More Students Meeting Math and Language Arts Standards, But Many Fall Short

By John Melville

In 2016, 1,140 more Silicon Valley 8th graders met or exceeded state standards in mathematics.  That meant 53% of all local 8th graders now meet the Smarter Balanced math standards (see below), up from 49% in 2015. On this measure, Silicon Valley outpaces California by a wide margin.  In 2016, just 36% of California 8th graders met the math standard compared to 53% of Silicon Valley 8th graders.  And, the gap is widening:  California’s percentage of students meeting or exceeding the state standard rose from 33% in 2015 to 36% in 2016 while the Valley’s increased from 49% to 53%, respectively.time-series

This is good news to a point.  Certainly, more local 8th graders increased their chances of becoming part of the Valley’s STEM workforce.  However, in 2016 the achievement gap in mathematics by ethnicity in Silicon Valley remained striking:  only 24 percent of African American and 25 percent of Hispanic or Latino 8th graders met or exceeded the state standards on the Smarter Balanced mathematics exam.  At the same time, 82 percent of Asian students and 68 percent of Caucasian students met or exceeded the standard.

The 8th grade math achievement gap didn’t change much between 2015 and 2016.  In 2015, 20% of African American and 21% of Hispanic or Latino students met or exceeded the state standard, while 79% of Asian and 66% of Caucasian students met or exceeded the standard.  This means the largest gap was 59% in 2015 compared to 58% in 2016.math-8th-grade

It’s a similar story when it comes to the performance on Silicon Valley 3rd graders in language arts.  The overall percentage of local 3rd graders meeting or exceeding the Smarter Balanced standard rose from 52% in 2015 to 55% in 2016.  While California’s rate rose too, the gap between Silicon Valley (55% in 2016, up 3% from 2015) and the State (42%, up 4% from 2015) remains large.

In 2016, higher proportions of Silicon Valley 3rd grade students across all ethnicities met or exceeded the state Smarter Balanced standard for English Language Arts compared to the previous year. Notably, the proportion of Hispanic and Latino students (accounting for 38 percent of 3rd grade test takers) that met or exceeded the state standard rose by 4.6 percent in 2016.  The achievement gap by ethnicity was slightly less pronounced in Silicon Valley in 2016 than 2015, though remained large (46 percentage points) between Asian students (which as a group had the highest proportion of students meeting and exceeding the standard) and African American students (which as a group had the lowest proportion).english-3rd-grade

Bottom line?  There has been a lot of attention on math and reading in the early grades—and there appears to be progress overall.  Smarter Balanced is aligned to the Common Core state standards, and educators have had time to adapt and students have had 3 years of instruction based on those standards.  But, large numbers of local students are still falling short of statewide standards, and are not on a path to participate in high-skill jobs created by Silicon Valley’s innovation economy.  What more can we do to close these achievement gaps?  Share your experience about what works and what you think needs to be done.

Smarter Balanced is an assessment system developed to align with the Common Core standards, which are “challenging students to understand subject matter more deeply, think more critically, and apply their learning to the real world. To measure these new state standards, educators from Smarter Balanced states worked together to develop new, high-quality assessments in English and math for grades 3–8 and high school. These Smarter Balanced assessments provide more accurate and meaningful information about what students are learning by adapting to each student’s ability, giving teachers and parents better information to help students succeed in school and after.” (see


John Melville is Co-CEO of Collaborative Economics.