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At University High, a Culture of Achievement


IRVINE — University High is accustomed to being at the top of academic accolade lists, but the latest round of Scholastic Aptitude Test results being released today by the College Board show a stunning new level of success.

With 80% of the Class of 1994 having taken the college admissions exams--nearly double the participation rate in California and the nation--University High posted its best-ever score, an average of 1,109 out of a possible 1,600.

That's more than 200 points above state and national averages. The sky-high average represents a 19-point leap from last year's already superb score, and is 131 points higher than the school's average SAT score a decade ago.

No other school in Orange County posted scores within 40 points of University's math average, 607, or within 30 points of its verbal average, 502.

"Achievement is in at University High School. That's a strong part of the culture," said Leah Laule, a district administrator in Irvine who left University High last spring after five years as principal and five as assistant principal.

"Whereas there may be some other things at other schools that drive the culture, achievement at Uni drives a lot of students."

With about 1,900 students, "Uni"--as the school is known--routinely sends 95% of its graduates directly to college. About two-thirds of those go to four-year schools.

Known statewide for its rigorous curriculum, competitive classroom culture, outstanding teachers and strong parental support, University's reputation has helped attract students who are serious about learning, administrators said.

The student body is 54% white, 37% Asian, 4.5% Latino and 3% black and is drawn largely from the neighborhood around UC Irvine. But through Irvine Unified's open enrollment program, students from throughout the district, including those living at the El Toro and Tustin marine bases, also attend.

While many schools and districts see scores slip when more students take the SATs, University High's participation and achievement have risen together.

Irvine Unified Superintendent David Brown said Wednesday that the school offers no specific SAT training, though many students take private preparation courses. Both said they believed challenging classroom work readied University's students for the test.

Within the school are dozens of outstanding individuals: 49 students scored between 750 and 800 (the highest score possible) on the math portion, and five earned similar high scores on verbal exam. Another 166 scored above 600 on the math test, while 99 more students posted scores higher than 600 on the verbal segment.

"There are more kids that are really high, high, high achievers at Uni than there may be at the other schools," Laule admitted. "When you have good material to work with, it's not quite as difficult to support kids in their learning."

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