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Elementary School Students Improve Overall on Basic Skills Test

October 26, 1986|PATRICIA WARD BIEDERMAN | Times Staff Writer

Elementary school students in Los Angeles County, like their counterparts throughout the state, generally improved on the basic skills test administered by the state last spring.

As a group, third-, sixth- and eighth-graders gained in reading, writing and mathematics, according to recently released results of the California Assessment Program (CAP) test.

The only significant drop from last year's scores was in eighth-grade social science, which fell an average of 7 points statewide. Although educators expressed some concern about the social-studies slump, they were heartened by the overall improved performance of eighth-graders. Last year eighth-grade CAP scores fell in reading, writing and math.

"I was quite pleased, except for the drop in history," Patrick McCabe, a consultant to the state testing program, said of this year's scores. "There seemed to be an increase across all demographics. It isn't just a case of the rich getting richer. All (socioeconomic) groups seemed to be moving up. That isn't always the case, and it's very reassuring."

Among the 12 districts that operate elementary or middle schools in the South Bay, both the Los Angeles and Torrance unified school districts mimicked the statewide pattern of improvement in all categories except social studies. Torrance third-graders jumped 7 to 13 points in reading, writing and math.

Scores in other South Bay districts rose or fell in ways their administrators were often hard pressed to explain.

Students in Inglewood Unified schools improved in virtually every category, except for a slight, 2-point drop in third-grade reading. Rex Fortune, superintendent of Inglewood schools, attributed the gains to a districtwide effort to improve classroom teaching and to identify the specific needs of individual students.

Fortune also said that the district has made a concerted effort to improve its programs in writing and math. "We see evidence that that's paying off," he said.

In the Manhattan Beach City Elementary School District, third- and sixth-grade scores rose 6 to 26 points. Eighth-grade reading and writing scores also rose substantially. However, Manhattan Beach eighth-graders declined slightly in math and lost 14 points in social studies.

In Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified schools, eighth-grade scores fell 1 to 6 points across the board. All other scores were up with the exception of sixth-grade writing, which was down 5 points.

McCabe, the state consultant, cautioned against reading too much into the statewide drop in social studies, which was included on the eighth-grade CAP test for the first time in 1984-85.

"The second year a test is given the scores almost always go down," McCabe said. "There must be a lot of enthusiasm the first year and then that appears to drop off. We can't explain it any other way."

McCabe said he would not be surprised if next year's science scores drop. Science questions were included on the eighth-grade test for the first time this year.

Dr. Peter Kneedler, a research and evaluation consultant with the CAP program in Sacramento, said that state educators believe social science is an area of genuine weakness in the curriculum of most schools.

Hurting in Geography

The CAP test includes questions in several social-science areas, including history, geography and government, Kneedler said. "The areas where we are really hurting painfully are geography and world history," he said. "Performance in these areas is equally dismal and of great concern to the people who built the test."

Kneedler speculated that geography and world history are not being taught as effectively in California schools as American history, citizenship and other social science topics. However, the state is aware of the need to improve instruction in these areas, he said.

"The very fact that it's being tested serves to focus (educators') attention on it," Kneedler said of the social science curriculum. The state Department of Education will begin developing social science questions for sixth-graders next year, he said.

Some local administrators attributed gains in their schools' scores to new programs. Carmenita Junior High School in Cerritos jumped 55 points in reading over last year. According to ABC Unified School District official Tom Martin, Carmenita students had special in-class reading time to polish skills tested on the exam. They were also "pre-rewarded" for their anticipated success on the test with a special CAP dance.

Help From Computer

Bill Langton, principal of Carver Elementary School in San Marino, attributed his third-graders' 43-point gain in reading to a computer-based program that teaches children how to analyze what they read.

Other administrators were baffled by fluctuations in their school's performance.

Gerald Evans, principal of Dapplegray Intermediate School on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, is at a loss to explain why eighth-grade scores tumbled 6 to 25 points this year. "We haven't changed our curriculum; we haven't changed our methods," Evans said.

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