State and local school officials have tried exhortation, regulation and reform to improve test scores in the high schools, but with little effect.
This year, they have met success with a more direct approach--giving money to schools that do better.
The California Department of Education said Thursday that 530 high schools--nearly half of those in the state--won bonus money for improving their scores on the state's basic skills test among high school seniors.
The December test, which covers reading, math, writing and spelling, has often been criticized by educators and students as meaningless. Since seniors do not receive individual scores, many skipped taking the exam.
This year, however, the Legislature set aside $14.4 million in bonus money to be distributed to schools that show improvement on the test, and state education officials also hurried to release the scores before the seniors graduated.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday April 21, 1985 Home Edition Part 1 Page 2 Column 1 Metro Desk 2 inches; 67 words Type of Material: Correction
Four high schools in Los Angeles County were omitted Friday from a list of those that won money under the state's "education incentive" to reward schools where seniors improved their scores on the California basic skills test. The schools are Bonita High, which won $33,583, and San Dimas High, which won $51,646, both in the Bonita Unified District; and Miraleste High, which won $15,754, and Palos Verdes High, which won $22,643, both in the Palos Verdes Peninsula District.
"The kids really tried this year," said Garfield High School Principal Henry Gradillas, whose school won $105,819, the most in the Los Angeles Unifed School District. "The cash was a good motivator. I also think they are proud of their school and wanted to make a good showing."
Garfield High, a school in East Los Angeles that enrolls mostly Latino students, has also gained attention in recent years because of the large number of its students who, working with math teacher Jaime Escalante, have scored well on college-level tests in algebra and calculus.
"We have challenged these kids to take a strong curriculum, so they are prepared to do well on these tests," Gradillas said. "We're not here to produce minimum-wage workers."
Rowland High School, east of Los Angeles near the City of Industry, won the state's biggest bonus--$140,818--and nearby Nogales High School in La Puente won $109,291.
"We've been working on our academic program for a few years now, and it's finally begun to pay off--in a big way," said Tom Aney, principal of Rowland High. "Before, the attitude about this test was 'So what?' This year, we asked them to take it seriously."
Under the state guidelines, the schools are required to set up a committee of teachers, parents and students to make recommendations on how to spend the money. The funds can go for almost anything other than hiring full-time staff members.
Bonus winners are already getting plenty of recommendations.
At Garfield, Gradillas said the students were talking about buying computers and word processors. Others wanted to set up a scholarship fund, and another group had suggested using the money to defray the cost of the school yearbook.
Interest in Computers
At Rowland, Aney said the seniors were also interested in buying computers for the school or in taking an "educational field trip."
"We had some seniors suggest that we put a seal on their diplomas to recognize them for what they have done. I think they are just proud of their accomplishment," he said.
Also proud of the accomplishment was Paul Possemato, director of the senior high division in the Los Angeles district, who usually has to answer questions about the low scores in the city schools.
This time, however, 32 regular high schools and 10 continuation schools in the city won a total of $1.5 million for getting higher scores.
"Maybe it's a statistical fluke," Possemato joked.
More seriously, he attributed the improved scores to a "conscientious effort to work on the language problem and reading. I also think the teachers and the principals did a real motivation job" to get students interested in the test.
To qualify for a bonus, at least 93% of the seniors had to take the exam. Last year, only 79% of the students statewide showed up for the test. This year, the percentage jumped up to 91%.
Sen. Leroy Greene (D-Carmichael), sponsor of the "educational incentive" law, said he had earlier pushed a variety of education bills to deal with problems in the schools by adding financing to programs or changing their structure or operation. Nevertheless, he noted, high school test scores steadily declined.
This time, he said, he wanted the schools to get more funds for showing results rather than because they had problems.
Earlier this month, state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig noted that this year's scores suddenly took their biggest jump in decade.
MONEY FOR SCHOOLS These are high schools in Los Angeles County that have been designated to receive grants under the Education Improvement Incentive Program.