Testing and Accountability

2022 California standardized test results wipe out years of steady progress

Smarter Balanced scores dropped in math and English language arts

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In another measure of the pandemic’s corrosive impact on learning, California students performed significantly worse in 2022 on Smarter Balanced, the state’s standardized test.

Fewer than half of students met the state standard in English language arts, with a drop of 4 percentage points to 47.1% from pre-pandemic 2018-19, when the state last required the test statewide. Exactly one-third of students performed at standard in math, a decline of 6.5 percentage points. For Black students, it is now 16% and 9.7% for English learners.

The pandemic’s effects were widespread; the scores fell roughly the same – 5  to 7 percentage points among most racial and ethnic groups. But disparities in scores among those groups were already chasmic, and the declines in 2022 wiped out six years of slow, steady progress since Smarter Balanced was introduced in 2014-15. The 69.4% of Asian students who scored at or above standard in 2022 is more than triple the rate for Latino and Black students.

Moving up its original release date, initially set to be released with other state data in December or January, the California Department of Education instead announced the results on the same day as the release of scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP. The results of the different tests cannot be compared, but point to the same conclusion: Covid severely set back progress nationally and in California, indicating it will take extra resources and attention, and probably several years, to recover from the impact. (See story on NAEP scores)

“Now is not the time to take our foot off the accelerator when it comes to doing everything we can to help all our students progress toward mastery of our learning standards and thrive in every way in school,” said California State Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond.

The test, administered last spring to 2.9 million students in grades three to eight and 11th grade, showed distressing results in 2 key areas:

“Our situation with reading achievement was bad before; now it has gotten worse,” said Todd Collins, a Palo Alto Unified school board member and founder of the California Reading Coalition. “The need is even more urgent for a comprehensive state literacy plan, focused on giving districts and teachers better training and curriculum and backed by what’s been successful in the states that have succeeded.”

“We have unacceptable rates across the board, with a persistent, continuing problem in math,” said Rick Miller, CEO of the CORE districts, a nonprofit learning partnership of California school districts representing more than a million students. “It existed before the pandemic, and the pandemic’s impact was most acute for those who needed the most help.”

He and others said it wasn’t surprising that learning declined more in math and in English language arts. Remote learning showed the importance of high-quality classroom math instruction.

“Students who were bored were more likely to pick up a book to read than do math,” Miller said.

Peggy Carr, commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, which administers NAEP, agreed. Abundant research “shows that math is just simply more sensitive to schooling. You really need teachers to teach math,” she said. “Parents and the community are more comfortable helping students with reading.”

Contrary to the statewide pattern, in Long Beach Unified,  students meeting state standards in English language arts dropped 11 percentage points, nearly triple that of  math. To address that, the district is expanding preschool to better prepare students for TK and kindergarten and shifting its instructional focus to phonics and phonemic awareness, an approach that helps students learn to read by connecting letters to sounds. Third and 4th grade both had the highest percentage of students not meeting standards.

The district has also hired instruction and intervention coordinators across its elementary and middle schools and has provided small group tutoring across grades handled both by teachers and contracted providers,  Superintendent Jill Baker said.

Heather Hough, director of Policy Analysis for California Education, described the scores as a clear signal that education in California must change radically if students are to overcome the challenges wrought by school closures and the pandemic. The stakes are especially high for students who were disproportionately impacted, such as Black and Latino students and those from low-income families, she said.

“What we have been doing has not worked,” she said. “We’ve been talking about accelerated learning, but we have no experience with accelerated learning, and our track record with closing the achievement gap is not good. … We cannot revert to business as usual because that did not work. This requires large-scale, systemic change.”

The state’s recent infusion of money into K-12 schools will likely not be enough, she said. The changes need to be widespread and long-lasting, particularly regarding staffing. Prospective school counselors, for example, need to know their jobs will exist a decade from now.

Smaller decline than average

California’s overall results were better than the average of nine of the 10 other Smarter Balanced states that had released scores. Their average decline in reading was 5.4 percentage points and 7.3 percentage points in math. Those states include Oregon (down 7.4% in reading, 8.8% in math) and Washington (down 9.3% in English language arts, 11.3% in math), according to data for grades 3 to 8 collected by Doug McRae, a retired standardized test publisher who lives in Monterey. Several states either offer the test in 10th grade or use the SAT or ACT as an alternative to Smarter Balanced in 11th grade.

California skipped Smarter Balanced statewide during two years of Covid. The state canceled the test in spring of 2020, when all schools closed and switched to remote learning, and made the statewide test optional in 2020-21.

Most districts in California continued in remote learning for much of, if not all of, 2020-21. Covid created the most havoc in low-income Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, which also had the least access to the internet. Chronic rates of student absenteeism continued in the last school year.

Megan Bacigalupi, director of CA Parent Power, an Oakland-based nonprofit that grew out of parents’ frustration with school closures, pointed to prolonged remote learning in California as the cause of lower test scores.

“Any parent who was home with their child … saw what a failure online school was. Parents should look at these scores and know that statewide leaders failed our children,” she said. “Parents should also ask hard questions of their school districts. … We should be treating this as a statewide crisis.”

Some school districts saw their scores improve during Covid. Cold Spring School District in Santa Barbara, a TK-6 school with about 200 students, was a high performing school prior to the pandemic and most scores inched higher in 2022. In 2019, for example, 67% of students exceeded the state standard in reading, and three years later that number rose to 70%.

Superintendent Amy Alzina attributed students’ success to the school staying open for most of Covid. The district had recently endured wildfires and a deadly mudslide, and Alzina knew that the school had provided stability and a refuge for students experiencing hardship. She and the board decided to reopen in September 2020 despite the risks.

In addition to masks and social distancing, students attended classes outdoors throughout the year, even in rain and cold. The PTA purchased jackets for teachers and others who needed them.

State Superintendent of Instruction Tony Thurmond said data did show an encouraging sign from limited data. Although districts with fewer than a quarter of the state’s students took for 2020-21 test, the state was able to track the scores of those who did using unique student identifiers. It found that their scores began to rebound by spring 2022, especially in reading, from the even larger losses recorded in the spring of 2021 test. But that did not happen in math in eighth grade, where the decline continued from 2021 to 2022 and further dropped in 11th grade in both English language arts and math.

State officials stressed that the current state budget alone includes more $12 billion in one-time and ongoing funding that districts can use to remediate or accelerate learning and for mental health. This includes $7.9 billion in a Learning Recovery Block Grant, tied to a district’s proportion of low-income students, and $4 billion for low-income districts to add three hours per day for after-school learning and six weeks of added learning. In addition, they have $15.3 billion that Congress funded through 2024 under the American Relief Plan Act.

“California’s investments in important initiatives, such as high-dose tutoring, professional development for teachers, and expanded learning time, and in such areas as mental health and wellness, are critical to lifting up academic performance across the board while supporting students’ well-being,” Darling-Hammond said in a statement.

California has started College Corps, which has recruited 1,500 college students to tutor in 33 school districts and community after-school programs, but there aren’t enough tutors to meet the demand. Los Angeles Unified has been slow to roll out tutoring, and San Diego Unified is relying on teachers to do it after school.

Anticipating learning loss issues, Lodi Unified Assistant Superintendent Robert Sahli said the district initiated student supports during the pandemic and expanded efforts with a return to in-person instruction. These include tutoring, expanded afterschool and summer opportunities, teacher training on literacy, and the adoption of a new K-8 math curriculum.

Miller said additional resources matter, but one-time funding alone won’t fix a long-term math problem. He cited the need for high quality curriculums and continuing professional development for existing teachers and those in training, and facing up to a long-existing “math phobia” among early elementary teachers.

Also released Monday were the science assessments and the English Language Proficiency Assessments for California, the ELPAC, measuring the progress of English learners.

Students have not performed well on the science test, which is aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards and is given in fifth, eighth and each year in high school. The good news is that districts did not lose ground in 2022; 29.5% of students met or exceeded standards, compared with 29.9% in 2019, the first time the test was given.

Students who speak a language other than English at home are required to take the  ELPAC every year until they are deemed proficient in English. In 2022, 15.57% of English learners achieved a proficient score. That’s up from 14% during the year of distance learning, but similar to the year before the pandemic, 2018-19, when 16.4% achieved a proficient score.

EdSource reporters Carolyn Jones, Ashleigh Panoo and Kate Sequeira contributed to this report.

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  1. Teacher 1 month ago1 month ago

    Of course scores went down! And not just because of pandemic learning loss! The CA Smarter Balanced state test is not developmentally appropriate for the children taking it! I dare you to ask adults to take the SBAC for 4th grade and see how many score high. The format of the test alone sets up the kids for failure. It is ridiculous to ask a 10 year old to read multiple non-fiction text sources … Read More

    Of course scores went down! And not just because of pandemic learning loss! The CA Smarter Balanced state test is not developmentally appropriate for the children taking it! I dare you to ask adults to take the SBAC for 4th grade and see how many score high. The format of the test alone sets up the kids for failure. It is ridiculous to ask a 10 year old to read multiple non-fiction text sources and extrapolate information from both and take notes, but then use the non-fiction information to then write a narrative in which the main character’s traits are based on the texts that were read and they must use information from both sources in that narrative while including all elements of a narrative story while doing so.

    I’ve been a public school teacher for 34 years and have taught through many different state testing programs, and SBAC has got to be the absolute worst for truly measuring what a child knows and can do. There is a huge disconnect between the actual state standards we are teaching in the classroom and that horrible test! It’s a colossal waste of state taxpayers’ money.

  2. Karen Q 1 month ago1 month ago

    As a person who gave those tests to students both pre and post COVID, I find it difficult to compare. Last year the version of the test was shortened. Students had only 20 or so questions as opposed to 60-70 questions previously. This could easily skew results as a standard that originally had 4-5 questions to test students knowledge now only had one question. If that student missed that one question they would be considered … Read More

    As a person who gave those tests to students both pre and post COVID, I find it difficult to compare. Last year the version of the test was shortened. Students had only 20 or so questions as opposed to 60-70 questions previously. This could easily skew results as a standard that originally had 4-5 questions to test students knowledge now only had one question. If that student missed that one question they would be considered not at grade level for that area. Though I’m not an advocate for longer testing, we should understand the blueprint of the test was not the same, and therefore isn’t as accurate as previous tests.

  3. Dave 1 month ago1 month ago

    If we were talking about a frail 90 year-old recovering from difficult surgery, the kind of “steady progress” cited here would be encouraging. But we are talking about young people, as healthy and as bright-eyed as they ever will be, new to the world and to our school system. At bottom, we don’t expect much from them, and that, at the same time, gets us off the hook as well.

  4. Gary 1 month ago1 month ago

    Something doesn’t make sense. California and specifically LAUSD scored worse on the Smarter Balanced test yet the NAEP test showed LAUSD did wayyy better in 8th grade ELA and everything else only slightly less worse. Either the Smarter Balanced test is incorrect, or the NAEP test given to LAUSD was incorrect.

    Replies

    • Ron Reynolds 1 month ago1 month ago

      Gary: You’re absolutely right to call attention to a rather apparent anomaly. LAUSD’s NAEP Grade-8 Reading score was a complete outlier, with a statistically significant gain of 8 points from the previous administration of the assessment in 2019. So kudos to LAUSD for that! However, the district’s scores on the state assessment – which is more sensitive to local instruction than NAEP – declined. Let the theorizing commence!

  5. brenda Lebsack 1 month ago1 month ago

    Dr Conrad, you say Thurmond and Darling-Hammond should do the honorable thing and resign. However, are you aware that they are instead being HONORED by our federal government for this dismal academic performance? In June 2022 the US Education Commission awarded the Calif Dept. of Education the Frank Newman Award for excellence in "whole child support and educational equity". Obviously literacy and math proficiency are not measurements for "equity" in addressing the … Read More

    Dr Conrad, you say Thurmond and Darling-Hammond should do the honorable thing and resign. However, are you aware that they are instead being HONORED by our federal government for this dismal academic performance? In June 2022 the US Education Commission awarded the Calif Dept. of Education the Frank Newman Award for excellence in “whole child support and educational equity”. Obviously literacy and math proficiency are not measurements for “equity” in addressing the “whole child” according to the US Dept. of Education. https://www.ecs.org/wp-content/uploads/2022-Frank-Newman-Award-for-State-Innovation-release.pdf

    And I agree with you that everyone should make a donation to EdSource as a token of appreciation. That’s a great suggestion.

    Replies

    • Dr. Bill Conrad 1 month ago1 month ago

      Thanks for the great information, Brenda. I am not surprised that Thurmond and Darling Hammond are celebrated at the federal level as the organized crime network of K-12 education is dedicated to the care and feeding of the adults. Children and Families? Not so much. Read my book, The Fog of Education. I would love to hear your critique and comments. Thanks again.

  6. Michael Adams 1 month ago1 month ago

    Your message summarizes racial group performances but excludes the comparison of white students with other ethnic groups. Why does the reader have to go dig up the to the data to find white student performance? Look at your opening summary statement, excluding whites for relative comparison. ----------------" The pandemic’s effects were widespread; the scores fell roughly the same – 5 to 7 percentage points among most racial and ethnic groups. But disparities … Read More

    Your message summarizes racial group performances but excludes the comparison of white students with other ethnic groups. Why does the reader have to go dig up the to the data to find white student performance? Look at your opening summary statement, excluding whites for relative comparison. —————-” The pandemic’s effects were widespread; the scores fell roughly the same – 5 to 7 percentage points among most racial and ethnic groups. But disparities in scores among those groups were already chasmic, and the declines in 2022 wiped out six years of slow, steady progress since Smarter Balanced was introduced in 2014-15. The 69.4% of Asian students who scored at or above standard in 2022 is more than triple the rate for Latino and Black students.

    Replies

    • John Fensterwald 1 month ago1 month ago

      Mr. Adams,

      I wanted to illustrate the range of the disparities. The comparison of Asian students and Black and Hispanic students does this.

  7. Dr. Bill Conrad 1 month ago1 month ago

    A big thanks to EdSource for going the extra mile to force a less than accountable State Board into releasing the 2022 state student academic achievement data. Everyone should make a contribution of some amount to EdSource as a token of appreciation. Tony Thurmond and Linda Darling Hammond ought to do the honorable thing and resign their positions. You don't get to play spectators in the face of these abysmal student academic achievement results. Any leader … Read More

    A big thanks to EdSource for going the extra mile to force a less than accountable State Board into releasing the 2022 state student academic achievement data. Everyone should make a contribution of some amount to EdSource as a token of appreciation.

    Tony Thurmond and Linda Darling Hammond ought to do the honorable thing and resign their positions. You don’t get to play spectators in the face of these abysmal student academic achievement results. Any leader in business who oversaw such abysmal performance would of course resign or be forced out.

    Our education leaders get to engage in the blame game though with support of a plethora of sycophant non profit organizations.

    Thurmond was only able to secure 40,000 computers from Silicon Valley when there was a need for over 2 million – mostly for children of color. Linda Darling Hammond continued to allow school districts to follow the failed Balanced Reading Approach instead of the Science of Reading Approach.

    Similar fates should befall superintendents and governance of school districts where student performance fell.

    The children and families of children in CA deserve way better. That is why many seek relief in charter schools and private schools.

    Enough is enough.

    No more free rides for the entitled leaders of K-12 education in CA!

  8. Kristie Sepulveda-Burchit 1 month ago1 month ago

    Agree with Mike 100%. Other states as well as other countries that reopened in person school quickly or never closed them fared much better than students in California. Factual language is important. The pandemic didn't do this. California's pandemic policies, closure of in person school, COVID policies...did! It’s important we communicate using accurate language. It wasn’t the “pandemic” that caused the sharp decline in student test/assessment scores. It was “pandemic policies” that appeared to most likely … Read More

    Agree with Mike 100%. Other states as well as other countries that reopened in person school quickly or never closed them fared much better than students in California.

    Factual language is important. The pandemic didn’t do this. California’s pandemic policies, closure of in person school, COVID policies…did!

    It’s important we communicate using accurate language. It wasn’t the “pandemic” that caused the sharp decline in student test/assessment scores. It was “pandemic policies” that appeared to most likely cause the sharp decline in student test/assessment scores.

  9. Brenda Lebsack 1 month ago1 month ago

    Ron, thank you for that very relevant piece of information. I did not know private schools are prohibited by the CDE to participate in standardized tests. This is probably because the CDE does not want the comparison scores, comparing apples to apples. If the public saw a huge difference in scores between private and public students, school choice would be a no brainer for tax payers. I recently heard a … Read More

    Ron, thank you for that very relevant piece of information. I did not know private schools are prohibited by the CDE to participate in standardized tests. This is probably because the CDE does not want the comparison scores, comparing apples to apples. If the public saw a huge difference in scores between private and public students, school choice would be a no brainer for tax payers. I recently heard a black father speak some insightful truths at a board meeting. He said, “In the Jim Crow Era black students were locked out of the public school system but now they are TRAPPED IN” He advocated for school choice because the district had spent $1 million on a Diversity Dpt to promote SEL and other such trainings, while ignoring the fact that 66% of the black students in their district were nonproficient in reading and math. He went on to say, “We need schools that will educate. Black families need options”

    Mike – I agree. The Pandemic policies were controlled by the politicized teachers union and insanely enough the CDC was taking advice by the teachers union. It was the tail wagging the dog. https://californiapolicycenter.org/science-or-science-fiction/

    Jim – Great point! Concerning Newsom, I say, “If the shoe fits”

    EdSource – Once again, thank you for your perseverance to get the information to the tax payers funding public education.

  10. Ron Reynolds 1 month ago1 month ago

    Jim: California prohibits its state assessments from being administered to private school students. While this probably sits well with the majority of the state's private school leaders, in 2013 an effort was made to enact legislation that would have made it permissible for a private school that so chose, to participate in any of the same state-administered standardized tests utilized in California's public schools (See AB 928 - Olsen) The measure was opposed by the … Read More

    Jim: California prohibits its state assessments from being administered to private school students. While this probably sits well with the majority of the state’s private school leaders, in 2013 an effort was made to enact legislation that would have made it permissible for a private school that so chose, to participate in any of the same state-administered standardized tests utilized in California’s public schools (See AB 928 – Olsen) The measure was opposed by the California Department of Education, which essentially killed it by securing an amendment requiring each participating private school to secure a surety bond with a face value of no less than $1 million (even though private school representatives had expressed prior willingness for participating school to bear all costs related to proctoring and test security).

    Replies

    • Ze'ev Wurman 1 month ago1 month ago

      Wow, I missed that original 2013 AB928 bill! Thanks!

      Not really surprising. A system that cares about its children would have welcomed the ability of private schools to choose to join state assessment. A system that cares about its Teachers Unions would hate to see the results of its public schools exposed to comparison with private ones.

      California Department of Education made it very clear who it cares about.

  11. LogicalParent 1 month ago1 month ago

    California Board of Education needs some education quality and efficiency professionals to review their teaching system. California long ago was high in the education ranking scores. Now, it is not the greatest. They need to review their teaching materials, teacher training, teacher support systems, and their focus on their customers - the students. It is pretty sad to be a public student in California that is home to a lot technology that depends on STEM. … Read More

    California Board of Education needs some education quality and efficiency professionals to review their teaching system. California long ago was high in the education ranking scores. Now, it is not the greatest. They need to review their teaching materials, teacher training, teacher support systems, and their focus on their customers – the students. It is pretty sad to be a public student in California that is home to a lot technology that depends on STEM. Please remove what is considered wasteful and not effective. Please consult with other states are high performing when it comes to education and emulate them.

  12. Brian Keeney 1 month ago1 month ago

    This is due to the poor handling of schools due to the pandemic. If schools would have been left open, we would have not seen a decline in scores. This is a main reason why we need new leadership at nearly every level of state government.

  13. Mike 1 month ago1 month ago

    It's important we communicate using accurate language. It wasn't the "pandemic" that caused the sharp decline in student test/assessment scores. It was "pandemic policies" that appeared to most likely cause the sharp decline in student test/assessment scores. Read More

    It’s important we communicate using accurate language. It wasn’t the “pandemic” that caused the sharp decline in student test/assessment scores. It was “pandemic policies” that appeared to most likely cause the sharp decline in student test/assessment scores.

  14. Jim 1 month ago1 month ago

    It would be interesting to compare these results to the results of the private school where Gavin sends his children. While Gavin prevented our kids from going to school his were attending school. The delta may be instructive.

    Replies

    • JudiAU 1 month ago1 month ago

      Many private schools use ERB or NWEA. Many public schools also use NWEA. I’d read that NWEA scores dipped but hadn’t heard about ERB. But sure enough “For example, mean scores in the spring of 2021 were 7 points lower on Reading Comprehension and Mathematics than those in the spring of 2019. For Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning tests, scores were 10 points lower. These findings echo those of Rochon and Shuman (2021) who found that … Read More

      Many private schools use ERB or NWEA. Many public schools also use NWEA. I’d read that NWEA scores dipped but hadn’t heard about ERB. But sure enough “For example, mean scores in the spring of 2021 were 7 points lower on Reading Comprehension and Mathematics than those in the spring of 2019. For Verbal and Quantitative Reasoning tests, scores were 10 points lower. These findings echo those of Rochon and Shuman (2021) who found that among matched students evaluated over time, performance growth during the pandemic was less for reasoning tests than for traditional achievement tests. The differences above are considered small1. However, there were more significant differences between 2021 and 2019 for certain tests, levels, and associations, especially when these groups had low CTP volume in 2021.”
      https://www.erblearn.org/understanding-erbs-updated-ctp-norms/

    • tomm 1 month ago1 month ago

      Jim, We pulled all three of our K-12 kids out of public and into private schools because we looked at past public school teachers entitlement and the political power ($330,000,000 in union dues annually) and projected that our kids would be remote learning in public schools if they stayed. Our private school reported there was no learning loss and some proficiency gains in K-8 in the 2022 testing. I'm quite sure that performance … Read More

      Jim, We pulled all three of our K-12 kids out of public and into private schools because we looked at past public school teachers entitlement and the political power ($330,000,000 in union dues annually) and projected that our kids would be remote learning in public schools if they stayed. Our private school reported there was no learning loss and some proficiency gains in K-8 in the 2022 testing. I’m quite sure that performance was repeated over and over in private schools. Oh and by the way, no kids or teachers died as a result. How Newsome and Thurman keep their jobs is a mystery to me. We need more private schools and vouchers like Arizona is doing to help our students by breaking the near monopoly that K-12 public schools enjoy. How much worse does it need to get before we make a change?