Publications & Resources

Student Assessment and Student Achievement in the California Public School System

Apr 2000

Joan L. Herman, Richard S. Brown, and Eva L. Baker

Many years ago, a prominent national commission declared us a nation at educational risk, noting “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation” (National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983). A decade later, California received its own special wake-up call when results from the 1990 and 1992 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) state-by-state comparisons revealed that California students were scoring near the bottom nationally in eighth-grade mathematics and fourth-grade reading. What of the situation today? How are California’s students faring? Are our students making progress toward the rigorous standards that have been established for their performance? Are our schools improving? Are they better preparing our students for future success? As we strive toward excellence, who is being helped most and who not by California’s educational system? Answers to these seemingly simple, bottom-line questions are complex to formulate, made more so by the history and current status of the state’s assessment system, the nature of other available indicators of educational quality, and the imprecision of all assessments. In this report, the authors provide a context for examining the progress of students and schools by reviewing California’s recent testing history and the state’s progress in creating a sound, standards-based assessment system. Then, they review available data about student performance, examining how schools are doing and the factors that most influence assessment results, and close with a discussion of the goals of accountability and standards by which such systems should be judged.

Herman, J. L., Brown, R. S., & Baker, E. L. (2000). Student assessment and student achievement in the California public school system (CSE Report 519). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).