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JUST IN: LAUSD scores well below state average on new tests

Craig Clough | September 9, 2015

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CAASPP tests

LAUSD vs. state on CAASPP tests

Three quarters of LA Unified students who took the new statewide Common Core-aligned tests for math and two-thirds of students who took the tests for English failed to meet state standards, according to data released today by the California Department of Education.

The scores on the new California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance (CAASPP) reflect results from more than 267,000 students in traditional district schools and the district’s 53 affiliated charter schools. They do not include scores from students who attend the 221 independent charters within LA Unified — those scores were not immediately available as an overall score, only individually by school.

Overall, 3.2 million students took the tests statewide.

LA Unified officials were quick to downplay the significance of the results, saying the overall performance is comparable to results from the old Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, program, which was last given in 2013. California has been without statewide testing for two years.

“I think we still see the achievement gaps that we had in the old test,” said Cynthia Lim, LA Unified’s executive director of the office of Data and Accountability, in a phone call with reporters. “I don’t think that the achievement gaps went away because we have a new test. I think we see the same patterns that we had in the past.”

The district cited a comparison to 11 other large urban districts in the state, showing that LA Unified scored in the middle of the pack and fared better than on a statewide comparison. Among the other districts, including San Francisco, San Jose, San Diego and Oakland, LA Unified scored ahead of four in English language arts and ahead of five in math.

“How we compare to other districts today and how we compared in the past, I think we see a similar pattern in terms of our performance,” said LA Unified Chief Deputy Superintendent Michelle King.

However, King also sought to downplay any comparison to past tests. When asked what the district will say to a parent angry about their child’s or school’s performance, she said she would tell them that “it is baseline data, that it is not comparable data to tests that they have taken in the past and also showing them the plans for their specific school and how we are going to work with their youngster in the school,” King said.

In a statement, LA Unified Superintendent Ramon Cortines also downplayed any significance that could be attached to the test results.

“This is not a time to be pleased or displeased with the results, as these assessments provide a roadmap for how we can better prepare our students for college or the workforce,” he said. “Each of our local districts will be analyzing these results so that we can strategically provide support to individual school sites.”

The state gave practice tests last year, but the results were not publicly released, making today’s numbers the first temperature-taking of students on a statewide basis that can be used for comparative purposes in the years ahead. The results are available by state, district or direct funded charter school on the Department of Education website, and the state will eventually devise a new accountability system based on the CAASPP.

Test results for independent charters is available school by school, but the district and the California Charters Schools Association both said they were still crunching the numbers to provide an overall score for independent charters.

The new tests — known as Smarter Balanced Assessments —  differed from the previous paper-and-pencil tests in that they were given on desktop computers, laptops and tablets. And in replacing multiple-choice choice questions, Smarter Balanced questions were designed to show how well students could write, analyze and solve real-world problems.

The new tests were also computer adaptive, which means that a correct answer on one question would produce a more challenging question while a wrong answer led to an easier question. As a result, students in the same class often got different questions.

The tests were given to students in grades 3 through 8 and 11, and the results placed them in one of four categories: standard exceeded, standard met, standard nearly met and standard not met.

On English skills, 41 percent of LA Unified students did not meet the standard, 26 nearly met, 23 percent met and 10 percent exceeded the standards. The numbers were well below the statewide average, which saw 31 not meeting the standard, 25 nearly met, 28 met and 16 exceeding the standard.

Results from grades 3 and 4 were the worst, with 71 percent of students in each grade failing to meet the state standard.

On math skills, 47 percent of LA Unified students did not meet the standard, 28 percent nearly met, 16 percent met and 9 percent exceeded the standard. Statewide, 28 percent did not meet the standard, 29 percent nearly met, 19 met and 14 percent exceeded the standard.

Grade 11 students fared the worst in math, with a full 80 percent failing to meet the state standard.

Deputy Superintendent of Instruction Ruth Perez pointed to the district’s large number of poverty and English learners as a top reason for the district’s below average performance.

“I think we find above all our poverty is definitely still an issue for the performance of our students, and the acquiring of a second language, our English language learners… but the gap between our [English language learners] and our non-English language learners is still there,” Perez said.

However, when compared with the statewide average, LA Unified still trailed in those two categories. Eighty-two percent of the district’s English learners did not meet the standards in English and 79 percent did not meet the standard in math, compared with a 65 percent statewide average of English learner students who did not meet the standard in both English and math. The districts’ economically disadvantaged students fared better when compared to the statewide average, but still scored lower.

LA Unified officials, as well as the state Department of Education, have repeatedly used the word “baseline” when referring to this year’s results and stressed that the public should not draw too many conclusions from them. Over the last few months, state and local education leaders stressed that the tests are aligned with the new Common Core standards, which districts and educators are still learning themselves how to teach. They also pointed that the test is new and it was the first time it was administered statewide online, which presented new and unique challenges.

“The results show our starting point as a state, a window into where California students are in meeting tougher academic standards that emphasize critical thinking, problem solving, and analytical writing,” California’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, said in a statement. “California’s new standards and tests are challenging for schools to teach and for students to learn, so I am encouraged that many students are at or near achievement standards. However, just as we expected, many students need to make more progress. Our job is to support students, teachers, and schools as they do.”

United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl — who has frequently clashed with district leaders over the last year — also downplayed the significance of the new test results in a rare example of agreement with district leaders.

“It’s not unusual when you move from one testing regime to another, it takes a while for the system and the students to get used to that test. I’m not surprised by (low scores),” he said on KABC over the weekend before the results were released but in reference to being asked about the anticipation that the scores will be low.

Aside from data per district and school, parents and guardians of students in the state will be receiving individual reports on their child’s scores. King said the district will use the data to work with individual schools and teachers that need better professional development to improve scores.

“We have already begun that process of messaging and working with families around expectations for the results, what the results mean, helping to inform and and give them information about the assessments,” King said.


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