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Area Schools Beat State Test Scores

More than 40% of Ventura County students are proficient in math and English, compared with 36% throughout California.

August 17, 2004|Daryl Kelley and Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writers

Ventura County students continued to perform far better than the California norm last school year, but their scores on achievement tests followed a disturbing statewide trend, leveling off after years of solid improvement.

About 42% of county public school students were proficient or advanced in math and language skills such as reading and writing, compared with a statewide norm of 36%, according to results released Monday. The proficiency standard is rigorous, meaning students are on a track to qualify for admission to a University of California campus.

But as with scores statewide, Ventura County's flattened in 2004. Language scores remained at 43% proficiency, and math inched up a point to 42%.

"We've gotten the increases that came easily; now comes the hard work," said county schools Supt. Chuck Weis. "We've got to get to those kids who traditionally have a hard time -- the special education children, the children of poverty, the English-language learners."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 18, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Test scores -- In Tuesday's California section, a chart that accompanied an article about California's public school test results contained an incorrect Web address for obtaining more information about the results. The correct address: www.latimes.com/schoolscores

Since the new California Standards Tests were introduced in 2001, Ventura County students have typically shown increases, Weis said. "But this year we were spotty," he said. "Some areas actually went down."

Eight of 20 local school districts registered declines, four remained the same and eight showed improvement.

Overall, small school districts fared better than larger ones. Poorer districts did better than richer ones when judged solely on improvement, but usually still lagged in scores overall.

In fact, none of the county's six top-performing districts showed an increase in overall student performance in 2004.

The highest-ranking district, Oak Park, lost a point to 68% proficiency, Conejo Valley remained at 63%, Pleasant Valley fell a point to 57%, Moorpark remained at 52%, Mesa Union dropped 3 points to 52% and Simi Valley remained at 50%.

"We're not going to be happy until everyone is proficient and above," said Mike Vollmert, director of technology and assessment for Conejo Valley. "But we've got 60% proficiency or above in most grades.... And we've seen over the past several years a 1% to 3% improvement."

Ventura Unified reported the biggest increase among the county's large districts, an overall bump of 3 percentage points, to 48% proficiency.

Supt. Trudy Tuttle-Arriaga said Ventura had increases at every grade level and, significantly, scored relatively well among economically disadvantaged students, about 41% of the district total.

"We all worked very hard this last year to ensure that every student received instruction aligned to the state standards ... " she said in a news release.

Topping the small districts were Mupu and Briggs, with about 120 and 460 students, respectively.

Each had 4-point increases in 2004, tops in the county. They were followed by two other small districts, Ocean View and Rio, which had 3-point gains.

Mupu, a district with a single school and seven teachers, has improved its performance by a stunning 21 points in three years, gaining 29 points in math and 6 points in reading.

The Mupu School, built in 1879 near Santa Paula, stresses basic skills, said Supt. and Principal Jeanine Gore. An educator there for 22 years, she still tutors students in reading when time allows.

"Teachers have been calling me every day for the last three weeks to see if the tests scores were in," said Gore. "They're so invested in this. Two teachers even asked to increase the length of the school day so they could put more time into reading and math."

At Mupu, which has kindergarten through eighth grade, Gore said every class is multi-grade, which would make instruction a challenge even if 40% of students weren't from lower-income families.

"This year we knew we had to pump more energy into our English-learners program," she said.

Mupu's success during the last two years -- with 47% of students now scoring at proficiency or better -- compares with the "stomach punch" of 2002, when an influx of poorly skilled students put the school at 26% proficiency, Gore said.

"With these small schools, it's up and down," she said.

Olivelands Elementary, a K-3 school in the nearby Briggs district, tied with Hollywood Beach Elementary for the greatest overall gain for a school in the county -- a 10-percentage point increase to 48% proficiency.

Lisa Krause, who teaches first grade, said that's partly a result of parents' help in class and teacher tutoring.

"A lot of our families work for Limoneira," a farming company, Krause said. "But by teachers and families working really hard together, we were able to get our students reading at grade level."

At the other end of the spectrum, Santa Paula High School had a 13% student proficiency, down 2 points from the previous year, and the Santa Paula elementary district lost a point, falling to 20% proficiency.

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