SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — Scores on achievement tests are declining in most San Gabriel Valley School districts, mirroring a trend statewide, according to results released this week.
On a scale ranging roughly between 100 and 400, last spring's eighth-graders earned a statewide average score of 259 on the California Assessment Program tests--four points lower than the mark earned by eighth-graders two years ago, when the tests were last administered.
The CAP tests--given since the mid-1980s to students in grades three, six, eight and 12--were canceled for the 1990-91 school year after then-Gov. George Deukmejian blue-penciled the testing funds. Last year, the state Department of Education received enough money to test eighth-graders.
Only seven of the San Gabriel Valley's 27 school districts posted gains on the latest exams. They were led by the San Gabriel Unified School District, whose test scores rose a whopping 26% in the last two years.
"I'm very pleased with the way the kids performed," Supt. Gary Goodson said of his district, where 68.2% of the students are of Latino or Asian descent. "I think our instructional staff works very hard with the extreme challenges in this district, where English is a second language."
In contrast, the majority of local school districts lost ground.
South Pasadena Unified posted the largest decrease in CAP scores--a stunning 30% districtwide. Pomona Unified, Charter Oak Unified, West Covina Unified, Covina Valley Unified and Bonita Unified all posted declines of between 12% and 17%.
San Marino Unified continued to lead the San Gabriel Valley in academic performance, with students scoring an average of 356 points. It was followed by Arcadia Unified, with 329, Glendora Unified with 309, Walnut Unified with 308 and Claremont Unified with 306.
Despite its drop, South Pasadena's scores are still high, with an average of 292, giving the district the sixth strongest academic performance in the San Gabriel Valley.
Marsha Aguirre, principal of South Pasadena Middle School, blamed the drop in CAP scores on the testing environment the school provided last year. Aguirre said that students were tested en masse in the school cafeteria and that "they were so close together that some of them were slipping off the benches. The environment was really not right."
Aguirre said she realized her mistake after the test began but was unable to move the students because of regulations that govern the test-taking.
"We really do believe it reflects the environment and not the students' abilities," Aguirre said.
By comparison, the principal said her students either maintained their previous year's scores or logged improvements in another standarized test, the CTBS, or Comprehensive Tests of Basic Skills.
Some educators say the CAP scores are misleading, because they can imply that a school is doing poorly academically without measuring the skills and language abilities that students bring to junior high.
For instance, officials from Pomona Unified, where scores fell 16%, say they distrust the CAP results because they are inconsistent with the results of the CTBS.
Districtwide, Pomona students posted a 10% gain in CTBS scores this year, said Cassandra George, assistant superintendent of educational services for the district.
"We really don't believe that the CAP scores indicate our current student achievement," she said. "We're not putting a great deal of credence in them."
George added that CAP statistics indicate that only 19.6% of Pomona Unified's students speak limited English, while that figure is actually 40%. George believes that the district's scores may have been ranked unfairly because of what she calls this "record-keeping glitch."
Ditto for West Covina, where CAP scores fell 17%. Marty Smith, assistant superintendent for education, points out that there are many ways to measure student achievement but that, "unfortunately, CAP has become the Dow Jones of student performance. It's the way the Realtors sell real estate. It's the way people determine whether they want their children to enter a certain school."
Educational critics say CAP rankings of "similar" schools can be misleading because the factors used to compare schools measure the demographics of where a school is located, rather than where its students reside. Thus schools where students are bused in from overcrowded, low socioeconomic areas cannot help but rank low when compared with predominantly white, affluent schools in districts where students are not bused.
Rowland Unified, whose CAP scores rose 8% this year, attributes the improvement, in part, to the fact that there is no busing in the district. Rowland students attend schools in their own communities, which allows them to strengthen ties with teachers, fellow students and their neighborhood activities, officials say.