Silicon Valley Made Little Progress in 2017 in Meeting Math and Language Arts Standards

By John Melville

In 2017, Silicon Valley’s students made minimal progress on key statewide exams that measure proficiency in foundational skills and readiness for future education, including 3rd grade Language Arts, 8th grade Mathematics, and 11th grade exams for both subjects.


This year about the same percentage of the Valley’s 8th graders met or exceeded the Smarter Balanced* state standards in mathematics (53.3%) as in 2016 (53%).  This is after a jump from 49% in 2015 in the share of local 8th graders who met the math standards.  The pattern was similar for 3rd grade language arts.  About the same percentage of Silicon Valley 3rd graders met or exceeded state standards in language arts in 2017 (55.1%) as in 2016 (54.7%), after rising from 2015’s figure of 51.7%.

Silicon Valley does continue to outpace California by a wide margin in 2017.  Just as in 2016, only 36% of California 8th graders met the math standard compared to 53% of Silicon Valley 8th graders.

What remains striking is the large achievement gap by ethnicity.  Only 26 percent of African American and 24 percent of Hispanic or Latino 8th graders met or exceeded state standards on the Smarter Balanced mathematics exam (and the latter was down from 25% in 2016).  At the same time, 82 percent of Asian students and 69 percent of Caucasian students met or exceeded the standard.

2017 - 8thMath

What about Silicon Valley students who are getting close to graduating from high school?  Overall, less than half of the region’s 11th graders (48%) met the Smarter Balanced math standards in 2017.  While this performance is much better than the California average (32%), the fact remains that more than half of Silicon Valley students who are about to either enter the workforce or postsecondary education are not proficient in mathematics. Moreover, only 85% of local 11th graders took the Smarter Balanced exam in 2017, down from 91% in 2016.

Again, there are substantial differences by ethnicity.  Only one in five African American and Hispanic or Latino 11th graders in Silicon Valley (19%) met or exceeded the math standard in 2017, compared to 61% of Caucasian and 78% of Asian students.

2017 - 11thMathThe performance in Language Arts was better, but achievement gaps remain.  In 2017, 69% of Silicon Valley 11th graders met or exceeded the Smarter Balanced standard, which was higher than the California average of 60%.  However, less than half of African American (46%) and Hispanic or Latino 11th graders (49%) were proficient in Language Arts, compared to Caucasian (81%) and Asian students (86%).

What do all these percentages mean?

2017 - 11thEnglish


In 2017, just over 10,000 Hispanic or Latino 11th graders took the Smarter Balanced mathematics exam in Silicon Valley, and only about 2,000 scored proficient or higher.  About 5,400 Hispanic or Latino 11th graders didn’t meet the standard in Language Arts.  And, Hispanic or Latino students were the largest group of test takers in Silicon Valley (36%).  This means that although many Silicon Valley innovation companies are hungry to employ home-grown talent, the largest group of test takers in our region are neither STEM-workforce ready nor, if going to college, prepared to major in postsecondary STEM fields.

In aggregate across all ethnicities, out of about 29,000 11th grade students who took the exams in 2017, almost 15,000 were not proficient in math and about 9,000 were not proficient in Language Arts.  Thousands of students are preparing to leave high school ill-prepared for work or postsecondary education.  Moreover, when we step back and observe preparedness by ethnicity, it’s painfully clear that students of color are in particular being left behind in one of the most prosperous regions of the country.

One other point.  Our math achievement gap is actually larger than the California average.  Our gap between the lowest and highest performing groups is 60%, while California overall is 56%.  If our regional economy requires a higher level of STEM-related skills because of its higher concentration of innovation industry jobs, and if we value increasing diversity in the workforce and providing local youth with the opportunity to participate in those jobs, then we clearly must up our game substantially.

Let us know 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.