Amid falling test scores nationally and statewide, Orange County schools’ outlook is a bit brighter.
The news was disappointing but not shocking. Two years of pandemic disruptions and remote learning had resulted in a decline in math and reading test scores across the nation.
According to the Nation’s Report Card, the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress, average scores for 13-year-olds declined four points in reading and nine points in math from the 2019-20 school year, the previous time the tests were administered. Compared to a decade ago, average scores dropped seven points in reading and 14 points in math.
But Orange County schools by and large outperformed most in the state and in the nation. The nearly three million OC students in grades three through eight and grade 11, scored consistently higher than LA, San Diego, Santa Barbara, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino students in every grade level on the same English language, math and science tests.
Generally the better the students were in the subject, the less their scores tended to decline, while students already struggling in a subject likely had a greater decline in their test score. At the same time, some scores fell along some predictable socio-economic lines, with wealthier schools seeing less of a decline than poorer schools and poorer students.
According to the numbers, 57 percent of OC students scored proficient or better in English on the latest Smarter Balanced tests, while 45 percent scored proficient or better in math, showing a 2-percent drop in English and 5-percent drop in math from the pre-pandemic testing of 2019.
Two of the districts that came out ahead of the pack were Newport-Mesa Unified School District and Los Alamitos Unified School District. Both attribute their success to high standards and hard work, but both are also careful to qualify the test results as merely a snapshot of a certain group of students on certain subjects on certain days when the Omicron variants were still causing high absenteeism of students and staff.
“Student success is measured by more than a single test score,” says Newport-Mesa spokesperson Annette Franco. “We are a fortunate school district to be able to provide necessary support and resources to our staff and students to allow them to thrive, both academically and emotionally. We use all data and feedback to continuously improve the system of service to students and staff and will always strive to do better for each family and for our community.”
Los Alamitos is tops in OC’s unified school districts in English language arts and second in math, with a 100-percent graduation rate for Los Alamitos High School’s Class of 2023.
“It is important to note that assessment scores should be recognized as one measure when evaluating student learning,” says Los Alamitos Unified School District spokesperson Nichole Pichardo. “They provide some, but not all information about a student’s knowledge and skills. Los Al USD uses assessment scores combined with other measures such as in-class assignments, classroom assessments, benchmark data, other forms of national assessment data and teacher feedback to fully understand students’ proficiency levels, and to better understand where our students are and what possible interventions and enrichments may be needed to help us continue improving upon our high-quality instruction. The scores are not used as the sole information when making academic decisions about students or instructional programs.”
Franco says since the Smarter Balanced tests began in 2015, students in the district have performed above state and county averages, and the data points to student achievement consistently improving from 2015 to 2019, right up to the pandemic.
She thinks high summer school participation might also continue to fuel a higher rate of success, with nearly 3,200 students attending and about 1,500 secondary students recovering more than 3,600 credits or earning more than 900 initial credits to get ahead for the 2022-23 school year.
Franco attributes the success to “efforts focused on early literacy and the expansion of learning opportunities. Students benefit from reading and math intervention teachers, administrative interns and instructional coaches at the secondary level, and general and special education teachers on special assignment to foster collaboration and intentional support and resources to assist teachers and students in teaching and learning strategies.”
By Shawn Price