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Administration's Final Report Card on Schools : Test Scores in 'Dead Stall,' Bennett Says

February 26, 1988|ERIC LICHTBLAU | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A disappointed Education Secretary William J. Bennett, handing out the last of the Reagan Administration's controversial report cards on American schools, lashed out Thursday at wasteful spending and unaccountability that he says have resulted in "a dead stall" in student test scores.

Nationally, the study found that average scores on two standardized tests--the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Testing program--remained virtually the same in 1987 as in the previous two years.

Both figures are down significantly from 15 years ago, but SAT scores have climbed somewhat in recent years, from an average score of 893 out of 1,600 six years ago to 906 last year.

Of those students who enrolled in public high school four years earlier, 71.5% graduated in 1986, the last year for which figures were available. That compares with a 71.7% graduation rate a year earlier and 69.5% for 1982.

'Wall Chart' Assessment

But national educators, as they have done since the annual "Wall Chart" assessment was instituted five years ago, criticized the validity of the state-by-state tracking and disputed Bennett's interpretation of it. They asserted that progress is being made in the schools.

"The time has come to halt the Wall Chart charade," Mary H. Futrell, president of the National Education Assn., said in a telephone interview.

While Bennett lamented a recent flattening overall in test scores, he noted with encouragement that more poor, black and Latino students are now taking the tests, which are traditionally used for college entrance, and they are doing better.

SAT scores for black students have risen from 686 in 1986 to 728 in 1987, compared with a drop from 944 to 936 among white students for that same period.

Overall, however, Bennett said: "The news is not what it should be: test scores are in a dead stall. . . . We have been unable to boost graduation rates significantly . . . and I am disappointed."

Bennett, hitting on many of the themes that have marked his stormy three years as education secretary, used the assessment to point up the need for core requirements for traditional curriculum, tighter accountability for teacher and student performance and other elements of his educational reform platform.

'Paying Top Dollar'

"We're paying top dollar to educate our children, but we're sure not getting top return," he said.

But Bill Honig, California's state superintendent of public instruction, disputed Bennett's reading of the figures as "illegitimate and inaccurate." California's average SAT scores remained virtually constant for 1987, at 906, placing it fifth highest in the country.

Honig maintained in a telephone interview, however, that when a recent surge in the percentage of students taking the test is factored in, the figures add up to "steady growth," not a stall. "Normally, (an increase in test-takers) will drive your scores way down, because you're digging deeper into the pool," he said.

Elsewhere, California climbed a notch nationally in average teacher salaries, to fifth place at $31,219. Meanwhile, the state dropped from 39th to 41st place nationally in 1986 graduation rate, at 66.7%; that figure has climbed six points since 1982.

Bennett singled out for praise the state's recent emphasis on a traditional historical curriculum, saying the state has "gone a long way in its development."

Deputy Education Secretary Dr. Peter Greer elaborated on Bennett's endorsement later, saying the state guidelines instituted this academic year rightly stress "the underpinnings of Western Civilization.

"It's history-based, about what kids should know. In the early grades, it's really about heroes and myths, and the secretary is very supportive of that," he said.

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