2022 TUHSD test scores show improvement despite declining national trend

On Oct. 24, the National Center for Education Statistics released results of the 2022 National Assessment of Educational Progress nationwide exam. Known as the “nation’s report card,” the annual assessment’s 2022 math results showed the most significant decline ever recorded for fourth and eighth graders. Middle school math scores fell in nearly every state, and reading scores were lower in more than half the states. Similarly, the math and English proficiency for Marin County students has also declined since 2019 according to the recent test scores from the annual California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) exam.

On the contrary, Tamalpais Union High School District’s (TUHSD) 2022 CAASPP scores were the same or even better than those recorded before the pandemic in 2019. Tara Taupier, the superintendent of TUHSD, presented the district’s results at the Sept. 20, 2022 district Board of Trustees meeting, and they show consistent academic achievement over the last four years. 

Overall, the portion of TUHSD juniors who met or exceeded the English language standards increased slightly from 72 to 75 percent from 2019 to 2022, and 58 percent were consistently proficient in math. Unlike the significant drop in younger students’ nationwide test results, TUHSD students performed in a stable manner over the last few years. 

“There’s been a lot of emphasis on learning loss,” Taupier said during the Sept. 20 meeting. “But if you look at 2019-2022, it doesn’t indicate there were large drops. We’re hearing from the lower grades that there are 10 or 15 point drops in scores … but I will be transparent and say that I was expecting these scores to be lower.”

Illustrating the CAASPP performance of TUHSD juniors, this data was presented to the district’s Board. (Data from TUHSD)

TUHSD’s 2021 performance was better than that in 2019 and 2022. Yet Taupier discounted the 2021 results, explaining that the test was taken online from home, so students weren’t as “well-monitored” as they would have been in the classroom.

It was not all good news, however. The CAASPP results for the district also showed significant disparities in students’ performance based on race. While the number of white students who improved their English language skills increased from 74 to 78 percent in the last four years, African American students who met or exceeded English language standards dropped from 45 to 37 percent in the same period. Similarly, the portion of African American students who were proficient in math declined by 22 percent from 18 to 14 percent in this period. The percentage of Asian students meeting or exceeding the math standards also decreased noticeably from 64 percent in 2019 to 55 percent in 2022.

Mary Jane Burke, Marin County superintendent of schools, acknowledges that there are gaps in student learning that still need to be addressed.  

“[Marin County] needs to take a particular look at all the subgroups, and to further develop the interventions that are already in place,” Burke said.

Demonstrating a pre-calculus concept, a high school math teacher instructs her students on math skills which, compared to reading, are harder to master without instruction. (Image courtesy of the New York Times)

TUHSD has already deployed interventions to help mitigate the potential learning challenges arising from the pandemic and racial or gender-related issues. One is the customized summer school offering, in which 241 students participated in 2022, a 77 percent increase from prior years. Assistant Principal Saum Zargar attributes this high level of student involvement to school counselors’ and case managers’ early and active outreach efforts.

“That [increase] was a nice move up,” Zargar said. “We had a lot more students on the platform [and] that was a big success.” 

Another intervention is the wellness services that the district provides. Studies have shown that students’ emotional health impacts their academic performance. Dr. John Shields, an independent wellness contractor working with TUHSD, explained in the Oct. 11 district board meeting that over 4,000 individual student counseling sessions were provided in the 2021-2022 school year, a 41 percent increase over the previous year.

“With the rate of increased student health needs following the crisis of the pandemic and the lockdowns and closures, we can see [TUHSD] wellness is responding to that very effectively,” Shields said.

While the majority of TUHSD’s students are performing better than younger students across the country and their Marin County peers, TUHSD’s administration and Board of Trustees continue to focus on addressing the shortfalls these scores also demonstrated.