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Orange County School Test Scores Mixed, State Improves

September 29, 1988|ELAINE WOO and BILL BILLITER | Times Staff Writers

California Assessment Program test scores for elementary students rose significantly statewide last school year, while results in Orange County were mixed, education officials announced Wednesday.

State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig said the statewide 1987-88 results bring good news about the academic health of the state's grade schools. But in Orange County, where CAP countywide scores usually rise every year in all categories, the 1987-88 scores showed a drop in all tested areas at the third-grade level and a gain only in reading at the sixth-grade level.

Orange County's eighth-grade test scores were the only across-the-board improvements in the 1987-88 CAP results. Statewide, eighth-graders scored especially well in the CAP tests last year, Honig noted. He attributed the spurts in eighth-grade test results to state emphasis on improving junior high and middle schools.

In Orange County, education officials said it will be weeks, perhaps months, before test scores can be analyzed sufficiently to determine why third- and sixth-grade countywide test scores dipped in 1987-88.

Jeff Wells, an analyst in the Orange County Department of Education, said, "Some of the (Orange County) decreases are so small that they are not statistically significant." He noted, for instance, that sixth-grade math scores, countywide in Orange County, only dropped one point from last year and sixth-grade writing scores stayed exactly the same.

Santa Ana Unified School District--with about 38,500 students, the largest in Orange County--had decreases in most categories of CAP elementary scores for 1987-88. It was the first time in four years that CAP scores had dipped in Santa Ana's third grades, and the first time in three years the scores districtwide had decreased in the sixth and eighth grades.

"We're a little bit off this year, but since people in our district haven't had the opportunity to study all the results, we don't know specifically why some of the scores are down," said Diane Thomas, public information officer for Santa Ana Unified. "One of our administrators compared this to a leveling off of the stock market after it's had a period of increases. If you raise scores and raises scores, there will be a year where they will drop a few points."

Honig, however, has said that normally CAP scores should be expected to increase in all schools and all school districts year by year. In a statement Wednesday, Honig praised the general increase in elementary-school CAP scores statewide during 1987-88.

"It's a proud day for schools in California. . . . If we keep this up for five years, we will have a first-rate school system," he said.

The Department of Education will not release district and school averages until next week. Individual school districts have already received the 1987-88 test results, however, and some of those districts released results of districtwide scores.

Santa Ana Unified reported decreases in scores in reading, writing and math at the third-grade level, and decreases in reading and writing scores at the sixth-grade level. Math scores in the sixth grade stayed the same, Santa Ana Unified reported. In the eighth grade, the district results showed decreases in reading and math, increases in written expression and history scores and no change in science scores.

Garden Grove Unified, the second largest school district in Orange County, reported decreases in districtwide CAP scores at the third-grade level, but increases at the sixth- and eighth grade levels.

Orange Unified School District, the third largest in the county, reported improved scores in all tested subjects in the third and eighth grades, and increases in scores in the sixth grade in all subjects except math.

CAP scores are based on a scale from 100 points to about 400 points.

After a sharp decline in eighth-grade scores three years ago, state education officials pushed local districts to give more attention to schooling in the middle grades by upgrading instruction, providing more teacher training and giving greater attention to the personal needs of youngsters in the pre-adolescent years. As a result, Honig said, eighth-grade scores over the last two years have improved by 12%.

"This means a lot of people worked hard--teachers, students and principals," he said. "These results are very gratifying . . . (and the schools) didn't cheat."

State officials consider the eighth-grade exam the most rigorous of all the CAP tests because it covers a broader range of subjects and has more questions aimed at evaluating higher-level thinking skills, rather than just basic skills. The exams for third-, sixth- and 12th-graders are being revised to reflect the tougher courses and standards of recent years.

State officials recently disclosed that 40 elementary schools statewide tampered with CAP test answers on the 1985-86 exam and 17 on the 1986-87 exam. None of the schools allegedly involved were in Orange County.

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