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Gains and New Goals Gleaned From State Test Results in Area Districts

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."

In the Southeast and Long Beach areas, both the Los Angeles and Compton unified school districts mimicked the statewide pattern of improvement in all categories except social studies. Compton third-graders performed particularly well, testing 9 to 18 points higher in reading, writing and math. However, the district's scores at all three grade levels continued to trail statewide averages.

Scores in the 15 other Southeast and Long Beach area districts that operate elementary or middle schools rose or fell in ways their administrators were often hard-pressed to explain.

Bellflower schools lost ground at every grade level, showing a single advance of 1 point in third-grade written expression.

The district is concerned about its showing, said Dawn Edgington, the district's director of curriculum and program appraisal. "Our schools will be looking at those areas that were identified as weak and be developing instructional strategies to improve in those areas," she said.

In the Long Beach Unified School District, third-graders lost a few points but sixth-graders improved slightly.

Long Beach eighth-graders, on the other hand, made substantial gains in reading, writing and math (up 12 to 16 points) and even managed to score an additional point on the statewide stumbling block, social studies.

David Giese, assistant director of research for the district, believes eighth-grade scores rose as a result of a special course in test taking given to the students earlier this year.

"I think they did pick up some skills as to how to read test questions, how to complete the response sheet appropriately and all the skills that go into taking a test," Giese said.

The ABC Unified School District also showed substantial improvement among eighth-graders, who gained 5 to 22 points. ABC third-graders also improved, but sixth-graders dipped slightly.

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.

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