Students Meeting or Exceeding Grade-Level Standard in English Language Arts (CAASPP), by Socioeconomic Status

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Learn More About Reading Proficiency

Measures of Reading Proficiency on
On, reading proficiency is measured by the percentage of public school students in grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 11 who meet or exceed their grade-level standard on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) Smarter Balanced Summative Assessment for English language arts/literacy (ELA).* These data are available by grade level for counties and school districts, and, for counties only, by English language fluency, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
Reading Proficiency
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Why This Topic Is Important
Students proficient in reading are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, and have better employment and income prospects in adulthood than students with limited reading abilities, who often struggle to keep up across multiple subjects, including math and science (1, 2). Children who are behind in the early grades often stay behind, making high-quality early childhood education experiences critical, particularly for low-income children, who tend to have fewer early learning opportunities and enter kindergarten at a disadvantage compared with higher-income students (1, 2). State and national data show persistent disparities in reading skills by student socioeconomic status, race/ethnicity, disability status, and English proficiency (3). In California, student reading scores consistently rank below the national average, even though U.S. and California scores generally have improved since the 1990s (1, 3).
For more information on reading proficiency, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Reardon, S. F., et al. (2018). A portrait of educational outcomes in California. Getting Down to Facts II. Retrieved from:

2.  Annie E. Casey Foundation. (2019). 2019 KIDS COUNT data book: State trends in child well-being. Retrieved from:

3.  National Center for Education Statistics. (n.d.). The nation's report card. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
In 2021, 40% of California 3rd graders, 50% of 7th graders, and 59% of 11th graders who took the CAASPP Smarter Balanced Summative Assessment for English language arts/literacy (ELA) met or exceeded their grade-level standard. Overall, fewer than half (49%) of students across all grades tested scored at or above their grade-level ELA standard, with percentages ranging from 29% to 69% across counties and from less than 15% to more than 95% across school districts with data.

Statewide results show wide variation in reading proficiency by English language fluency, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. In 2021, 36% of socioeconomically disadvantaged students in California scored at or above their grade-level standard for ELA, compared with 65% of their non-disadvantaged peers. Among racial and ethnic groups with data, ELA proficiency rates were 60% or higher for Asian, Filipino, white, and multiracial students, and lower than 45% for African American/black, American Indian/Alaska Native, Hispanic/Latino, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander groups.
Policy Implications
Major education policy changes have taken place in California and the U.S. in recent years, such as the state's Local Control Funding Formula, the Common Core State Standards, and the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (1, 2). Education leaders and stakeholders are in the midst of implementing these large-scale changes, which have the potential to reduce long-standing disparities in reading proficiency by race/ethnicity, income level, disability status, and English Learner status (1, 2). Although California reading scores have improved modestly in recent years, they continue to lag behind the nation, and inequities persist (3). Further, while K–12 funding has increased in California, funding levels remain below the national average, and school districts continue to struggle financially (1, 4).

Policymakers and education leaders face significant challenges in improving reading proficiency and educational equity for California's six million K–12 public school students, more than half of whom are socioeconomically disadvantaged (1). Continued efforts and investments are needed to successfully carry out recent reforms, refine them, and ensure equitable opportunities for all students (1).

Policy and practice options that could improve reading proficiency include:
  • Expanding access—particularly among low-income children—to affordable, high-quality preschool or kindergarten readiness programs, which lay the foundation for later achievement (1, 3, 5)
  • Ensuring that K–12 reforms are implemented effectively at the local level and that they meet the needs of low-income students, children of color, those with disabilities, English Learners, and other vulnerable students; as part of this, supporting continuous improvement efforts and ensuring that the new Statewide System of School Support can meet districts’ needs (1, 2)
  • Creating long-term financial solutions for California's K–12 education system, recognizing that to achieve the state's goals will require better than below-average funding (1, 4, 6)
  • Ensuring equitable student access to qualified teachers and rigorous, relevant instructional materials designed for the 21st century and aligned with Common Core Standards (1, 4, 6)
  • Addressing California's teacher shortage by continuing to build a skilled and diverse pre-K–12 teaching workforce, reducing barriers to credentialing, and improving the Reading Instruction Competence Assessment for teachers in training (1, 7, 8)
  • Ensuring that all instructional leaders, including teachers and principals, have opportunities for professional learning and collaboration related to standards implementation, social-emotional learning, cultural competency, family engagement, and other areas critical to achieving equity (1)
  • Continuing to support pre-K–12 schools in creating positive school climates and developing comprehensive, evidence-based systems to address students' physical, emotional, behavioral, and other needs (1, 6)
  • Expanding the state's education data system and improving accessibility in order to provide meaningful information to local educators and leaders; also, ensuring that the system effectively tracks the successes and failures of reform efforts (1, 4, 9)
For more information related to reading proficiency and improving public education, see’s Research & Links section or visit California Education GPS, EdSource, and the Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse. Also see Policy Implications for other education topics in’s Education & Child Care category.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Alliance for Continuous Improvement. (n.d.). California education GPS. Retrieved from:

2.  California Department of Education. (2022). California ESSA consolidated state plan. Retrieved from:

3.  Reardon, S. F., et al. (2018). A portrait of educational outcomes in California. Getting Down to Facts II. Retrieved from:

4.  Public Policy Institute of California. (2020). California's future: K-12 education. Retrieved from:

5.  TKCalifornia. (n.d.). Developmentally appropriate practice: English language arts. Early Edge California. Retrieved from:

6.  Children Now. (2022). 2022 California children's report card: A survey of kids' well-being and roadmap for the future. Retrieved from:

7.  Darling-Hammond, L., et al. (2018). Teacher shortages in California: Status, sources, and potential solutions. Getting Down to Facts II. Retrieved from:

8.  Lambert, D. (2019). California considers overhauling test of reading instruction for teachers in training. EdSource. Retrieved from:

9.  Koppich, J. E., et al. (2019). Developing a comprehensive data system to further continuous improvement in California. Policy Analysis for California Education. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Reading Proficiency