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Blog Post · November 1, 2018

Are K–12 Students Keeping Pace in English?

Last month, we wrote about how newly released 2018 SBAC test score data show that student growth in math has been insufficient to keep pace with grade-level proficiency standards. And though student growth in math proficiency is accelerating, racial disparities are widening as students progress through school.

The picture is somewhat more promising for English. Growth in English test scores generally outpaced the state standards—meaning more students were gaining mastery of English than in prior years. Moreover, the growth in 2018 English scores was much higher than in 2017.

The figure below shows the growth in English test scores from grade to grade—how last year’s third graders performed in fourth grade, and so on—relative to the growth in the score required for proficiency in each grade. A growth rate of greater than 100% indicates that average student progress is outpacing what is expected by the standards, while growth of less than 100% suggests progress is not keeping pace with standards.

Across all grades, growth in average student test scores outpaced growth in grade-level proficiency standards. This year’s 5th graders showed particular improvement, with average growth outpacing the standards by 40%. In other words, many more 5th graders are meeting standards in English than they were last year in 4th grade (49.4% vs 45.1% to be exact).

But in most grades, racial disparities in English achievement are still growing with each grade progression: the scores of African American and Latino students grew less than the average student’s scores. However, the pattern is reversed in between grades 7 and 8, where African American and Latino scores grew more than average, reducing these disparities somewhat. In addition, the disparities in English score growth are notably smaller than the disparities in math.

We also see improvements when we compare growth rates between 2017 and 2018. Growth in grades 4 to 7 accelerated considerably in 2018—for example, among Latino sixth graders, English test scores improved a little over 25% more than the scores of their counterparts in 2017—though growth in grade 8 was slightly slower compared to 2017. African American student progress was especially noteworthy, with growth improving more than the average student across four of five grades. While the previous figure shows that achievement gaps still grow slightly as students progress through school, these gaps in growth are small and shrinking.

Looking at the grade-to-grade growth of the same cohorts of students provides a lens to examine whether students are keeping up with grade-level expectations, and whether achievement gaps are shrinking or growing as students advance through school. These findings generate hope that recent reforms are bearing fruit, but there is yet more work to be done. Despite progress in 2018, just under half of our students in grades 3–8 and 11 are proficient at their grade level in English, and less than 40% are in math. Sustaining and improving on this growth will be key to addressing these shortcomings in student achievement.


K–12 Education racial disparities SBAC testing