More OC 11th-graders ready for college-level coursework, test scores show

The number of Orange County 11th-graders considered ready for college-level math and English coursework grew slightly, according to last week’s state test scores.

The Smarter Balanced Assessments were created with the goal of determining how prepared high school juniors are for college, specifically in math and English.students working on computers

Students scoring at Level 4, the highest of four achievement levels on the tests, are judged as ready.

In Orange County, 36 percent of 11th-graders reached Level 4 — meaning they “exceeded” the standard — in English language arts, an increase from 32 percent last year. In math, 20 percent of juniors reached Level 4, up slightly from 19 percent a year ago.

Another 32 percent of 11th-graders reached Level 3 in ELA, meaning they’re on track to become ready for college-level English coursework by the time they graduate high school. In math, an additional 23 percent of 11th-graders reached Level 3.

Orange County juniors outperformed their peers statewide on the tests, as did local students in other grade levels.

Across all grade levels, Orange County students’ overall math and ELA scores remained flat on the Smarter Balanced Assessments, which are now in their third year of implementation. But the modest growth of 11th-graders reaching Level 4 could signal that high schools are doing a better job of helping more students become ready for rigorous college-level coursework, educators said.

For 11th-graders, the only high school grade tested, the exams were designed to indicate whether a student was ready for credit-bearing math and English courses as incoming college freshman.

In math, the 11th-grade exam measures how well students understand the principles of algebra, geometry, statistics and probability, and similar concepts. In English language arts, the 11th-grade test asks students to effectively write argumentative texts to support a precise, compelling claim using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.

If students didn’t reach the Level 4, the tests are supposed to offer some guidance of how much more work students need during their last year of high school to become prepared.

“These tests offer juniors a glimpse of how prepared they are for the more rigorous English and math coursework,” said Christine Olmstead, Orange County Department of Education’s associate superintendent of instructional services. “It shows where their strengths are, and what areas they need to work on before they graduate high school.”

In the two previous years of the exams, California State University had allowed incoming students scoring at Level 4 on the Smarter Balanced Assessments to bypass math and English placement tests that determine whether they need remedial courses as freshman. However, CSU leaders announced in August that they were eliminating the placement tests and remedial courses altogether as part of an initiative to help students obtain degrees sooner and clear obstacles for students not pursuing math or science degrees.