California, Pursuing a Build and Support Strategy, Makes Steady Gains in 2016 Smarter/Balanced State Tests

9/2/2016 The number of students reaching levels three and four on the Smarter/Balanced state tests climbed either 3 and 4 percent across the board in grades 3-8 and 11th in Language Arts and Math. Levels three and four were set to predict success in 4yr college courses and for 2 year transfer students.

Of particular importance is the number of students in 11 grade meeting the 4yr standard in language arts–59% up from 56% last year. That is a very good result for California’s diverse student body comparable or higher than many other less diverse states. Since only about 35-40% of students attend or transfer to a four year college, the news is particularly positive in growing the pool of students who can choose to enroll in more advanced college work. Math scores were still low, but also gained 3% in 2016. Disparity among groups was still a major problem.

Two caveats: Using the numbers of students reaching levels three and four is not the only or even best way to measure student performance–average performance scores is fairer and more comprehensive and other additional indicators are being considered by the State Board of Education. Also, for example, using levels three and four doesn’t show how many schools and districts moved large numbers from level 1 to level 2 which also should be an important indicator and goal of our schools. More problematical is whether these tests alone measure school quality accurately. Secondly, much of the media coverage misunderstood or ignored what the levels actually mean and tended to state that any student not meeting “the standard” (levels 3 and 4) was essentially flunking. That is a gross misrepresentation of reality. No school, district, state, or country will ever be able to educate almost all of their students to that 4yr level or should they. Massachusetts, which scores as well as the highest performing nations in the world is able to get just over 50% of its students to those levels. So congratulations to teachers and educators for a job well done and for attending to the continuous improvement of California’s students.

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