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Students in County Again Top Test Scores

October 25, 1987|BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writer

Boosted by impressive increases in some districts, Orange County's public elementary schools again this year collectively scored higher than the state average on annually required tests.

The reading, writing and math tests, called the California Assessment Program (CAP), annually produce scores that state educators use to measure progress or regression. The state Department of Education recently released the 1986-87 scores for Orange County's third, sixth and eighth grades. Scores for the 12th grades are released in the spring.

In Orange County, the test scores overall are usually higher than the state average for several reasons, state educators said. Orange County has a higher median income and education level among adults than most areas of the state. Wealthier, better-educated adults usually promote learning by their children, according to national education statistics.

'Know We Can Do Better

Robert Peterson, Orange County's superintendent of schools, said he was "pleased that Orange County is continuing to outshine other areas of the state, but I wish we would be even higher, because I know we can do better."

He added: "Improvement of our scores requires more diligence on the part of everyone, especially the parents." The statewide and countywide averages for eighth-grade CAP scores are not yet available. But the third and sixth-grade results show Orange County schools considerably ahead of the state average.

The following compares third and sixth-grade reading, writing and math average scores in Orange County with the average statewide scores:

Reading Writing Math Orange County Third Grade 308 315 317 Statewide Third Grade 282 287 285 Orange County Sixth Grade 286 296 297 Statewide Sixth Grade 260 271 268

The Buena Park School District had big gains in all its test scores. The increases included a 37-point jump in sixth-grade math scores over last year. Scores within school districts normally rise just a few points per year in a tested subject.

Buena Park Supt. Richard Cochran said: "This is a dynamite school district. I say this as a newcomer, because I only took over in August. But I'm really impressed.

"As to what produced the CAP results, it's the teachers and the instructional program. The teachers work very hard here, even coming in on Saturday and Sundays, on their time. And there's been a real concerted effort toward instructional improvement in this district. The district also benefits from outstanding community support and a real commitment to excellence."

'We Feel Very Good'

In the Laguna Beach Unified School District, Supt. Dennis Smith said the current round of CAP scores is encouraging. "We were down in the third-grade scores, but we expected that because last year's third grade was phenomenal," he said. "All our other scores were up, and we feel very good about that."

The CAP scores, he said, "are a pretty important device to report to the parents how our students are doing. The scores are really a valuable tool. We don't look at just one year in the scores, but what we try to see is how we're doing over a three- or four-year period. For the most part, we see progress in this regard."

The Santa Ana Unified School District posted modest gains in most categories of the elementary-grade testing. Small declines were shown in scores for eighth-grade history and eighth-grade science.

With 37,000 students, Santa Ana Unified is the largest school district in Orange County. The district grows by about 1,000 students a year, most of whom are Mexican and Asian immigrants with limited ability to speak English.

Virgil L. Hettick, Santa Ana Unified's director of research and evaluation, said that despite the language handicap, the district's scores "are remaining constant--on even keel."

He added: "We're a port of entry for many new immigrants, many of whom have limited English. The tests are all in English, so it's tough for us. But when I look at the scores, I think we're in pretty good shape."

The CAP scores range from 100 to slightly over 400. Bill Honig, state superintendent of public instruction, said parents should watch for a pattern of improvement. "Normally, parents should expect improvement in the test scores every year," he said.

Many Orange County educators, however, contend that a leveling-out process must be expected in some of the scores. For instance, Edgar Seal, superintendent of Brea-Olinda Unified School District, said that the district's sixth-graders next year might score slightly lower than the sixth-graders this year because "this sixth-grade class has scored better than any in our history."

The Brea-Olinda sixth-grade scores, contrasted with last year, show a 28-point increase in reading, a 33-point increase in writing and a 16-point increase in math.

Overall, Brea-Olinda Unified showed a mix of increases and decreases in CAP scores--a situation that many other Orange County districts reflect.

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