It can be the best of times, the worst of times or a time of some discontent for school administrators when the results of the California Assessment Program, one of the most widely quoted standardized tests in the state, are announced.
It is the best of times for Vaughn Street Elementary, in a poor Pacoima barrio. The creation of a computer lab, where students worked to improve their math skills, paid off. Math scores skyrocketed, as did results on reading and writing tests.
It is the worst of times at Arthur E. Wright Middle School in Calabasas. CAP scores for the academically respected school took an unexpected nose dive. In response, the school has started a series of programs--and ordered dozens of new pencils--to make sure the test scores don't fall any further.
It is a time of discontent in the tiny Castaic Union School District. With only 650 students in the district, officials say it is impossible to get statistically meaningful CAP results.
Although some school officials do not hide their dislike for the CAP test, all concede its importance.
For one thing, the test scores have been designated by State School Supt. Bill Honig as an important part of each school's "report card," which Honig began issuing each year. The report cards are published so that a school's performance can be easily evaluated by parents and the community.
The CAP test has been given to the state's public school students since 1961. It is, says the "Guide to Interpretation of the CAP Test," an attempt to measure the "effectiveness of school districts and schools in assisting pupils to master the fundamental educational skills."
The test results from individual schools are compared only with the results from schools at which the student body has a similar socioeconomic composition. The state also publishes a school's test results from previous years, so results can be compared with its most recent scores.
What CAP scores mean to an individual school and its community can be seen in the experiences of Wright, Vaughn and Castaic.