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Quick Take: UCLA’s Li Cai Weighs in on NAEP & Smarter Balance Test Results

By John McDonald

“Close to a catastrophic lack of equity in the attainment of educational achievement”

The results of the National Association of Education Progress (NAEP) measurements of student achievement, as well as the results of California’s Smarter Balance tests used for the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CASPP) were released October 24th. Both sets of results show worrisome declines in student achievement. In California, the Smarter Balance tests for 2022 find less than half of all students (47.1%) met the state’s standards in English Language Arts, a decline of four percent since the last measurement in 2018-19. Just one-third of students (33.38%) met or exceed the standards in mathematics, a drop of about six percentage points. Less than a quarter (22%) of economically disadvantaged students met or exceeded the state’s standard in mathematics, just 21 percent of Latino and 16 percent of Black students did so.  In the wake of the COVID pandemic, the NAEP Scores also make clear significant declines in performance in reading and especially in mathematics in states across the nation.  California is no exception. 

As educators, researchers, policymakers and the press parse these results, we checked in with UCLA Professor Li Cai,  Director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (UCLA CRESST) for some quick insight and perspective. 

UCLA: What do the recently released test scores show?

Li Cai: The NAEP and Smarter Balanced test results show the wide and deep impact of the pandemic on student learning outcomes, with an even more pronounced drop in math achievement than I had originally thought.  

What’s most important about the findings

Li Cai: Especially important is the widening of achievement gaps between key demographic groups, from an already severe level before the pandemic, to something close to a catastrophic level of lack of equity in the attainment of educational achievement.  

How concerned should we be about the test results?

Li Cai: We should all be very concerned and call for immediate action, beyond what has already been put in place by state education agencies and local districts.  

While the family and the community can also do more, especially in reading improvement, the NAEP 8th grade math results portend a potentially woefully ill-prepared workforce with wildly unequal and inequitable distribution of highly sought-after skills that will further erode America’s standing in global economic competitiveness.

Visit the Los Angeles Times website for further comments on the test results from Professor Cai.