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High Schools Get Chance to See If Their Programs Made the Grade : Education: School officials' reaction to 'report cards' are as varied as the performance evaluations.


High school administrators across the South Bay are poring over their own report cards following the release last week of the statewide annual Performance Report for California Schools.

As with students, their reactions vary with their grades.

"It really reflects we do have a strong academic program going," said Nancy Mahr, spokeswoman for the Palos Verdes Peninsula Unified School District, which turned in a generally strong showing. "All three of our schools appear to be doing very well."

At Hawthorne High, which registered elevated dropout rates, low statewide test scores and other problems, officials focused on the future. Said Principal Ken Crowe: "In the coming years, you'll be able to see a dramatic improvement."

Issued last Monday, the state report shows an array of results ranging from solidly above-average showings by high schools on the affluent Palos Verdes Peninsula to mixed performances in lower income areas like Inglewood.

The report has been issued annually since 1983 by the state Department of Education as part of an effort to help high schools identify their problems and gauge their progress in solving them. It takes 40 measures of school performance, including dropout rates, course enrollments, test scores, attendance rates and extracurricular activities.

Many South Bay administrators said they were pleased with results showing that more students in the region are taking tougher classes, including those required for college admission and advanced placement.

Across California, according to the state report cards, about 37%--or 59,000--more students are taking advanced mathematics than in 1983-84; 53%--or 34,000--more are taking chemistry, and 63%--or 16,000--more are taking physics.

Tougher entrance requirements by UC and Cal State campuses is one factor that has been cited to help explain the increases. Torrance school officials said students there are showing avid interest in taking Advanced Placement exams to earn college credits.

"We had a young man last year who took 13 of them, and he passed every one," said John Schmitt, principal at South High School in the Torrance Unified School District. "It's a popular program. We have it in every department, and we have a staff that encourages kids to participate."

El Segundo High School Principal William Watkins said his school showed large enrollments in advanced classes because it has consistently imposed tough core course requirements on students. "We've never allowed our requirements over the years to diminish," Watkins said. "We feel we are on the right track."

But Watkins and other South Bay high school administrators expressed concern about continuing problems evident in the report, particularly the 1987-88 dropout rate.

Leuzinger High School Principal Sonja Davis, whose school's 11.9% rate far exceeded the state average of 7.9%, said she expects improvement from dropout prevention programs that were implemented after data for the state report was compiled. Davis acknowledged, however, that improvement won't come easily.

"We have to look at what we have to offer youngsters," Davis said of students at her school, which is located in Lawndale. "So many students see no relation between what they're doing in school and their lives and future."

Administrators also said they were paying close attention to student test scores in the state report, which listed recent results from the California Assessment Program test, an academic proficiency exam administered to students statewide, and the Scholastic Aptitude Test, an exam used by many colleges and universities to evaluate applicants.

Jerry Klein, vice principal of Mira Costa High School, said he was "satisfied, but not comfortable" with test scores showing that his school was well above the state average but in the bottom half of schools with similar socioeconomic profiles.

The school, which is in Manhattan Beach, is grouped in so-called "band" comparisons with schools in more affluent parts of the state, such as Beverly Hills or the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Klein was one of several school officials who pointed out that parents should consider other categories measured in the report--such as enrollments in advanced classes--as carefully as test scores.

"Unfortunately, some in the community think (test scores) are the be-all and end-all, and that's not necessarily true," he said.

That view was shared by Paul Possemato, associate superintendent for instruction for the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Possemato said that although test scores are an important indicator, they cannot be relied upon completely--especially at schools in which English is a second language for a significant number of students.

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