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Valley SAT Scores on Par With Rest of California

January 20, 1985|PAT BRENNAN | Times Staff Writer

Test scores for college-bound students in the San Gabriel Valley this year were about average for the state as a whole, a state survey shows, with students in wealthy areas performing the best and pupils in low-income areas performing most poorly.

Top scores in the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) among valley schools, for example, were posted by students from the affluent San Marino and Claremont attendance areas, while the lowest scores were recorded in the poorer Pomona Unified School District.

In districts with high concentrations of Asian immigrants--Alhambra, South Pasadena and San Marino--math scores were uniformly above average, while verbal scores were below average in the Alhambra district and showed a slight decline in San Marino.

Overall, valley school administrators gave varying reasons for the highs and lows in scoring. Low verbal scores were blamed largely on higher concentrations of non-English speaking minorities, unfamiliarity with test-taking techniques, and a basic reluctance among students to read. High verbal scores were attributed to a strong emphasis on writing skills in all subjects.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday January 31, 1985 Home Edition San Gabriel Valley Part 9 Page 4 Column 2 Zones Desk 2 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
On Jan. 20, two numerical errors appeared in a graphic presentation of scholastic aptitude tests for college-bound seniors. The actual statewide average for enrollment in history and social science courses was 33% in the 1983-84 school year. Also, the correct percentage of students who passed advanced placement tests with a score of 3 or above in the Claremont School District was 59.3%.

Jack R. Rose, assistant principal at San Marino, said that verbal scores there have shown a gradual decline over the last decade. He said the drop may be caused by an increase in the number of students tested and the fact that most of the students are tested in their junior year. Ten years ago, he said, most students taking the test were seniors.

"I'm not suggesting students were smarter 10 years ago than they are today," Rose said. "I think their orientation is different. Our students just don't read (today). Talk to kids, ask them what they've read lately--not much. You ask the kids in San Marino, a more affluent neighborhood, and you expect more. But they're just like other kids. It's the nature of our media age."

Although math scores at San Marino were the highest of the valley schools surveyed, verbal scores were only a little better than average, dropping six points from last year on the test scale which runs from a low of 200 points to a high of 800. Rose said several factors could account for the decline in verbal scores, but that a heavier concentration of Asians who speak English as a second language has contributed to lower reading and writing scores. But Rose said the new Asian population also has raised overall math scores on the SATs.

San Marino's overall math score increased 16 points over last year's score, Rose said.

Students at Alhambra High School ranked fourth in math among the valley's 45 high schools, but dropped to 33rd in verbal skills. In the past decade, the Alhambra district's Asian population has more than tripled to 42% of the student population.

Meanwhile, at Garey High School in Pomona, the valley school that scored lowest on the verbal portion of the test, Principal James E. Taylor said one-third of the students are listed by the state as limited English speakers and most of those are Latino.

Taylor said low SAT scores do not necessarily mean poor performance in college.

"Some who don't score high in the SATs will do quite well in college," Taylor said. He also said socioeconomic background can have a strong effect on test-taking.

"People from other countries who are not highly educated are really are not test-wise," he said. "They don't know how to take tests."

Taylor said that although Garey holds SAT preparation seminars, many students of poorer families do not have time to attend.

At Claremont High School, students scored the highest of any valley school on the verbal part of the test. The school's associate principal for academic affairs, James Martin, said a new writing program was responsible.

He said "power writing," developed by a Los Angeles writing professor in 1968, was introduced last year and has resulted in a 9-point jump in overall verbal scores.

Martin said every teacher at the high school, including physical education, science and mathematics teachers, was trained to use the "power" method of writing. He said each instructor used writing in class as often as possible; for example, math teachers asked their students to describe their calculations, and science teachers required students to use complete sentences in lab reports.

The method, which associates paragraph and sentence structure with numerical values, was developed by Professor J. E. Sparks, a writing specialist who teaches a writing instruction course for teachers at UCLA.

"Kids have a better concept of numbers than they do of terminology," Sparks said. "We throw out a lot of terms in education without really explaining them. Whereas, every kid who comes to school can count to three. If a kid can do that, he has my program licked."

Sparks' method gives a numerical value of 1 to a topical sentence or group of sentences, 2 for a major supporting detail, and 3 for minor details. He said students are better able to make logical connections in their writing using this method.

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