Huge Achievement Gaps Persist Amid Tiny Test Score Gains

Fewer than one third of Los Angeles Unified students met state standards in math and only 42% in English, trailing statewide averages on standardized test results released Tuesday. While growth in LA Unified student scores slightly outpaced minuscule statewide growth, large racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps remain a blight on both the state and the district. 

Economically disadvantaged African American students in Los Angeles, in particular, don't appear to be getting nearly enough support. Only 16% tested proficient in math, flat from the previous year. Economically disadvantaged students of every ethnicity also trailed their wealthier counterparts. 

“The student performance data serves as evidence that we as a District must look for better ways to meet the needs of our student populations,” said Board President Mónica García (BD 2). “Approximately 82 percent of our students are on free or reduced lunch, and over 80 percent are Latino or African American students. The identified gaps in proficiency levels are unacceptable. We have taken a step in the right direction with the Equity is Justice 2.0 movement, and we will keep fighting to close the existing achievement gaps.”

Parents from Speak UP and Parent Revolution have been calling on LAUSD to create a comprehensive plan to increase student achievement in LAUSD’s persistently under-performing schools. While LAUSD will no longer force the lowest 25 percent of schools to receive must-place teachers that principals don’t want to hire, most LAUSD schools above that 25 percent threshold also serve kids who need more help.

“We need to do more to lift the achievement of our city and state’s most vulnerable children,” said Speak UP executive Director Katie Braude. “We are still failing the vast majority of kids of color in LAUSD, and the pace of change is not quick enough. We simply have to do better.”

A full 68 percent of LAUSD students are failing to meet state math standards, compared to 61 percent failing statewide. Fifty eight percent of LAUSD students are not meeting English standards, compared to 50 percent statewide. LAUSD’s test score gains did outpace statewide gains, which were just a fraction over 1 percent in English and math. The percentage of LAUSD students meeting standards grew almost 3% percent in English and 2% in math compared to last year.

However, the racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps remain a persistent problem across the entire state. For example, 54% of White students in California tested proficient or better in math, compared to 27% of Latino students and 20% of Black students. In English, 65% of White students tested proficient or better compared to 39% of Latino students and 32% of Black students.

While it was not all bad news, the minor improvements in state and LAUSD test scores came mostly from 3rd and 4th graders, while 11th graders fared worse across the board, signaling that college readiness may remain elusive for many California high school graduates. In LAUSD, 3rd graders made the greatest gains in English, with the number of proficient or better scores climbing by nearly 6%.

However, 11th grade scores plummeted, reversing what had been slow progress and falling below scores from 2015, the first year the Smarter Balanced tests were scored. The number of LAUSD juniors meeting English standards fell 3.5 percent compared to last year.

These results do not include independent charter schools, though scores for individual Los Angeles charter schools, which are public and not-for-profit, are available on the state’s website (

One comparison that may be of particular interest to LAUSD parents is the performance differential between students at LAUSD magnet schools and all other LAUSD schools, especially since the application window for the 2019-2020 school year recently opened for magnet schools. (The window runs through Nov. 9.)  A full 61% of magnet school students met or exceeded state standards in English, compared to only 38% of their non-magnet peers. And 49% of magnet students met or exceeded state standards in math compared to 28% of students in other LAUSD schools.

Magnets have traditionally served fewer economically disadvantaged students and English learners than either charters or traditional district schools, and some gifted magnets require kids to test in so a head-to-head comparison is not entirely fair. The bottom line, though: magnets are doing significantly better, and that’s one reason the district opened 36 new magnets this school year. LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner would like to see continued growth in magnets, but United Teachers Los Angeles in its ongoing contract talks is demanding measures that would limit the growth of magnets.  

-- Leslee Komaiko