Scores turned in by South Bay high schools on the state's annual basic skills test took on new glamour and excitement this year when the government began to dole out substantial financial rewards to schools with improved performance.
This year's test results from the California Assessment Program produced the greatest joy at Redondo Union High School, which won the most financial and scholastic recognition of any campus in the South Bay.
Indeed, Redondo ranked seventh among California's full-curriculum high schools whose seniors took the tests in reading, writing, spelling and math in December and competed for a share in the state's $14.4-million achievement pie.
Schools qualified for the cash awards, granted under the Education Improvement Incentive Program adopted by the state Legislature in 1983, if at least 93% of their graduating classes took the exam and their scores were better than those posted by last year's seniors.
Statewide, 12th-grade scores rose this year compared to last year, even though many more seniors took the test--in part, apparently, as a result of the cash bonus incentive.
Redondo Union's sharp improvement in test results, which contrasted with a drop in scores the previous year, earned the school $110,129 in cash bonuses.
"I came here in late January, after the tests were administered," said new Redondo Principal Jerry Davis, "but from what I've observed, I think we're seeing the fruits of measures begun several years ago."
Those measures instituted by Supt. Hugh Cameron include increased graduation requirements, heavier emphasis on academic subjects and better preparation for taking the state's tests.
Davis said the possibility of earning cash bonuses added excitement and challenge to the test-taking, but he believes that the major motivation for seniors was a chance "to say thank you to the school and community for four years of excellent education and to leave a legacy for future classes."
This year's seniors will be given special medallions and certificates at their graduation, and some of the bonus money may be spent on a student field trip, but Davis said he expects most of the money to go for computers and instructional materials--uses that officials at other schools also said will have top priority.
Mira Costa, Redondo's sister campus in the South Bay Union High School District, also showed substantial gains in its test scores, bringing it the second-highest reward among South Bay schools, estimated at $90,000 to $99,000. Principal William Wilcox said an error in entering information into the state's computers led to a delay in calculating Mira Costa's exact bonus figure.
He said that projects likely to be financed by the bonus money are tables for the student quad area, a school marquee and cafeteria renovations, along with instructional materials.
Principals at other winning schools were reluctant to give the monetary rewards all of the credit for motivating their seniors to shine in the state tests. At South High in Torrance, which earned $80,776 in bonus money, Principal Joseph Rotcher acknowledged that "money was mentioned" to teachers and seniors when the test was announced.
But, he said, the school's higher scores "had more to do with our concerns about raising academic performance" than with the lure of mere money. Still, the school will be thrilled to get the cash, Rotcher added.
Four of the nine South Bay schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District won bonuses, with Gardena High leading the way with a $79,372 award. And, as usual, high schools on the Peninsula scored highest on the tests, but the margin of improvement over last year's results netted only modest bonuses for two of that district's three comprehensive high schools--Palos Verdes and Miraleste.
El Segundo Unified was the only South Bay district with one or more high schools that will not collect any bonus money this year. However, officials there did not express disappointment.
Scores turned in by seniors at 780-student El Segundo High, the district's only high school, declined slightly in three of the test subjects, but the officials said minor changes in test results in a small school are not significant in academic terms.
"We have an excellent instructional program and we're keeping up with the state's recommended standards for long-term improvement," said Principal William Watkins.
Test scores in the accompaying tables reflect the percentage of correct answers given by the 12th graders to 31 questions, and they allow comparisons between individual schools and the district and state averages. State officials caution that fluctuations of a few points in individual school scores are not statistically significant.
Because the test is meant to provide a snapshot look at achievement levels, scores are computed for districts and schools only; individual pupil scores are not released. Third, sixth and eighth graders will take the test this month, and their scores will be released in the fall.
High School Bonus Money