As standardized test scores across California remain on the path to post-pandemic recovery, Orange County appears to be leading the way.
In addition to surpassing statewide averages by healthy margins on assessments in English, math and science, students enrolled in Orange County’s 29 districts and charter schools outperformed six neighboring counties across all grade levels, according to data released this week.
The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress, or CAASPP, serves as the cornerstone of the state’s system for evaluating the progress of public schools. In the spring, nearly 2.9 million students in grades three through eight and 11 took a series of online tests, including Smarter Balanced exams aligned with state standards in English and math.
In Orange County, 57.4 percent of students met or exceeded grade-level English standards, surpassing the statewide average of 46.7 percent. Year-over-year comparisons showed local scores increased in grades three and five but remained flat in grades four, six, eight and 11. Seventh-grade scores saw a slight decline of 1 percentage point.
In mathematics, Orange County students again substantially surpassed the state’s average, with 46.8 percent meeting or exceeding grade-level standards compared to 34.6 percent for the rest of California. From 2022, local scores improved in grades three through eight, while 11th-grade scores remained unchanged.
The data released on Wednesday, Oct. 18 — school and district reports can be accessed at caaspp-elpac.ets.org — show Orange County’s averages in English and math were at least five points higher than the neighboring counties of San Diego, Los Angeles, Ventura, Riverside, San Bernardino and Santa Barbara.
In math, local test-takers scored at least 5 percentage points higher at every grade level than the next highest of those counties, and OC sixth- and eighth-graders outperformed their Southern California peers by a minimum of 8 percentage points.
While the achievements are worth highlighting, it’s important to note that scores across the state have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, 60 percent of Orange County students met or exceeded state standards in English, and 51 percent cleared the same benchmark in math.
“We know that assessment scores are not the sole measure of a school’s success or value, but they remain an important tool to measure whether students are mastering standards-based content and to highlight where additional interventions are needed,” OCDE Deputy Superintendent Dr. Ramon Miramontes said.
“We are extremely proud of our students for all they continue to accomplish with the support of teachers, families, district leaders and support staff,” Miramontes said. “At the same time, we recognize that more must be done to fulfill our promise to the next generation of leaders. As a county, we are unwavering in our commitment to continuous improvement.”
At the core of OCDE’s continuous improvement efforts are strategies tied to the California Multi-Tiered System of Support. California MTSS is a comprehensive framework adopted by schools and districts to address each student’s academic, behavioral, social-emotional and mental health needs. Leveraging data and close collaboration, staff members establish a universal tier of support for all students, additional assistance for some, and targeted interventions for those requiring more specialized support.
In 2016, OCDE was tapped by the state to be the lead agency in an initiative to scale up California MTSS statewide.
In addition, many Orange County schools are embracing the community schools model. This approach creates partnerships with families, community organizations, health care providers and social services agencies to provide wraparound support for students and their families. Services may include tutoring, mental health counseling, health care, meals and more in order to remove barriers to learning. To date, about 100 Orange County schools have received funding to implement this model.
Examining data points
Top-line CAASPP scores may draw the most headlines. But a deeper dive into Orange County’s data reveals that English skills such as “listening” and “research/inquiry” have improved since before the pandemic, with more than 85 percent meeting the standard in these areas. Writing skills, however, have slipped since 2019. In math, skills in communicating reasoning, problem-solving, and concepts and procedures have trended upward since 2019.
In science, 42 percent of Orange County test-takers met or exceeded grade-level standards in 2023, surpassing the state average of 30.2 percent. Meanwhile, a higher percentage of OC English learners were classified as moderately proficient in English or well-developed compared to the rest of the state based on the fifth annual release of ELPAC data.
Missing from CAASPP multi-year comparisons are scores from 2020 and 2021. That’s because testing went on hiatus during the Covid-19 pandemic, with no tests administered in the spring of 2020. In 2021, state exams were optional, and many districts and charter schools opted instead to measure progress using local assessments. Widespread state testing officially resumed in the spring of 2022, with results released the following October.
Absenteeism rates down
In the spring of 2023, more than 222,000 Orange County students took Smarter Balanced exams in English and math, representing a rate of about 97 percent. In mid-December, these scores will be reflected in the updated California School Dashboard, a user-friendly website that also factors in suspensions, graduation rates, college and career readiness data, chronic absenteeism and other metrics.
Along with the public release of assessment scores, state education officials unveiled figures showing a decrease in California’s chronic absenteeism rate, which measures the number of students who missed at least 10 percent of school for any reason. The statewide rate dropped by 5.1 percentage points, falling from 30 percent in the 2021–22 school year to 24.9 percent in 2022–23.
All student groups demonstrated improved chronic absenteeism rates, with the most significant declines seen among the categories of American Indian or Alaska Native, Hispanic or Latino, Pacific Islander, and African American students. The average number of days absent — excluding those with perfect attendance — decreased to 14.6, down from a high of 16.7 in the 2021-22 school year.
Orange County’s chronic absenteeism rate dipped from 21.1 percent in 2021-22 to 19.2 percent in 2022-23, according to the California Department of Education.
For more information on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress System, or to find scores for individual schools and districts across the state, visit the following webpage: caaspp-elpac.ets.org