PPIC Logo Independent, objective, nonpartisan research
Press Release · September 4, 2002

Wide Gaps In Achievement For Central Valley Students: Sacramento A Standout, San Joaquin Falls Behind

Overall, Central Valley Lags Rest of State in Student Outcomes

SAN FRANCISCO, California, September 4, 2002 – Educational opportunities in the Central Valley depend on your vantage point: Across the region, there are wide differences in achievement and how students measure up to their counterparts in the rest of the state, according to a study released today by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). In 2000, Sacramento area students scored higher in math and reading than students in other parts of the Valley and in the rest of California. Conversely, students in the South and North San Joaquin regions had some of the lowest scores in California, lagging other regions of the Valley and the rest of the state.

The numbers speak for themselves: In the Sacramento region, 67 percent of fifth-grade students scored at or above the national median in math on California’s statewide achievement test in 2000, and 62 percent scored above the median in reading. These results surpassed the rest of the state, where the percentages of math and reading scores above the median were 65 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Scores in the North Valley region (61% math, 55% reading) were slightly below those in the rest of the state. However, South San Joaquin students fared worse, with 54 percent scoring above the median in math and 45 percent in reading. And students in the North San Joaquin area did only marginally better (56% math, 46% reading)..

The study, Student and School Indicators for Youth in California’s Central Valley, examines four Central Valley regions – North Valley, Sacramento Metro, North San Joaquin, and South San Joaquin. Anne Danenberg, a PPIC research associate who co-authored the study with research fellow Christopher Jepsen and research associate Pedro Cerdán, says that the Valley’s regions are demographically different and should not fall under one public policy umbrella.

“North and South San Joaquin are far more disadvantaged, and students there are doing poorly compared to the North Valley and Sacramento Metro areas,” says Danenberg. “It is not practical to look at the Central Valley as a single unit because its regions are so distinct and will require different kinds of policy strategies and resources.”.

Why the differences across Central Valley regions? Stark demographic contrasts clearly play an important role. North Valley and Sacramento Metro regions have fewer poor and non-English proficient students than the North and South San Joaquin regions. In addition, the South San Joaquin region also has a particularly high concentration of migrant students – youth who are employed or have parents who are employed in migratory agricultural or fishing operations. Almost half of all the migrant students in the state are in the Central Valley. These students are often from immigrant families and might change schools several times during a single academic year. They are considered to be one of the most at-risk student populations due to the educational disruption and cultural, language, and other barriers they often face.

The study also reveals significant disparities in teacher qualifications among Central Valley regions. On average, the percentage of students attending schools with uncertified teachers is more than twice as high in the San Joaquin regions as in the North Valley and Sacramento Metro areas. However, the average Central Valley student attends a school with fewer uncredentialed teachers than students in the rest of the state (8% versus 14%).

“We face some significant challenges in making education meaningful to scores of young people in the Valley,” says Carol Whiteside, President of the Great Valley Center. “But it is good news to see that some parts of the region are in fact exceeding the performance of the rest of the state. This demonstration of excellence should motivate us all the more to mobilize new resources in those parts of the Valley that have fallen behind.”

Other key findings:

  • Overall, student achievement in the Central Valley is lower than in the rest of the state: In math, 59 percent of fifth-grade students scored above the national median compared to 65 percent in the rest of the state. In reading, 52 percent of the Valley’s fifth-graders scored above the median compared to 58 percent in the rest of the state.
  • Central Valley students are only half as likely to enter the University of California system as students from other parts of the state (4% versus 8%). An equal share from within and outside the Valley enter the California State University system, and Central Valley students are more likely to enter the California Community College system than students from the rest of the state.
  • Students in the North Valley, and especially in the Sacramento Metro area, scored higher on the SAT college entrance exam than did students in the rest of the state in 2000. However, students in all Central Valley regions were less likely to take the test than were students elsewhere in California.

This study was supported by a grant from The James Irvine Foundation.

The Public Policy Institute of California is a private, non-profit organization dedicated to improving public policy in California through independent, objective, non-partisan research on major economic, social, and political issues. The Institute was established in 1994 with an endowment from William R. Hewlett.