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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Students' Stanford 9 Test Scores Improve

Education: County releases preliminary findings, showing results above the national average in three areas. Weakness is in spelling.

July 01, 1999|ANNA GORMAN and JENNIFER HAMM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura County students showed marked improvement on this year's Stanford 9 test, pushing countywide scores above the national average in reading, math and language arts at most grade levels, but state education officials cautioned that an error may have skewed the scores.

The highest scores in the county at the elementary level were in math and language arts, which officials attribute to class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade. The lowest scores were in ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade reading, and in spelling across-the-board.

"We were one of the top counties in California last year and we expect to be among the top few counties again this year," county schools Supt. Chuck Weis said Wednesday. "But we will continue to work on our scores, especially in reading."

Although Weis' office released preliminary results, the state Department of Education withheld county, district and school scores scheduled to be posted on the Internet on Wednesday.

Harcourt Educational Measurement, which administered the statewide achievement test to more than 4 million California public school students between March and May, misclassified about 300,000 students as not being fluent in English, a mistake that may have inflated scores of the limited English students.

But Weis expects that the corrected scores--which are now scheduled to be released July 15--will not change significantly.

About 96,000 Ventura County students in grades 2 through 11 took the Stanford 9 exam this spring, marking the second year that the test has been administered. The exam measured students' basic skills in reading, language arts, math, spelling, science and social studies, based on grade level. This year's test had an additional set of questions based on California's newly adopted math and language arts standards.

Districts throughout the county showed improvement in math and language. In fact, county math scores were up 6 to 10 points in the primary grades, and 3 to 5 points in the middle and high school grades. In language, county scores rose 4 to 8 points in the primary grades, and 1 to 5 points in the upper grades.

Much like last year's results, this year's scores highlight the difference in achievement between east and west county schools.

For example, the average national percentile rank for Conejo Valley Unified fourth-graders in reading was 71, compared with 34 in Hueneme Elementary. And the average for Simi Valley's eighth-graders in math was 56, compared with 30 for Fillmore's eighth-graders.

Like many educators, Oxnard Union High School Supt. Bill Studt attributes the gap to socioeconomic factors. Districts such as Fillmore, Santa Paula, Oxnard and Hueneme have more students who move frequently, are low-income and speak limited English.

"The majority of the students in [east county] districts come from very affluent families and have had educational opportunities that our kids haven't had," he said.

Although generally the west county scores weren't as high, superintendents said they were still pleased to see gains. For example, 10th-graders in the Oxnard Union High School District jumped from the 31st percentile to the 37th in language arts.

"We're happy campers," Studt said. "The state is putting the heat on everybody to improve, and we are up to the task."

Santa Paula Elementary School District test scores also showed modest increases. In math, eighth-graders improved from the 31st percentile to the 34th.

"We were pleased with what we had done because we made quite a bit of advancement," Supt. Bonnie Bruington said. "But then when we look at ourselves compared to the rest of the county and we're pretty close to the bottom."

Bruington said a heightened focus on reading skills helped nudge up scores. She said teachers are doing the best they can and will continue to improve the curriculum quality.

"You'd like it to be higher, but if it's not, we'll just work harder," she said. "We'll live through this. Not only will we live through this, we will triumph."

Countywide, the scores dip at the high school level, especially in reading.

Moorpark Unified Assistant Supt. Frank DePasquale called his district's high school reading scores disappointing.

Tenth-graders in the Moorpark district scored below the national average at the 47th percentile, while their peers countywide scored at the 39th percentile.

Ninth-graders' scores were also below what Weis would have wanted.

Weis, as well as state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, said the drop in those scores may actually be due to a flaw in the test.

School officials say test questions based on new standards do not reflect what is being taught in the classroom. Although the standards were adopted last year, teachers still do not have curricular guides or textbooks that match them.

"The raw scores [for the augmented test] don't really tell us much," Fillmore Unified Assistant Supt. Jane Kampbell said. "I see it more as information gathering."

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