Ventura County fourth- and eighth-grade students exceeded the statewide average on the California Learning Assessment System test, while 10th-graders nearly matched state averages, results released Tuesday show.
Elementary and middle school students scored higher than the state averages on the exam, which measures skills in reading, writing and math, the three subject areas of the CLAS test.
But Ventura County's 10th-graders scored above the state average only in math; reading scores matched the statewide average, and writing scores dipped slightly below it.
The average scores for the county's 10th-graders, however, may be skewed by the high number of high school students who did not participate in the CLAS tests because of controversy over its content and format, officials said.
In the Conejo Valley Unified School District, for instance, 40% of 10th-graders skipped the exam, administered last spring, educators said. State officials said they did not tabulate results for any school where at least 25% of students declined to participate.
Therefore, no results were reported for Newbury Park and Thousand Oaks high schools, campuses that traditionally perform near the top in statewide testing. Those omissions may have lowered the high school students' scores on average countywide, officials said.
"My guess is the 10th-graders' scores would have been well above the state if Conejo would have been left in," said Charles Weis, chief of the superintendent of schools office.
Of county students who were tested, fourth-graders ranked the highest when compared with other students at their grade level.
Of the fourth-, eighth- and 10th-graders in the county who took the test, fourth-graders scored 14th among the state's 58 counties, eighth-graders ranked 29th, and 10th-graders scored 22nd. By comparison, neighboring Los Angeles County ranked 34th on its fourth-grade results, 48th in eighth-grade scores and 38th in the performance of its 10th-graders.
Tests were scored with a rating from one to six, with six being the highest and one the lowest. Overall, about one-third of Ventura County students who took the test scored a four or better, demonstrating abilities to write clearly, read with insightful comprehension and solve math problems that crop up in everyday life.
Among Ventura County's 20 school districts, the Oak Park Unified School District in Thousand Oaks came out on top at every grade level, with the highest percentage of students scoring four or more on the exams.
Another Thousand Oaks district, Conejo Unified, also made strong showings for its fourth- and eighth-grade scores. And in western Ventura County, Mesa Union Elementary in Somis and the Ojai and Ventura unified school districts had the highest percentage of students earning top scores.
Some districts had a tougher time with the exams.
Among fourth-graders, the Somis Union Elementary School District came in last among county school districts for its combined scores; Fillmore Unified School District ranked last for eighth-grade scores.
The lowest-scoring 10th-graders were in the Santa Paula Union High School District, where just 5% of students earned scores of 4 or better on math tests. High school students in the Simi Valley Unified District also scored low.
As in last year's CLAS results, county students were strongest in writing and reading, weakest in math. On the writing test, for example, 50% of county eighth-graders scored four or higher, and 41% nabbed top grades for reading.
At Medea Creek Middle School in Oak Park, 70% of students scored four or higher on the writing test and 66% got scores of four, five or six in reading. Medea Creek Principal Laurel Ford said her students perform well on the exams because teachers stick closely to the curriculum frameworks outlined by the state Department of Education.
Students are required to write in every discipline, from physical education to math. And in seventh grade, students take a humanities course that blends history and English, and another that combines science and math.
"That's the purpose of these tests, to let a school know how their children are doing on what the state says they should be teaching," she said.
The strongest performance on the math test among county students came from fourth-graders. Thirty-six percent of students countywide scored four or more on the math exam, 8% higher than the state average.
At Weathersfield Elementary School in Thousand Oaks, 72% of students earned a four or higher. And at Loma Vista Elementary School in Ventura, 63% of fourth-graders scored at least a four.
School officials said the high marks are the result of incorporating math problems into every subject and asking students to explain how they reached their answers.
"In the past few years, we have done a lot of training in how to teach critical thinking skills at the elementary level," said Arlene Miro, director of administrative services in the Ventura Unified School District.