While most of the country’s NAEP (National Assessment for Educational Progress) scores remain flat, California is one of five states (along with Arizona, Florida, Hawaii and Nevada) that saw improvements. California’s 8th grade reading scores have been improving steadily and grew 4 points. In 2007, California was 10 points below the national average. The 8th grade reading scores are now within two points of the national average and when adjusted for demographic differences, are now 14th in the country up from the low 40’s as recently as 2013. The 4th grade reading scores improved by 5 points and California is 19th nationally (when adjusted for demographic differences) up from the high 30’s in 2015. In most categories, California has begun to close the gap between black and brown students and white and Asian students unlike the rest of the nation where gaps increased. Latinx students’ scores increased more than California’s average growth; African American’s rose a little less.
California’s reading scores rose despite a number of challenges. California has the most English Language Learner students in the nation (29 percent compared with 12 percent for the nation as a whole), the most diversity and high levels of low-income children compared to other states. Finally, the 2017 test was the first time it was administered digitally via a tablet device. Research has shown that students tend to score worse on digital assessments than on traditional paper tests.
Scores for 27 large, urban districts, including Fresno, Los Angeles and San Diego were reported separately. San Diego’s 6 point increase in 4th grade reading scores was the most among those districts and for the first time San Diego exceeded the national score by one point. It had been 12 points below the national average ten years previously. Los Angeles continued seven straight years of increases in 8th grade reading. Los Angeles fourth graders in poverty rose 3 points while English Learners rose 6 points. Los Angeles 8th graders in poverty rose 3 points while English Learners rose 6 points. These three California districts did consistently better at a time when many of the other urban districts across the nation declined.
California still has much work to do, especially with English Learners and diverse students. In California only 9 percent of English learners were proficient (14 percent nationwide) and 52 percent were below basic. The 27 point gap in average 4th grade reading scores between white students and Latinx students in 2017 is among the biggest in the nation. However the gap in California has narrowed by a third since 1992. The gap between white and black students has widened 5 points since 2007.
As part of the NAEP assessments, students, teachers and school administrators answer survey questionnaires to provide information about students’ experiences. “In 2017, fourth-grade students who reported having a class discussion about something they read once or twice a month to once or twice a week had a higher average score than their peers who did so less or more frequently. At grade 8, students who reported doing this activity once or twice a month or more had higher average reading scores than those who reported doing this once or twice a year or less. “
The 2009 NAEP test was administered just before the Common Core standards were adopted in California and the state moved from a “test and punish” philosophy to a more “build and support”. California educators and policy makers are also committed to a long-term approach to implement the deeper learning demanded by the Common Core standards. California’s new accountability system is de-emphasizing the importance of standardized test results as the sole measure of student performance. Former state superintendent Bill Honig points toward this more collaborative approach between the state and local districts, as well as putting instruction at the core of improvement efforts including team building and professional development around deeper learning and a shift to local control of funding as influences on California’s gains. Educational leaders will continue to look to NAEP scores to indicate success in working to close achievement gaps. These most recent NAEP scores suggest California is headed in the right direction.