th grade test results. Obviously each year’s 4th graders are different students and so some variations are to be expected.

The California Department of Education web site allows you to easily compare this year’s 4th grade results with last year’s 3rd grade results. While these are not exactly the same students, it does give us a better sense of whether they are improving as they move through the system.

Using that tool we can see that while only 38% of 3rd graders met the English standards last year, 44% of this year’s 4th graders met the standards. As we move through the rest of the tested grades, the one-year improvements were 8%, 3%, 5% and 4%.

The math results were not as rosy. One percent fewer 4th graders met the math standards than did last year’s 3rd graders, and the same was true of this year’s 5th graders. The upper grades improved by 5%, 3% and 2%. Even with improvement, between 61% and 67% of California’s students failed to meet the math standards.

The educators among you will certainly have many theories as to why this should be so. Perhaps English naturally improves through additional years of exposure while math gets progressively more difficult for those who fall behind. But if we want to value “problem-solving” and “critical thinking” over “drill and kill” techniques, these math scores are worrisome.