California Reading Report Card 2022
Learn what districts can do at Literacy Can't Wait
Reading is the most fundamental skill children must learn to succeed in school and in life. But today, 58% of California's third-graders are below grade level in reading. What's worse, among low-income students of color, over 75% read below grade level (let that sink in - 75%). Few ever catch up.
But in some districts, students are succeeding. To identify those districts, the CA Reading Coalition ranked California school districts on student achievement in English Language Arts (ELA) for a key subset of third graders (see below, "How the Rankings Work"). Third grade reading achievement is vital to long-term student success. Low early reading achievement is highly correlated with low high-school grades, failure to graduate, and likelihood of going to prison.
The pandemic was disastrous for reading results. On average, the percentage of students at grade level fell by eight percentage points - from 38% to 30%. An already bad situation became much worse. Over 97% of districts saw results fall - across all regions, sizes, and mix of students.
As in the 2019 Report Card, funding and share of high-need students had very little correlation with results. There are top performing districts with over 90% high-need enrollment, and low performing districts with less than 40%.
The clear message is that it is not the students themselves, or the level of resources, that drive student reading achievement - the primary drivers are district focus on reading, management practices, and curriculum and instruction choices. The top performing districts come in all types: urban, rural, and suburban, across 9 different counties, with high-need students levels ranging from 39% to 94%. Any district can succeed at teaching reading.
New this year is a break-down by percent of limited-proficiency English Learners (ELs). With ELs, districts are tasked with teaching both English and reading; short-comings in either will yield low results. Districts with higher shares of ELs may have lower results, but still out-perform many districts with a similar student mix by as much as 25 percentage points.
A very small number of districts (7 in total) bucked the pandemic-driven trend. Palo Alto Unified, one of 2019 lowest performers, improved by 9 percentage points, and was the state's most improved district. Their Every Student Reads Initiative, started in 2021, appears to be having positive impact. Newark Unified improved by 5 percentage points.
How the Rankings Work
Districts are ranked by the percent of economically disadvantaged Hispanic/Latino (Latino) students who "meet or exceed" grade level for the CAASPP 3rd grade ELA test in 2022. For measuring improvement, we compared to the same results for 2019.
Our rankings are based on one particular student group - economically disadvantaged Latino 3rd graders (for a more detail, visit our "Why Latino 3rd Graders?" page). District comparisons must focus on specific sub-groups - an "apples to apples" comparison. Not only do economically disadvantaged Latino students make up 43% of California K-12 enrollment, they are also less likely to have outside learning supports than families with more resources, higher educational attainment, and more English literacy. Results for these students therefore help us see how effectively schools teach reading, separate from the contribution from parents and outside resources. We believe that better results for these students almost certainly mean better reading instruction for all.
The rankings include districts with 100 or more disadvantaged Latino 3rd graders. This provides a larger sample for each district, less susceptible to year to year variation. These districts make up 285 of California's over 1000 school districts, and enroll 72% of all students.
For data sources, visit our Sources & Notes page.
* "Students" refers to economically disadvantaged Latino 3rd graders throughout. See our "Why Latino 3rd Graders" page.