Students Get Good Grades 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 seven points statewide.

Heartening Results

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," he said. "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."

The Los Angeles Unified School District mimicked the statewide pattern of improvement in all areas except social studies.

Explanations Elusive

Scores in the 27 districts that operate elementary or middle schools in the San Gabriel Valley rose or fell in ways their administrators often were hard pressed to explain.

Pasadena Unified schools experienced significant gains in all third-grade skills, with increases of 9 to 20 points. But sixth- and eighth-grade scores were down 5 to 16 points, and all Pasadena scores remained below statewide averages.

Bill Bibbiani, director of research, evaluation and testing for the Pasadena district, speculated that the dip in sixth-grade scores was a "short-term negative effect" of the district's move last year to a middle-school format for sixth-graders.

Bibbiani described CAP as a good test but said he is not "overly concerned with the numerology of the state's scoring system."

When Pasadena's scores are broken down by ethnic group, district students "are performing comparably with their peers," Bibbiani said.

Math Grades Drop

In West Covina Unified schools, third- and sixth-graders' scores improved, except in third-grade math, which slipped 2 points. But West Covina eight-graders fell across the board, with a 9-point drop in reading and a 12-point loss in math.

San Marino Unified schools added 6 to 31 points to their reading and writing scores but fell 2 to 15 points in math. And while the statewide trend in social studies was down, San Marino eighth-graders jumped 13 points in that area.

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.

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.

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.

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