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Education: Weighing Merits of State Math Test

March 24, 1994

The California State Department of Education recently released the results of the 1993 California Learning Assessment System (CLAS) test (Times, March 10). The overall results of the mathematics section were reported as dismal, with 70% of the students statewide scoring in the lowest (1-2) range. The more detailed report provided by the state contains some information that makes these results suspicious.

First, of all the fourth-, eighth- and 10th-grade gifted students assessed in the state of California, not even 1% could score a 6, the highest level.

Second, groups of eighth-grade students who were able to score at the highest levels on the State Department of Education's Golden State Exam in algebra were apparently unable to earn a 6 on CLAS.

Third, groups of 10th-graders who scored well on the State Department of Education's Golden State Exam in algebra and the Golden State Exam in geometry, and who scored well in mathematics on the Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT), were unable to score 6 on the mathematics section of CLAS.

Fourth, elementary schools that scored at grade level or above on the mathematics section of the California Achievement Test (by the same publisher, CTB/Mc Graw Hill) scored mainly in the 1-2 range of the CLAS.

Fifth, the time students spent on homework in mathematics showed little relationship to CLAS mathematics performance.

All of these discrepancies should raise serious questions about the mathematics section of the CLAS. Most of us remember (not too fondly) certain instructors who devised "killer" tests that were not necessarily valid measures of student learning. Is the mathematics section of CLAS such a test?

I believe it is the responsibility of the California Department of Education and its test publisher to prove, not just state, that this assessment is an accurate measure of student achievement and reflects an effective expenditure of millions of taxpayers' dollars.

Educators encourage valid, meaningful evaluation of student progress and the effectiveness of the schools. Is the mathematics section of CLAS such a measure?

GERALD A. LARUE Acting Director, Support Programs Downey Unified School District

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