California's English-speaking students performed at roughly the national average on standardized tests of reading and mathematics in lower grades, but reading performance sank badly in high schools, according to a summary of results released Tuesday.
The summary of scores on the Stanford 9 test issued by the Department of Education excluded the 1 in 5 California test takers classified as limited English-speaking. A court ruling has blocked release of those scores. Had those results been included, the picture of performance statewide would have been bleaker, officials concede.
School districts in Oakland and Berkeley succeeded last week in winning a judge's order blocking release of scores from students who are not fluent in English, arguing that requiring those students to take tests in English and then releasing their scores would violate civil rights laws and harm both the students and their schools.
On Tuesday, a state Court of Appeal rejected the state's attempt to limit the impact of that order, saying state officials had not shown that a delay in releasing the scores would cause significant harm. As a result, statewide release of full results of the Stanford 9 test will be held up until at least July 16, when the judge plans to hold a further hearing. Individual districts remain free to release their own scores.
Many districts have released some data on their scores. Tuesday, the Long Beach Unified School District, the second largest in Los Angeles County, released the results for all students, including those not fluent in English.
The district's scores were generally in the 30th to 40th percentile--meaning that on most tests, 60%-70% of students nationwide did better than Long Beach's students. The district's scores for those students who are fluent in English were mostly about 10 to 12 percentile points better--close to the national average.
Lynn Winters, the district's top testing expert, said those numbers were not surprising.
"This test is about adults helping all kids," Winters said. "It's a baseline from which student progress will be measured. We will grow and go from here."
Similarly, the San Diego Unified School District, the state's second largest, reported that its English-fluent students were at or above the national average in grades two through eight in reading, language and mathematics. In the upper grades, however, several of the scores were below the national average.
Statewide, 4.1 million students in grades two through 11 took the Stanford 9 test this past spring. It was the first statewide test allowing national comparisons since the 1960s. State officials said they were unable to release the actual average scores achieved by the state's students, but instead released figures for each test showing what percentage scored above the national midpoint.
In reading, the state's English-fluent students performed best at the eighth grade, with 53% of them above the average of a nationally representative sample. But only 39% of the ninth-graders and 36% of the 10th-graders achieved that distinction--representing the weakest showing in any subject or grade.
Spelling skills--downplayed during the late 1980s and for most of the 1990s in the state--also were weak. In only one grade, the seventh, did half of the students exceed the national average.
The state's best subject was language--meaning that students are able to answer questions about grammar, capitalization and word usage.
The strongest scores in that subject came in the seventh grade, where 57% of the students were above the national average. In only three grades did fewer than half the students score above the national average on that portion of the test.
Educators have criticized the testing system ever since it was proposed a year ago by Gov. Pete Wilson. But Wilson pushed it through anyway, saying a test that produced scores for individuals, schools and districts was needed for tracking the impact of the billions the state is spending to reduce class size, buy more textbooks and reshape teacher training.
So far, the data do not show any measurable benefit from class-size reduction. Students in second and third grades, where class sizes have been reduced to no more than 20 students, did not do better overall than students in higher grades, where class sizes remain larger.
With the release of the first statewide scores from the test, the differences between the views of educators and Wilson remained stark. Educators saw an academic glass that was half full. Wilson saw one that was half empty.
In only 12 of the 43 grade level and subject combinations did more than half of the students score above the national average--a fact Wilson highlighted in a telephone conference call with education reporters.
"That is clearly not acceptable; in fact, it is deplorable," Wilson said. "It means we have been shortchanging California's children in the most important thing we can give them apart from the values they receive at home--the quality of their education."