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California and the West

Some State School Scores Released Early

Education: Results of California's biggest testing attempt in history start trickling out before official June 30 posting on Internet.

June 11, 1998|DOUG SMITH and RICHARD LEE COLVIN | TIMES EDUCATION WRITERS

The avidly awaited results of a historic statewide test of public school children have begun to trickle out to school districts and parents--almost three weeks earlier than expected.

Though state education officials had said the scores would be released all at once on June 30 by posting on the Internet, the testing company has begun sending the results directly to school districts.

State officials estimated on Wednesday that up to 300 of California's roughly 1,000 school districts now have their test scores.

At least 35 districts in Los Angeles County have received partial or complete scores on the Stanford 9 exams, given to students in grades two through 11. Most of those getting results are small districts that administered the tests early this spring.

Several of those districts planned to begin sending them to students' homes this week or next.

Five of Orange County's 27 school districts made public partial results Wednesday, most showing their students performing above the national average.

The Fountain Valley School District, with 6,100 students in kindergarten through grade 8, scored above the 60th percentile in all grades in reading, math and language. In spelling, its lowest ranking was in the 53rd percentile for its eighth-graders.

"It's a mixed bag," said Kenneth L. Stichter, assistant superintendent of the Fullerton Joint Union High School District, whose 14,300 students in grades nine to 12 averaged above the 50th percentile in all grades in mathematics, but near the 40th percentile in reading.

But many other educators around the state--particularly in poor urban areas--have been concerned that the scores on the tests will be embarrassingly low, in part because many students who are not fluent in English are required to take them.

The Los Angeles Unified School District--the second-largest in the nation--doesn't plan to release its school-by-school scores before June 30, said testing coordinator Linda Lownes.

Pending approval of a cover memo, the scores for individual students will be sent to the schools beginning next week, Lownes said. A separate batch of individual scores will be mailed to parents near the end of June.

The Los Angeles district voluntarily gave the Stanford 9 test last year, but allowed many students to take another exam in Spanish. Expecting a significant drop this year in overall scores, officials in the district hope to time the release of their school results to coincide with a study attributing much of the difference to the fact that state rules required virtually all students to be tested in English this year.

The district has contracted with Harcourt Brace, the test's publisher, to produce a second set of scores, without those of the limited-English students.

This year's Stanford 9 testing is the largest attempt to measure academic achievement in the state's history, involving an estimated 4.2 million students. That makes it one of the largest academic testing efforts of any kind.

Districts that completed their testing late in the term, including some that finished just days ago, were not expecting to receive their scores until shortly before they are posted on the Internet.

The Pomona Unified School District reported that it had received some results only for its nine year-round schools.

In the Long Beach Unified School District, where more than 1,000 boxes of exams were picked up by the testing company May 29, results are not expected until the end of June.

Even many of the districts that have received scores have held off distributing them because they don't have all grade levels.

In the Glendale Unified School District, the testing administrator said results were "trickling in."

The state's last test, known as the California Learning Assessment System, or CLAS, was killed in 1994 because of technical flaws and controversy over reading passages that parents considered too racy or personal.

Last year, the state enacted a law calling for a single test in English to be given by all schools. Gov. Pete Wilson said it was a critical step to ensure that California was getting its money's worth from a huge education budget that includes such expensive new initiatives as reducing the student-teacher ratio in kindergarten through third grade.

The Stanford 9 test measures skills in reading vocabulary and comprehension, mathematics problem solving and procedures, language mechanics and expression, spelling, and, in higher grades, science and social science, but not spelling.

It reflects Wilson's insistence that parents be given information about how their children compare academically to peers statewide and nationally. To do that, the state had to purchase an existing standardized test that allowed comparisons with a sampling of students from California and other states.

The sampling method used, however, worries many educators because the profile of students--against whose academic accomplishments California students are to be ranked--is different from the overall student body here. Fewer than 2% of the students in the sample group, for example, had limited ability to speak English.

Times staff writers Nick Anderson, Susan Abrams, Amy Pyle, Liz Seymour and Kenneth R. Weiss contributed to this report.

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