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Common Core tests scores show many California students trailing

In this April 30, 2015 photo, Leticia Fonseca, 16, left, and her twin sister, Sylvia Fonseca, right, work in the computer lab at Cuyama Valley High School after taking the new Common Core-aligned standardized tests, in New Cuyama, Calif. While the Common Core education standards provoked political backlash and testing boycotts around the country this year, California, the state that educates more public school children than any other, was conspicuously absent from the debate. Gov. Jerry Brown and California’s elected K-12 schools chief are united in their support of the embattled benchmarks. The heads of the state’s teachers’ unions, universities and business groups are on board, too.  More than one-quarter of the 12 million students who were supposed to take new online tests linked to the standards this spring were Californians, but the technical glitches and parent-led opt-out campaigns that roiled the exams’ rollout elsewhere did not surface widely here.  (AP Photo/Christine Armario)
Christine Armario/AP
FILE: Scores from the Common Core-aligned tests given throughout California earlier this year show more progress is needed before a majority of students reach proficiency in English and math.

Results released Wednesday of last spring's Common Core-aligned testing of public school students in California sharply show the achievement gaps that plagued schools in previous tests still persist.

While statewide 56 percent of students almost met or failed to meet standards in the English language arts portion of the test, 72 percent of African-American students fell short of proficiency.

In math, 83 percent of African-American students almost met or failed to meet the standards. That's 16 percentage points lower than students statewide.

Performance by Latino students wasn't as low as for black students, but only by several percentage points. White and Asian students met or exceeded the standards at a much higher rate than black and Latino students.

The divide is what educators call the achievement gap and it extends as well to low-income students and English learners.

The new test scores show that students overall are struggling with the new standardized test designed to assess their understanding of the new Common Core learning standards.

Of the 3.2 million students in grades 3 to 8 and those in grade 11 statewide who took the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress or Smarter Balanced test this year, less than half — 44 percent — met or exceeded the English language arts standards established for the test.

For math, only 33 percent met or exceeded the standards.

"California's new standards and test are challenging for schools to teach and for students to learn, so I am encouraged that many students need to make more progress," said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson in a written statement.

This is the first time that students have taken the assessment online, while answering questions based on such new learning concepts as problem-solving, critical thinking and writing analytically. For weeks now, education officials have been trying to manage expectations about the scores, saying the results would not be stellar.

"I wouldn’t read too much into this first year of test score results," said Stanford University education researcher David Plank, "because we really don’t know what the standard is at this point. We’re giving these tests for the very first time. We’re learning what it means to be proficient on these tests."

And, he said, these tests are very different than the previous pencil-and-paper tests that asked students to fill out multiple-choice answers. The latest scores, Plank and others said, can't be compared to prior years' results.

Also, while the new scores form a baseline, schools won't be able to gauge progress until they see the test results in coming years. The state has agreed not to count these first-year numbers against any school because students are still learning to take the assessments online and teachers continue to improve their teaching of the Common Core standards.  

What was released by the California Department of Education Wednesday are the combined state scores, the school districts' performance and the school-by-school breakdowns. Parents should be receiving their individual students' test scores in coming weeks. 

To see the scores for individual schools and districts, parents or anyone in the public can go to

Los Angeles Unified, the second largest school district in the country, showed similar first-year struggles among the roughly 270,000 students it tested as reflected in the statewide numbers.

For all LAUSD grades tested, 33 percent met or exceeded the English language arts standards and 25 percent met or exceeded the math standards. 

By the 11th grade, students should be college ready, but the LAUSD scores show only 48 percent met or exceeded the English standards and just 20 percent showed proficiency or better in math. The 11th graders appear to have the most difficulty applying mathematical concepts and procedures.

In comparison, 56 percent of 11th grade students tested statewide met or exceeded the standards in English and 29 percent met or exceeded the standards in math.

LAUSD officials said they would use the scores to measure learning, but downplayed the scores' importance.

"This year they’re basically being used as a road map for us to figure out what kind of work we need to do. Next year, at the end of this school year, when we give this test again, they will count for accountability purposes," said Cynthia Lim, the head of data and accountability at LAUSD.

Some 39,766 students were tested in Long Beach Unified, another large Southern California district. Results show 42 percent met or exceeded standards in English and 31 percent met or exceeded standards in math. By the 11th grade, 52 percent showed proficiency or above in English and 25 percent in math.

Achievement gap reflected in scores

As with past standardized tests, sharp differences emerged in the statewide scores of students from low-income families, English learners, and black and Latino students compared to other students.

Among low-income students from tested grades, 31 percent met or exceeded the English standards compared with 64 percent among other students. For math, 21 percent of poor students met or exceeded the math standards compared to 53 percent for other students.

English learners also struggled, with 11 percent meeting or exceeding the English standards and 11 percent for math. Among black or African-American students, 28 percent met or exceeded the standards for English and 16 percent for math. For Hispanic or Latino students, 32 percent met or exceeded the English standards and 21 percent for math.

In comparison, among white students, 61 percent met or exceeded the English standards and 49 percent for math. For Asian students, 72 percent met or exceeded the English standards and 69 percent for math.

"Clearly, we must continue working to eliminate these gaps," Torlakson stated.

Teachers, like students, need more help on the tests.

"Like anything, the more that you do it, the better that you’re going to get," said Pepperdine University education researcher Anthony Collatos.

"So the teachers need continued professional development on how to master the standards as well as the students and with that, over time, I think you’re going to see improvement across the board."

California isn't alone among states in seeing less-than-impressive scores. Associated Press reported that among states giving their students the Smarter Balanced test, Idaho saw about 50 percent of students testing proficient or above in English language arts and less than 40 percent in math.

In Washington, about half of students received proficient scores while in Vermont, about 60 percent scored at proficiency levels for English but as low as 37 percent in math.

Torlakson said the tests are the first to gauge how California is doing as it raises learning standards. He said he expects the scores to improve in future years as students and teachers gain more experience with Common Core and the tests.

This story has been updated.

Common core and the achievement gap at LAUSD, in charts

This last graph shows the top ten performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School district. Note that the scale is different for the bars.