Joint Committee to Develop a Master Plan for Education

Achievement of Students

California Today

In the previous section on Access, we highlighted the demographic challenges of numbers and diversity in California as well as the impact that they have had on our ability to attract and retain qualified teachers in public schools. Approximately half of our public schools do not have problems with attracting qualified teachers. The balance have varying levels of difficulty, with the most challenged schools, located largely in low-income communities, facing a crisis in their ability to attract and retain qualified teachers. In some of these schools, nearly half of the teachers of record are not fully credentialed and, therefore, are particularly challenged to provide high-quality educational experiences for the students enrolled in those schools. The educational consequences of these conditions are evident in the available indicators of student achievement.

Measures of Achievement - elementary and middle school

In the elementary and middle-school grades, measures of student achievement are primarily restricted to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) scores and Stanford Achievement Test (SAT-9) scores. As noted in the Access portion of this report, NAEP scores reveal the following:

SAT-9 scores provide the following profile of student achievement in California elementary and middle schools:

An analysis of SAT-9 reading scores attained by students with different background characteristics revealed substantial differences in achievement. There is nearly a 20 percentage-point gap between the reading achievement of 4th grade students who are economically disadvantaged (28 percent) and those who are not economically disadvantaged (47 percent), and between economically disadvantaged and not disadvantaged 8th grade students - 29 percent and 50 percent of them, respectively,attaining scores at or above the 50th percentile. A similar disparity in achievement, as revealed by SAT-9 reading scores, is evident among 4th and 8th grade students who are fluent English speakers, compared to their English-learning peers, except that the gap grows to 34 percentage points for 4th graders and 41 percentage points for 8th grade students.

California's testing program also incorporated a California Standards test in English Language Arts in 2001. This test is aligned with the academic content standards that guide what is taught in public school classrooms, thus providing a more reliable measure of how well students are mastering the content they are expected to be taught. Student scores were rated in five levels: far below basic, below basic, basic, proficient, and advanced. Only 33 percent of 4th grade students and 32 percent of 8th graders were rated proficient or advanced in English Language arts.

Measures of Achievement - high school

Measures of student achievement at the high school level are a bit more extensive than at earlier grade levels. They include SAT-9 scores, completion of the California State University/University of California 'A-G' pattern of college preparatory courses, graduation/drop-out rates, SAT-1/ACT test scores (among the college-going population of high school graduates), California State University and University of California eligibility rates, and remediation rates of high school graduates enrolling in California State University and University of California campuses. These data are summarized as follows:

SAT-9 test results for 10th and 11th grade students are depressing when compared to those of their elementary and middle school counterparts.

California has historically attained high graduation rates in comparison to other states, but in 1995 the state ranked at the bottom nationally. While the national average of 18-24 year-olds with a high school diploma was close to 85.3 percent, California averaged only 78.9 percent, just below Texas.[36] There is considerable variation in this average among different income and racial/ethnic groups. For instance, Latino students are the fastest growing student group in the state's education system. They also have one of the highest school drop-out rates of all racial/ethnic groups. Only 56.9 percent of Latino students who entered high school in 1996 graduated four years later (Black students had a similar graduation rate of only 57.8 percent). In contrast, Asian and White students graduated at rates of 86.3 percent and 77.6 percent, respectively.[37]

In Figure 2, following, the percentage of public high school graduates completing the college preparatory pattern of courses (A-G) prescribed by the University of California and California State University systems that qualifies them for admissions consideration is summarized. It provides further evidence that high school student achievement is uneven.

Figure 2
Public High School Graduates Completing the required courses for CSU/UC, 1999-2000

Source: California Research Bureau, California State Library, using the 1999-2000 CBEDS File

California's 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education restricted the pools of high school graduates from which the California State University and University of California systems could select their freshman students to the top one-third and top one- eighth, respectively. Each system was charged with defining how its pool would be determined. They each have developed eligibility indices that incorporate high school curricular pattern, grade-point average in college preparatory courses, and SAT/ACT scores. Table 5, following, reflects the pattern of eligibility that is predictable from the student achievement data cited previously. It reflects a persistent pattern of White graduates' attaining California State University and University of California eligibility at roughly twice the rate of their Black and Latino counterparts, and Asian students' attaining eligibility at about twice the rate of their White peers.

Table 5
Percent of Public High School Graduates Meeting Eligibility Requirements of the California state University and University of California - Selected Years

  CSU 1986 CSU 1990 CSU 1996 UC 1986 UC 1990 UC 1996
Black 10.8% 18.6% 12.2% 2.3% 5.1% 2.8%
Latino 13.3% 17.3% 13.4% 3.1% 3.9% 3.8%
White 31.6% 38.2% 36.3% 10.1% 12.7% 12.7%
Asian 50.0% 61.5% 54.4% 24.9% 32.2% 30.0%
All Graduates 27.5% 34.6% 29.6% 9.1% 12.3% 11.1%
Source: California Postsecondary Education Commission, Eligibility Studies

A number of factors contribute to this disparity in achievement by public high school graduates. Among them are differences in opportunity to learn, based on schools attended and the quality of teachers to which they were exposed; differential access to rigorous courses that would make them competitive for admissions, such as Advanced Placement and honors courses; socioeconomic factors; and test anxiety. What is clear, however, is that not all children are receiving the quality of education to which they are entitled.

Measures of Achievement - postsecondary education

Inequality in educational experience is also evident among those high school graduates who distinguish themselves by being among the top one-third of high school graduates in the state and gaining admission to a California State University campus. Close to half of all California State University freshman students are assessed to lack college- level proficiency in math or English or both.[38] This fact places a tremendous burden on both California State University faculty and freshman students and has prompted the California State University Board of Trustees to adopt a goal of reducing the demand for remedial instruction among entering freshmen to no more than 10 percent by academic year 2007-08. Even the University of California, which selects its freshmen from the top one-eighth of all public high school graduates, has determined that nearly 35 percent of the students in its annual freshman classes are in need of remedial instruction in English; it does not assess the math skills of enteringstudents.

Nearly three-quarters of the high school graduates of color who continue their education beyond high school choose a local community college as the point of initial enrollment. However, the community colleges, which serve a student body that most closely reflects the diversity of California, struggle with persistent indications of achievement gaps in the success rates of White and Asian students compared with those of other ethnic groups, and between those of immigrant and non-immigrant students, in key areas.[39] Transfer rates and the rates of earning associate's degrees are lowest for Black, Latino, and Native American students - with the lowest rates evident for part-time students from these groups. Latino immigrant students have the lowest transfer rates of any group, immigrant or non-immigrant, irrespective of whether they attend part- or full-time.

While enrollment of high school graduates in the California State University and University of California systems is relatively healthy, student persistence and degree attainment are not. Data from the U.S. Department of Education show that the number of bachelor's degrees awarded by California public colleges and universities per 1,000 students enrolled in their undergraduate programs is only 68.8, placing California nearly last among the 50 states. [40] In addition, California lags substantially in its production of Bachelor of Science degree recipients, despite the high demand for employees in technology fields in the state. A recent study by the California Commission on Science and Technology highlights the major problems in California's schools, colleges, and universities with regard to the promotion of science education and the development of badly needed talent for this important sector of the state's economy.[41] Moreover, data maintained by the California Postsecondary Education Commission indicate that independent colleges and universities in California annually produce about one-quarter of bachelor's degrees and nearly half of all master's and doctorate degrees awarded to students enrolled in California colleges and universities of all types.

There are a number of possible explanations for these measures of achievement. It is not critical that they be listed here. What is important is that the measures highlight the unevenness of student achievement at all levels of California's education system and underscore the importance of directing far more attention to more effective use of our educational resources to reduce and eventually eliminate these disparities. As California makes progress in guaranteeing that all students have access to the education components that are most essential to high-quality teaching and learning environments, we must also be vigilant to avoid the mistakes of the past. We must make sure that these resources are being used effectively by our educational institutions to enable every student to meet the high expectations we have set for them.

As it moves into the 21st century, California must also confront the fact that a factory-like model established for schools in the 19th century is no longer working. Today's public high schools are the legacy of an era when economies of scale and prevailing educational philosophies suggested that bigger was better. Evidence continues to mount, however, that breaking up large, anonymous high schools into small learning communities, combined with other reforms, can dramatically improve outcomes for students.

Research indicates that students in small learning environments feel less alienated, more nurtured, and more connected to caring adults. Students in these programs have overall better attendance records, lower dropout rates, fewer discipline problems, lower use of alcohol and drugs, increased self esteem, and improved high school completion rates. Small learning communities have had a particularly positive effect on learning in schools with large concentrations of poor and minority students - a major goal of this Master plan. An array of models for small learning communities currently exist in California. They include career pathway academies, California Partnership Academies, 'school-within-a-school' magnets, and ninth- or tenth-grade 'houses' or clusters, which bond transitioning students to high schools.