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Most L.A. Schools' Scores Decline in Basic Skills Test

Education: Fourth-grade performance has improved since 1990-91, but overall results disappoint officials; ninth-graders fared worst.


Just over a year ago, Los Angeles Supt. Sid Thompson established what he considered a reasonable quest for the district: a one-percentage-point increase in basic skills test scores annually. At the time, he was criticized by some school board members and education reformers for not setting that bar higher, but he countered that it was better to set a goal that could be met.

This year, even that reasonable goal remained elusive in all but the fourth grade.

Coeur d'Alene set its sights low, hoping for a gain of a few percentage points. Instead, it zoomed up from far below average to above the 50th percentile in all three categories.

Principal Beth Ojena attributed the gains to a dedicated and qualified staff and a state-of-the-art computer network, which includes at least four terminals in every classroom.

Coeur d'Alene also has had a declining number of bilingual program students in recent years, a trend not seen elsewhere. Debate lingers over how much the CTBS results were affected by the language barrier faced by Los Angeles students.

On one hand, the district blamed a lack of knowledge of the nuances of English for consistently poorer showings on the language and reading tests than on the math tests.

But when students still in bilingual programs were given the companion Spanish standardized test--Aprenda--results were the opposite, with reading and language higher and math scores lower.

Why would math not have remained at the higher level on Aprenda? McKenna, the assistant superintendent for instruction, said a complicated problem may be to blame: The shortage of fully bilingual teachers leaves many students taught primarily by Spanish-speaking aides for reading and by an English-speaking teacher for other academic subjects, such as math.


Students' Performance (Southland Edition, A21)

The Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills is a multiple-choice examination measuring how well a district's students do against a national average. The scores are expressed as percentiles, with a score of 50 reflecting the national average established more than a decade ago. The latest tests were given last spring by the Los Angeles Unified School District in grades four, seven and nine. The Aprenda tests are a Spanish-language version of the CTBS given to elementary-age students who do not speak English.


Subject 1990-91 1991-92 1992-93 1993-94 1994-95 1995-96 Grade 4 Reading 33 36 36 35 36 36 Math 44 47 47 47 48 48 Language 39 41 40 40 42 42 Grade 7 Reading 33 34 33 31 31 30 Math 44 44 44 40 40 38 Language 38 38 37 36 36 35 Grade 9 Reading 28 28 27 27 25 25 Math 42 40 40 37 35 35 Language 34 33 32 31 29 29 Aprenda--Grade 4 Reading 37 39 40 39 41 41 Math 24 25 26 24 24 24 Language 39 40 41 40 43 42


Source: Los Angeles Unified School District

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