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THE 'STANFORD 9' TESTS | REPORT CARD: How L.A. County
Schools Fared on Statewide Exams : What the Scores
Tell Us

Pockets of Progress, but Question Marks, Too

L.A. Unified: Despite general gains, the district's lackluster improvement in reading and overall low national standing temper any excitement.

July 23, 1999|DOUG SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Modest gains by Los Angeles Unified students on the Stanford 9 standardized test translated into a qualified victory for school officials.

For a second year, Supt. Ruben Zacarias was able to claim progress toward his goal of raising scores 8 percentile points in four years. Scores for limited-English-speaking students and those fluent in English increased in most grade levels.

But lackluster gains in reading--and overall scores in the bottom third nationally--kept the district's excitement in check.

"It is a tribute to everyone involved with our students that we are continuing to see progress," Zacarias said.

Many district schools had been nervously awaiting the early results to find out if they would be placed on academic probation.

But on Thursday, acknowledging persistent problems with the district's efforts to design a test-based accountability system, officials announced that they will not use the test to identify under-performing schools.

In reading, there was no overall gain in second grade, which remained at the 27th percentile, or in ninth and 10th grades, which remained at the 22nd percentile.

Except for the second grade, all the primary grades showed a 2-point improvement in reading, drawing praise from Zacarias.

"I'm particularly gratified that our reading scores in the first few grades are improving," Zacarias said. "Early literacy was our instructional focus this year, and it had the impact we envisioned."

There were small increases in all other grades, but only the eighth and ninth reached the 30th percentile on the reading portion of the test.

Los Angeles students performed best in math, with five grade levels placing above the 35th percentile. Improvement was also greatest in math. Eleventh-grade math scores were the district's highest, at the 41st percentile. Every grade level gained at least 3 points. Third-graders gained 5 percentile points.

Language scores also went up in every grade level, but less dramatically than math scores.

An overall score used by the district to measure its progress again showed a 2-percentile-point growth this year, the same as last year.

However, the gain was from the 28th to the 30th percentile.

Last year, school officials enthusiastically reported that scores had climbed out of the bottom third, advancing from the 33rd to the 35th percentile.

That score was based on a combination of the Stanford 9 and Aprenda, a Spanish-language test taken by many of the district's students who were not proficient in English. Aprenda scores are generally much higher than those on the Stanford 9.

As a result of Proposition 227, which virtually eliminated bilingual education, toofew students now take the Spanish-language test to make it practical to combine the scores.

The new calculation gives a clearer picture of how far the district trails the rest of the state, which overall also showed modest increases this year and is now averaging above the 40th percentile in reading and higher in math.

The change in how the scores are reported also underscores a series of upsets in the district's efforts to establish an accountability program based on standardized tests.

On Thursday, bowing to widespread criticism of the accountability plan, district officials announced that they were scrapping their efforts to rate school performance and will instead follow the state's lead.

"We understand the state is moving pretty rapidly," said district spokesman Brad Sales. "We're going to be realigning our whole plan to the state's."

The decision brings to an end Zacarias' dramatic accountability effort, which began two years ago with the identification of the district's 100 lowest-performing schools.

Last year, Zacarias placed 30 of those schools on probation when their scores didn't improve, and warned that district officials could take over their operations if they didn't improve this year. That number dwindled to 18 this spring when the district realized it would have to drop the Aprenda scores.

In response to continuing criticism that the ranking system unfairly targeted schools in poor neighborhoods, district officials spent several weeks revamping the plan. A complex ranking system that would have established four performance bands with degrees for schools improving or faltering was scheduled to be presented to the Board of Education on Tuesday.

On Thursday, however, district officials pulled it from the agenda after learning that the state intended to have a ranking system in place by the end of the year, Sales said.

"It doesn't make any sense for us to have something different than the state's," Sales said.

Board member David Tokofsky said he had not been told yet of the change of plan, but said he thought it would allow the district to avoid some tough decisions.

"We're running for cover," Tokofsky said. "Why expose ourselves to that self-identified purgatory if the state will be less rigorous than us?"

Ironically, the decision may diminish the sense of accomplishment at the 18 schools facing receivership this year. All 18 improved.

Overall, the district had many more schools improving than growing worse. Of 569 schools, all but 84 raised their scores.

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In California, almost 4.2 million public school students took the Stanford 9 standardized tests this spring--for the second year in a row.

*

To help assess how students are doing, this section presents scores from selected testing subjects and from three "bellwether" grades--fourth, eighth and 10th. Page U2.

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