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Lance T. Izumi - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

Lance Izumi is Director of Education Studies for the Pacific Research Institute and
Senior Fellow in California Studies. He is a leading expert in education policy and the author of several major PRI studies. [go to Izumi index]

Remember the Big Picture on California Education
It's the standards...
[Lance T. Izumi] 8/16/03

On August 15, California's education officials are scheduled to release student scores on the 2003 state standardized tests. While the results are an important indicator of student and school performance, there are other criteria that shouldn't be forgotten. A comprehensive overview of all key indicators is contained in the California Education Report Card: Index of Leading Education Indicators, Third Edition, recently released by the Pacific Research Institute.

In 2002, California students as a whole did not perform well. For instance, on the California Standards Test, which is the main measure used to rank school performance, only about a third of students scored at or above the proficient level in English/language arts and math. It is likely that student scores on the 2003 test will increase somewhat, which is certainly a good thing. However, not only will a significant majority of students still be performing below a proficient level, other yardsticks of education performance continue to tell a discouraging story.

The PRI report notes that on the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading exam, only 21 percent of the state's fourth graders scored at or above a proficient level. Because scores on the NAEP, often referred to as the nation's report card, are issued on a statewide rather than school-by-school basis, they are not part of the state's performance measurement of schools. Still, the NAEP is a useful indicator of aggregate achievement of California's students.

In 2002, 59 percent of entering California State University freshmen had to take remedial courses in English and/or math. That six out of 10 incoming students needed remediation is shocking given that the CSU is supposed to take the top one third of high-school graduates. CSU chancellor Charles Reed warns that "a whole generation of kids can't read."

Students with deficient knowledge are less likely to take difficult courses and that's the case in California. In 2000, the last year in which statistics are available, only 35 percent of California high-school graduates had taken first-year chemistry, a proportion that ranked California next to last among the states. Only 56 percent of high-school graduates had taken geometry compared to the national average of 74 percent and the Texas average of 95 percent.

California's poor performance is critical since, according to a federal study, the intensity, quality, and difficulty of a high-school curriculum is the most important factor in determining whether that student will earn a college degree. This poor student performance has occurred despite increased government spending.

In 2002-03, total K-12 funding per pupil from all sources (federal, state and local) came to approximately $9,200, a nearly 29-percent inflation-adjusted increase over the amount spent 10 years earlier. There are glimmers of hope, however.

Schools that have seriously implemented the state's tough academic content standards in the classroom are experiencing improved student performance. In combination with empirically proven curricula and teaching methods, the standards are one of the keys to a better educational future for California's children. As one high-school principal observes, the standards "have provided a blueprint for making major headway."

California should realize the depth of its education problems, abandon excuses, and focus money and effort on the standards. If the state takes this action, the worst may be behind us.

copyright 2003 Pacific Research Institute



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