Most Long Beach and Southeast-area high schools scored poorly on their first "report cards" by the state Department of Education.
The evaluations, designed to measure the effectiveness of California's education reform movement, showed that a majority of the area's 34 high schools scored below the state average in most categories, including the number of students taking three and four years of English, math, science and foreign languages. Other factors measured were seniors' basic skills test scores and college board examination scores.
Although the evaluations are called report cards, they consist of numerical listings of students' performance rather than letter grades.
Many local school officials, while disappointed at the results, were quick to question the validity of the reports, which were released recently. Some said the evaluations were based on dated information.
They say some of the figures were collected during the fall of 1983, before the state instituted a series of reforms and schools began to feel the effects of an extra $2 billion pumped into local districts by the Legislature last year.
Others contended the reports favor districts in wealthy neighborhoods, where a majority of students are college-bound, not districts like Compton or Paramount where the bulk of students are minority and poor.
"Most kids in this district are just trying to survive--to some graduation is a long shot, college a dream," said Supt. Richard Caldwell of the Paramount Unified District, which is 77% minority. "So is it fair for those bureaucrats in Sacramento to evaluate us, based on how many many years of math or English our students take? Or even their college entrance exam scores? Those kids are just trying to survive."
State officials said this first report is simply a base line by which schools will be graded in the future.
"Too many districts are caught up in defending how they finished this time," said Susan Lang, a spokeswoman for the state Education Department. "The important thing is how much they improve those numbers, which are simply targets, over the next two to three years.
"There's no question that two years from now the report cards will be much more meaningful," she said.
In Long Beach, where most of the report cards were released two weeks ago, school officials said they were were "astounded" and "disappointed" at the poor marks given students at the city's six high schools.
"We were astounded by the wide range of results among our high schools," Charles C. Carpenter, deputy superintendent for instruction, said in a written statement. "We are very disappointed. The scores should be higher if they accurately and more completely reflected what students are learning."
The performance reports have stirred controversy since they were announced last April by state school Supt. Bill Honig, who was elected in 1982 on a platform of educational reform.
To secure more money for California's 1,043 districts, Honig said schools need to be more accountable to the Legislature, which finances 80% of state public educa tion. The first step is the performance reports, which are designed to measure the effect of Honig's educational reforms such as tougher graduation requirements and increases in teacher pay.
Caldwell and others said they believe the report cards are politically motivated, a trade-off between Honig and the Legislature for more money for California schools.
"It's simply another layer of testing dictated by Sacramento," said Caldwell of the 11,000-student Paramount district. "We're inundated with tests. At times it seems that's all we do is give tests.
"Nobody should be afraid of taking a look at themselves, but what do these report cards tell us that we don't already know? Our students are struggling, but they give 100%," he said.
Bill Turner, a consultant in the Office of the Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools, said he understands why some school officials, particularly those in low-income districts, are questioning the value of the report cards.
"What difference does it make to a teacher struggling to cope with a class of 35 whether Freddie takes one, two, three or four years of English?" said Turner, who works in the evaluation, attendance and pupil services division of the county office. "The teacher's too busy just trying to teach Freddie to capitalize somebody's name."
In December the state sent report cards to 787 California high schools, and the results were made public in early January.
The schools will be rated again in three months and then annually every April.
At first glance, there would seem to be room for improvement at area high schools.