California Assessment Program results released this week show that students in San Marino, Arcadia, Glendora, Alhambra, Claremont, Walnut Valley, Garvey, Rosemead and South Pasadena finished in the top 10% of school districts in California in one or more subjects.
Students in Azusa, Mountain View, Pasadena, Bassett, Pomona, Duarte and Valle Lindo scored on the bottom 10% in one or more subjects in one or more grades, although those scores improved when ranked against districts of similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
Graded on a scale of 0 to 500, CAP scores test math, reading and writing aptitude and are administered in May to third-, sixth- and eighth-graders. Eighth-graders are also tested in history and science.
Schools are ranked two ways. One compares their performances statewide; the second ranks their performance according to a complicated formula that compares them to the 20% of schools whose students have the most similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
But some educators say neither ranking reflects true ability. "The state's method of attempting to compensate . . . is inadequate," said Bill Bibbiani, a senior research analyst with the Pasadena Unified School District, which has scored in the bottom quarter statewide for the last four years. "We pay no particular attention to the relative rankings.
"We look at our own scores and are pleased that we made gains in six out of 10 areas, whereas the state as a whole made gains in four areas," he said.
Although Pasadena Unified's scores ranked as low as the third percentile in 6th-grade writing, its scores improved when compared with districts of similar socioeconomic backgrounds.
With 22,000 students, 79% of whom are nonwhite, Pasadena Unified is the largest district in the West San Gabriel Valley and has come under criticism in recent months. A group of Sierra Madre parents have used the low academic rankings as ammunition in their petition to leave PUSD and join the high-ranking Arcadia district.
Meanwhile, Pomona Unified School District, which has 26,000 students, 85% of them nonwhite, posted modest overall growth for a second year. Pomona is the largest district in the East San Gabriel Valley.
"We've been improving our scores for the past two years, and we're cautiously optimistic," said Marilyn Hocking, Pomona director of instructional services. She attributed the advances to curriculum improvements, enhanced teacher training and better support materials.
Educators in some districts that scored low said the tests don't reflect the true capabilities of the students. "The CAP test is a matrix test that is a very unreliable test for a school district of this size, so we get hammered every year," said Valle Lindo Superintendent Patrick Sayne, whose district has 1,100 children in two schools.
"The board will view the CAP scores with a degree of consternation but with the knowledge that these tests are invalid," Sayne said.
Duarte educators say they are evaluating the scores, which Supt.Robert Packer called "a crazy patchwork that is all over the map.
"We're pleased with the sixth grade; we're not pleased with the eighth grade," said Packer said. Overall, he added, "We're certainly not satisfied."
Rod Gaeta administrator of education in the Azusa Unified School District, said the district just finished assessing the scores and will be making changes to its curriculum. "We have a real commitment to improve these scores," he said.