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Preparation Program Hikes CAP Scores : Education: Several schools in Montebello Unified District show record results. But Long Beach District was below the state averages in every category.


A new program to prepare students psychologically for the California Assessment Program tests by reducing test anxiety and increasing motivation is credited with producing record scores at several schools in the Montebello Unified School District.

Third-grade math scores jumped 65 points at Garfield Elementary School, for example. Five other schools in the program recorded gains that were less dramatic, but still surpassed increases at other Southeast-area schools.

"We are very pleased," said Walter Popkin, an assistant superintendent. "The schools that were targeted came way up."

Other districts did not fare as well in the testing for the 1989-90 school year. For the fourth year in a row, Compton schools ranked in the first percentile statewide in every category, meaning 99% of the students in the state scored higher than Compton students in topics ranging from reading to science.

Even when compared to districts with similar socioeconomic characteristics, such as the number of children from welfare families and the number of non-English-speaking children, the Compton Unified School District failed to make much progress.

Compton's new school superintendent, J.L. Handy, issued a written statement Thursday saying that district officials plan to improve the quality of education, and that future test scores would reflect that.

CAP tests are given each year to California schoolchildren to test their academic skills in several categories. Third- and sixth-graders are tested every spring in reading, writing and math. Eighth-graders are tested in reading, math, science and history. Twelfth-graders are tested in the fall, and are not included in the latest test results.

Lynwood schools also showed little progress in raising test scores. In most categories, Lynwood was in the second percentile statewide, meaning 98% of the students taking the tests did better. Eighth-grade scores rose slightly, but third-grade scores dropped in every category.

In the Southeast area, students in the ABC Unified School District and the small Lowell Joint School District in Whittier scored above the state averages in every category. Downey exceeded the state averages in every category but sixth-grade reading and math. The average state score for reading for third-graders is 275. ABC third-graders scored 283, and Lowell third-graders scored 309.

The Long Beach Unified School District was below the state averages in every category, although district officials cited gains in some areas.

"In the third grade, we're showing improvement," said Lewis Prilliman, the district's research director. "In the sixth grade, we're holding our own. But in the eighth grade, we need to strengthen our math program and improve reading."

However, when compared with statewide averages, the eighth-graders in Long Beach are the most competitive. In eighth-grade reading, Long Beach students performed better than 30% of the districts, but third-grade reading scores in Long Beach were higher than only 16% of the districts.

Prilliman attributed the differences to the high number of students struggling to learn English. One-fourth of the district's students cannot speak English well. In the first, second and third grades, however, as many as 40% of the children in Long Beach schools are not proficient in English.

"What that tells us, is that the longer the kids are in our district, the better they do," Prilliman said.

Although the Montebello Unified School District's testing preparation program dramatically raised scores in selected schools, district scores overall still fall below the state averages. The program was offered in only six schools, not enough to raise the districtwide averages.

The $80,000 program, which was started last year, was offered to third-graders at Garfield and La Merced, sixth-graders at Bell Gardens Intermediate, eighth-graders at Suva, and seniors at Montebello and Bell Gardens high schools.

In addition to a 65-point leap in math, Garfield students also improved reading scores by 29 points and writing scores by 43 points. At La Merced, the third-graders posted an average gain of 36 points in reading, writing and math. Suva Intermediate eighth-graders improved their reading, math and history scores by an average of 25 points, and their science score by 8 points. Montebello and Bell Gardens high school scores also showed improvement.

Only scores at Bell Gardens Intermediate failed to increase significantly. The program's director said some students were left out because of miscommunication.

The program, among other things, attempts to address students' psychological needs to help build confidence, said psychologist Stephen Magness, director of the school's mental health clinic. Magness, who started the program, said students also work on test-taking skills that emphasize critical thinking, and basic how-to-take-a-test techniques.

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