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Interpreting the Stanford 9 Test

June 17, 1998|RICHARD LEE COLVIN | Times Education Writer

Get ready, here it comes: an avalanche of information about how well students are learning to read, spell and figure in California public schools. For high schoolers, the data also will measure their knowledge of science and social studies.

Come June 30, the state will post on the World Wide Web (http://www.cde.ca.gov) test scores for all of those subjects for every school, district, county--and the state as a whole. Scores will be produced for grades 2-11.

Unlike past statewide tests, however, the Stanford 9 will also generate a report on each child. Some parents are receiving those reports. All parents should get them by the end of July.

The reports will be one of two types.

The "home" report, like the one a right for a ficitious student, contains only limited information. It shows how a student's scores in each of the subjects measured up against a national sample. A student who scored a 75, for example, did better than 75% of the students in that sample.

But state testing officials have suggested that school districts instead send home a different report--called the "student" report--because it contains much more information. The tradeoff is that the additional information can be confusing.

The "student" report, unlike the "home" report, breaks each subject down into sub-skills. So while parents can find out how a student did in "total reading," for example, they also can find out how well their child grasps vocabulary and understands what he or she is reading.

For each sub-skill, the "student" report shows how many answers the student got right, what the score is on a scale of about 300 to 800 and how that score ranks. The scale score should not be compared from test to test, though, because the tests vary in difficulty.

Comparisons can be made, however, using the column labeled National NCE, or Normal Curve Equivalent. For the sample shown, for instance, the fictitious student's math scores are substantially better than his language and spelling scores.

Although the test scores are important, they are far from the only source of information about how well children are performing, educators stress. Parents should talk to their children's teachers, monitor their homework, keep track of what books they're reading and talk to them about what they are learning.

Sample Questions

After the State Board of Education last fall selected the Stanford 9 for statewide use, some educators protested that the test is too easy, saying it lags behind what students should be expected to know. But others complained that it is too hard, especially for students still learning to speak English. And others worried that in some subjects, such as history, the test might cover an area such as world history in a grade where California students generally study American history.

But sample questions given students hardly seem the stuff of controvercy. Most probe very basic knowledge and essential skills.

Here are some of those sample questions provided by Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement, the company that publishes the Staford test. Tom Brooks, a spokesman, said the sample questions are generally easier than those on the test. The purpose of the samples, he said, is to familiarize children with the format of the questions.

Each test has items that 95% of children are expected to answer correctly, he said. But the tests also have questions that only a third or fewer are expected to get right.

For grades 4, 5 and 6

For grades 7 and 8

Home Report

The "above-average" classification means the student was in the top 25%

*

But "average" covers a large range-from the 25th to 75th percentile.

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Bar graphs show that this fourth-grader's reading score was better than 78% of a national sample of students.

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But his score on the language portion of the test--measuring knowledge of punctuation, word usage and the like--was slightly below average.

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The advice to parents comes form the test company, not state school officals. Indeed, some state educators mock these blurbs as "fortune cookies."

Student Report

Total number of questions

*

Number anwered correctly.

*

Score awarding points based on difficultly of some questions. On a scale from 300 to 800.

*

The "Percentile Rank" shows where the student falls nationally. The last digit converts the percentile into a 1-to-10 scale.

*

The student's standing on a "curved" percentile scale. This is considered a more accurate way of comparing the student's scores on the different portions of the test.

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RS: The student's raw score--more specifically, the number of questions answered correctly.

*

NP: Number of questions.

*

NA: Number of questions answered.

*

Though this student is average overall in language skills, he is in the bottom 25% in his knowledge of capitalization.

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A bar graph showing that because of approximation in sampling, as in an opinion poll, the percentile rank represents a range.

Source: Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement

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