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S.D. Schools Get Mixed Grades on Report Card

October 22, 1985|JANNY SCOTT | Times Staff Writer

The state "report card" to be released today on San Diego city high schools suggests that the district falls short in student enrollment in science and advanced math courses, could improve enrollment in language courses, and is doing well in English.

Science and math enrollment is likely to rise as graduation requirements stiffen in coming years, Supt. Tom Payzant said Monday. He expressed confidence that the controversial report card system would enable individual schools to improve performance.

"It helps schools develop goals in areas that they hope to improve in from year to year," Payzant said. "And there is some reference point from which to judge the progress or lack of progress they have made in those areas."

Elsewhere in the county, superintendents are greeting the release of the "report cards" comparing the performance of San Diego County public high schools with others statewide with reactions ranging from enthusiasm to ennui.

In the Sweetwater Union High School District, Supt. Anthony Trujillo predicted his district would lag behind others in enrollment in college preparatory courses and some standardized test scores. But he said he was eager for the opportunity to compete.

But in Poway, Supt. Robert Reeves said that measuring school against school can be misleading. The number of students tested in each district varies widely, and the system of categorizing schools by parents' educational levels can skew the data, he said.

"We generally don't pay very much attention to them," Reeves said. " . . . I don't know what it proves, whether Poway has more kids in calculus than Mount Carmel. Should they put more kids in calculus? Go find more kids?"

The high school performance reports, initiated last year as part of a state campaign for tougher academic standards and greater public accountability, are officially to be made public throughout the county today.

Statewide, officials say the report cards show an increase in the number of academic courses taken by students. They trace the rise to tougher graduation requirements and an expanded school day, and to poor reporting that led to underestimates in last year's reports.

For example, about 86% of California seniors in 1984-85 said they had completed four years of English--up from 73% in 1983-84. Similarly, 74% of 1984-85's seniors said they had taken three or more years of mathematics, up from 67% in the previous year.

In San Diego County, there were few generalizations available Monday on the performance of the county or individual districts. One county education official said San Diego performed slightly above average. But most districts had not yet analyzed the voluminous results.

However, in an initial review of the San Diego Unified School District's data to be presented to the school board today, the administration's staff drew the following tentative conclusions, among others:

- Enrollment in English courses is above the state average in all 18 district high schools.

- Enrollment in advanced math is above average in seven schools.

- Chemistry enrollment is above average in eight schools.

- Physics enrollment is above average in five schools.

- Foreign language enrollment is above average in 11 schools.

- Math and fine arts enrollment is above average in 17 schools.

Other topics covered in the report cards include comparisons of students' scores on California Assessment Program tests, Scholastic Aptitude Tests and Advanced Placement Tests (all of which had been previously reported); school attendance rates, and grade point averages of graduates attending the California State University or the University of California systems.

Also included are percentages of students from different ethnic groups enrolled in physics, chemistry and advanced math.

"By publicizing the status of a particular school, we will get the kind of leverage we need, get the accountability," said William Burson, a state Education Department official, explaining the idea behind the program. "These people are going to have to account to the public for the status of their schools."

But just as some superintendents faulted the program earlier this year when the first round of results was released, some officials on Monday expressed philosophical and more practical reservations about the usefulness of the data.

Some simply doubted its accuracy. For example, schools are judged within categories based on the education level of students' parents. But officials said they doubted that all students could be counted on to know or report their parents' education levels accurately.

Debbe Bailey, a research analyst for the Grossmont Union High School District, who intends to analyze the data and report to the school board by Nov. 7, said three of her district's eight schools moved this year from one education-level group into another. Their percentile rankings changed drastically as a result, invalidating any comparison to the previous year.

Some said course enrollment figures may be incorrect if courses taken off campus at colleges go unreported. Others said some districts counted driver's education courses toward the state target of four social studies courses, making districts counting only history and geography look less impressive.

"There are enough instances where you have some question about the true accuracy of the data that you are not ready to make a hard and fast appraisal that something is very good or very bad," said John Griffith, research director for the San Diego city schools.

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