San Fernando Valley students performed significantly better on the Scholastic Aptitude Test than their non-Valley peers in the troubled Los Angeles Unified School District, but their scores still lag behind the statewide average, according to results released recently by the national College Board.
For the just-graduated Class of '93, Valley students in the Los Angeles system also ranked behind seniors in surrounding areas, especially in the Conejo and Santa Clarita valleys, where SAT scores continue to outstrip both state and national norms.
The disparity reflects a consistent national trend in which suburban teen-agers outperform their urban counterparts on the influential college-admissions exam. Even within L.A. Unified, youths attending schools in the more affluent West Valley tend to do better than students in the East Valley and the city's urban core.
Taken as a whole, Valley students scored 397 points on the verbal portion of the SAT and 481 in math, out of a possible 800 points on either section. The figures are almost identical to last year's (398 verbal, 482 math) and outrank those of non-Valley students in the district, who averaged 333 on the verbal and 406 in math.
But both Valley and non-Valley scores in the mammoth Los Angeles school system--the nation's second-largest--fall below the California mean. Valley students averaged 18 points less on the verbal section than teen-agers statewide, who notched 415 points, and finished even further behind the national score of 424. In math, the Valley score was a few points shy of the state average of 484, but exceeded the national mean of 478.
School officials attribute the poor verbal score partly to the large proportion of limited-English-speaking youngsters in the district, which is host to more than 80 languages.
"We have a huge number of immigrant students who have to learn English as they are learning the academic subjects, and this is difficult," said Dick Browning, who oversees the district's 49 high schools. Also, he added, "there are factors of poverty and so on that are very pronounced in our district that may not be so pronounced in other districts."
Browning cautioned that isolating the score of Valley students does not provide a complete picture of either the Valley or the rest of the district, because thousands of students are bused across community lines to Valley campuses.
Some of those traveling students may actually help account for the higher Valley average, he said, because many are "highly motivated and goal-oriented" youths who have chosen to attend a suburban campus or one of the Valley's 29 magnet schools--among the most sought-after programs in the district.
In fact, the highest-scoring school anywhere in the San Fernando, Antelope, Santa Clarita and Conejo valleys is Van Nuys High, a Los Angeles district campus that boasts three magnet programs: math-science, medical studies and performing arts. Seniors there averaged 485 points in verbal skills and 557 in math, far above both statewide and national norms.
"We're very proud of that," said Principal Robert Scharf, one of whose students scored a rare perfect 1,600 on the SAT a few years ago. "We just work hard on keeping those scores up. . . . It's a combination of very able students and a very dedicated faculty."
Behind Van Nuys' scores were those of Calabasas and Agoura Hills high schools, which combined to give the Las Virgenes Unified School District the highest districtwide average in the area by a comfortable margin for the second consecutive year. The suburban system, which serves several well-heeled communities, logged 480 in verbal and 546 in math--an improvement from the previous year.
Assistant Supt. Leo Lowe said the scores were gratifying and demonstrate the commitment to education by families in the Las Virgenes district. But echoing an admonition by many educators, he warned against placing too much weight on SAT scores as a measure of a district's success.
"It is one indicator of the quality of a district--I don't want to discount it," Lowe said. "But it's not our entire focus. . . .
"One of the major issues of people relocating to this district is high (academic) achievement, and for some people, their very narrow definition of high achievement is test scores," Lowe said. But, he added: "I try to talk them out of it. I say, 'Look, you don't buy a car just because of the speedometer.' "
College officials likewise stress that standardized tests form just one of several factors in determining admission. More than 2,000 institutions strongly recommend or require the SAT of their applicants, and 2 million youths take the exam annually.
Next spring, the College Board will unveil a revamped SAT, but the core of the exam will essentially be unchanged. The verbal section will continue to test vocabulary and reading skills, and the math portion will require knowledge of arithmetic, algebra and geometry.