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Fragmented Exam Results Test Patience of Educators

Schools: Scores on statewide assessments are coming in bits, making it hard to analyze and compare students' performance.

June 17, 1998|TINA NGUYEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Confusion about the new statewide tests swirls as scores dribble in from a smattering of Orange County school districts.

"It's sloppy," Irvine parent Ruth Anderson said of the piecemeal distribution of test scores. Her district has not yet received its scores. "I prefer to see all the scores at one time so I can see how my school compares to others."

What had been planned as a smoothly orchestrated event, with California schools' scores coming out at once so comparisons could be made from school to school and district to district, hasn't exactly worked out that way.

Instead, just as the school year is ending, individual districts are getting the results of the first standardized statewide tests since 1994 in the order in which they were

scored. Ten Orange County districts released scores last week. The scores of an 11th district, Centralia, were made available Tuesday.

Unlike in previous years, the testing program is not being coordinated by the state Department of Education. Instead, under state law, test publisher Harcourt Brace Educational Measurements has contracted individually with California's 1,000 school districts.

"This makes it more unwieldy than it should be," state Department of Education spokesman Doug Stone said. "We opposed this scenario from the get-go."

Ironically, the state legislation enacting the new tests specifically set up this system so that districts could receive their test scores more efficiently.

The outcome: Some districts in the county have a set of scores but have not had time to pull the data together into meaningful reports. Others have analyzed their scores school by school, by demographic group, and have sent reports to parents. Still others have not heard a word about their scores.

Parents receive reports with their children's individual scores compared against a national pool of students. But comparisons among California schools won't be possible until the end of the month.

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A clearer statewide picture is expected to emerge June 30 when all school scores will be posted on the Internet by the state Department of Education. More comprehensive information such as state, county and district scores will be made available in the weeks that follow.

"None of us expected to have results released the way they are being released," said Mary Dalessi, testing administrator for Anaheim Union High School District, one of the first to have its scores published. "That's not the usual pattern."

The state education department used to oversee the entire testing program, score the tests, process the data and publicly release it with state, county and district figures all at the same time. But the last state test, the California Learning Assessment System, was killed in 1994 because it contained technical and scoring flaws.

But this year's Stanford 9 exam, an off-the-shelf test, is being handled by its Texas-based publisher. More than 200 districts statewide have begun receiving their data. The state will get the complete data on June 29, at the earliest, to display on the Internet.

Districts that administered the tests early during the two-month testing period of mid-March to May already are getting their scores and reviewing them.

"We went in early because we thought the students are more ready to take the test in March," said Jerry White, director of curriculum for the Huntington Beach Union High School District. "The later you go, the kids tend to get tired and just chuck everything during the testing."

But the majority of California's school districts chose to test toward the end of the testing window. The extra few weeks gave districts more time to prepare for the test. It was especially helpful for students in the lower grades, some administrators said.

"The elementary students benefited at the end of the testing window because they went into the test with more classroom instruction," said Beverly Huff, Irvine Unified's coordinator of assessment and special projects.

The newest test results, from 5,100-student Centralia School District in Buena Park, showed scores hovering over the 50th percentile mark in virtually every grade.

Centralia officials said they will spend the next several months combing through the data to determine where their curriculum needs to be improved.

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The larger the districts, the greater the task.

Officials at mid-size Irvine Unified will have to sift through hundreds of boxes of material. Capistrano Unified, the county's fastest-growing district, will have to send out 30,000 student test reports while reviewing the data.

And in Newport-Mesa Unified, which includes nearly 20,000, partial test results have arrived, but administrators will not be able to review the data until well into the summer months. Other tests that were given to students will take priority over the Stanford 9, said Eleanor Anderson, the district's director of assessment programs.

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