COMPTON — Elementary and junior high students in the Compton Unified School District posted statewide test scores last spring that show they are continuing to improve their basic reading, writing and mathematics skills.
In all but one category, Compton third-grade, sixth-grade and eighth-grade students recorded gains from last year that at times were sizable, according to results released this week. Although the scores as a whole still fall below the state average, district leaders last week hailed the tests as a new indication that the long-suffering, often-politicized public school system is doing a better job.
"What it signals to me is that the Board (of Trustees), the superintendent, the staff, the teachers and the classified employees are focusing on education, not on personalities," board President Kelvin D. Filer said.
The improvements are "particularly noteworthy," he continued, because school board members gave priority to achieving higher scores in 1981 when they hired Supt. Ted D. Kimbrough to take over a 27,000-student system that suffered from years of dwindling resources and administrative instability.
'Objective' Judge of Schools
"We indicated at that time that we expected to see an increase" in scores, Filer said. Now, "almost all of our schools" are nearing what experts regard as the average for districts serving predominantly low-income, urban areas. "The test scores are the objective factor that everyone always uses to judge the school system," Filer noted.
Kimbrough also was pleased by the results and predicted that the improvements will continue. "I think within another couple of years we should be in fairly decent shape," he said.
Teachers are now focusing on classroom "elements that are essential to improve the basic skills of students," Kimbrough said. More time is being devoted to reading. Test-taking skills are being polished. Teachers are giving tests more often to gauge their students' progress.
"You have to always be careful about letting tests be the only measure by which you announce whether the patient is well or ill," he continued, because the results can sometimes be misleading. "But when you have a sustained growth it cannot be ignored as an indicator."
Although detailed results from the annual California Assessment Program tests won't be available until October, Compton officials said, the biggest single-year gains were recorded by the district's 2,045 third-graders. Their average scores in written expression jumped 18 points over last year's level, while math scores rose 15. In both categories, the Compton scores fell within state averages. Third-grade reading scores increased a healthy nine, but remained just below state levels.
Small Movement Telling
Test experts say an increase of up to 10 points from one year to the next is generally not that meaningful. But in Compton, even smaller movements can be telling because they come after years of decline.
For example, the district's 2,003 sixth-graders recorded small gains, but for the second straight year after what had been three years of decline. Math scores were up six points, written expression was up three and reading was up six compared to last year.
The district's 1,697 eighth-graders, meanwhile, saw sizable gains that were also said to be significant because, in most categories, they followed a year of decline. Reading scores, down 12 points for the 1984-85 academic year, were up by 10 in 1985-86. Written expression moved up nine points from the previous year's four-point decline. However, math scores continued to improve, up six points on the heels of last year's nine-point advance.
The CAP tests, administered in April, have been given to eighth-graders for only the past three years. A history segment was added last year--this year, Compton students saw those scores drop six points. And a science segment was added this year.
"With the eighth-grade, of course, we're pleased that what had been a loss over (the previous year) has now shifted, and that's very significant for us," Deputy Supt. Elisa L. Sanchez said. "We will want to speak more forcefully about it after another year, perhaps three years, when this becomes a trend.
'Some Major Changes'
"It is more meaningful when you see (a) trend occurring and repeating itself over a longer period of time," Sanchez said.
The district has made "some major changes in how we are instructing basic skills" in its 23 elementary schools, she said. "There has not only been a greater attention to the amount of time we spend on (teaching basic subjects) but also to the quality of what we do during that time."
The progress of students is being monitored more closely and more frequently, she said. "We are not waiting until the end of the year to find out how children are performing." And test-taking skills are being stressed.