Orange County students outperformed their peers across the state on the controversial 1994 California Learning Assessment System tests, with one Newport Beach elementary school posting the best scores statewide on all three sections, according to results released Tuesday.
In reading, writing and math at each grade level, Orange County students easily surpassed the state average, receiving among the highest scores in the state. They ranked second behind Marin County in fourth grade, third behind Nevada and Marin counties in 10th grade, and placed sixth in the eighth grade in a comparison of school scores.
For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday April 7, 1995 Orange County Edition Part A Page 3 Metro Desk 1 inches; 34 words Type of Material: Correction
CLAS test--A story Wednesday about the California Learning Assessment System test incorrectly described the ranking of the Garden Grove Unified School District. The district placed among the bottom half of Orange County school districts.
The strongest performance by Orange County students came on the 10th-grade reading exam. They ranked best in the state.
"Overall, I'm elated that Orange County did so well compared to the statewide average, but I'm also disappointed that we didn't do better," said John F. Dean, superintendent of Orange County schools. "We'd like to be 100% in everything. We keep striving for this."
Among local schools, the brightest star was Andersen Elementary in Newport Beach, which boasted the highest fourth-grade scores in California when all three subjects were combined.
"It makes us feel wonderful, because we're preparing youngsters for what they need to know," Principal Tom Carr said. "But we knew our kids had done well right after they took the test, because our kids said they really weren't surprised by anything on it."
The CLAS test, which debuted in 1993, required students to demonstrate how well they could think about material and solve problems, rather than how well they could memorize facts.
Although the state discontinued the test amid controversy over its content and scoring system, many educators praised the exam for inspiring higher-level thinking skills and more rigorous performance standards in the classroom.
"There's a lot of criticism of public education in California, and I believe CLAS is an example of how the school system is responding to the appeals of the public to improve education," said Jamie Brown, principal of Cambridge Elementary in Orange. "The test is more truly related to how the world actually operates."
Last spring, reading, writing and math sections of the CLAS test were administered to students in grades four, eight and 10. Fifth-graders were tested in history and science, but those scores won't be available until next month.
The test was scored on a scale of 1 to 6, with 6 being the highest score. Although the state didn't indicate what constitutes a passing mark, schools generally were ranked according to the percentage of students receiving scores of 4 or higher. Tuesday's results cannot be compared to the previous year's because they have different levels of statistical reliability.
When Orange County school districts were ranked in the three subjects, Irvine Unified posted the top 10th-grade scores, Brea Olinda Unified received the highest eighth-grade marks, and Laguna Beach Unified topped the fourth-grade category.
Laguna Beach Unified Supt. Paul M. Possemato attributed the high scores to his district's emphasis on language skills, which are integral to every part of the CLAS test.
"I'm a strong advocate for the CLAS-type testing. It has nothing to do with the (district's) score," Possemato said. "I believe that one has to have test programs that force the examination, the measurement of, use of language and thinking in all subject areas."
Meanwhile, Anaheim's Magnolia School District ranked at the bottom in the fourth-grade, along with eighth-graders in Buena Park School District. Although Santa Ana Unified reported the lowest 10th-grade scores, many schools in the district didn't receive scores because too few of their students chose to take the test.
Throughout the state, rankings and scores were somewhat skewed because some schools did not receive scores, mostly because less than 75% of the eligible students took the test. In 1994, parents for the first time had the option of signing a form exempting their children from having to take the test, and many chose to do so.
Janet Laird of Buena Park said she didn't want her eighth-grade daughter to take the test because she objected to certain questions that probed personal responses.
"I felt a lot of questions had to do with race, and I didn't see how students could be graded on it," she said. "I also believe we have to go back to basics. We're trying to teach kids writing, but we're forgetting about grammar, spelling and punctuation."
But Genie Stuemke, PTA president at Cambridge Elementary, said she believes many parents signed the waiver because they didn't understand the CLAS test. The school did not receive any CLAS scores because 44% of the children chose not to take the exam.