California math, language arts test scores level off — and achievement gaps persist

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California schools made little, if any progress at all in closing the achievement gap between privileged and underprivileged students in 2017, according to results released Wednesday from last spring's round of the state's benchmark standardized tests in math and English.

Overall, results on the tests — taken by high school juniors and third through eighth graders in the state's public schools — were largely unchanged from 2016.

In English Language Arts, 48.5 percent of students' scores met or exceeded the state standard. In math, 37.5 percent of students met or exceeded standards. Both marks were within a percentage point of last year's totals.

(Find out how students in your school or district fared by searching here.)

“I’m pleased we retained our gains, but we have much more work to do," state schools superintendent Tom Torlakson said in a statement accompanying the results.

This was the third year students took these particular standardized tests, the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

The exams are aligned with the Common Core State Standards, a new set of expectations for the concepts and skills students are supposed to master in each grade. Proponents of the standards say these new academic standards help better-position students for 21st century careers or college courses.

(Related: In a year of flat test scores, a middle school in L.A.'s Boyle Heights continues its rise)When the test debuted in 2015, state education officials worked to dampen expectations about the scores. They said the headline numbers the public would likely see from the test might appear less strong than parents had grown used to seeing on the state's previous tests, the California Standards Tests — because the new Smarter Balanced tests and standards they were based on were more rigorous.

But in 2016, the second year of the new exams, state education officials were able to cheer significant and across-the-board improvements in scores. This year, those gains have leveled off.

"It’s important to remember that these tests are far more rigorous and realistic than the previous paper and pencil tests," Torlakson said. "We are asking more of our students, but for a good reason—so they are better prepared for the world of college and careers."

Torlakson said the results show that in meeting or exceeding the state standards on the language arts exams, 59.7 percent of the state's high school juniors are ready or "conditionally ready" for college-level work in English. Math scores suggest 32.1 percent are ready for college credit-bearing work in that subject.

But significant racial achievement gaps, reflected in various other tests going back decades, remain.

In math, a 27 percentage-point gap between the scores of white students and Latino students, who comprise the largest racial group in California schools. Roughly 19 percent of black students met or exceeded math standards — compared to roughly 72 percent of Asian students.

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