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District Test Scores Show Mixed Results

By Susan Reines
Staff Writer

August 31 -- Recently released results of two tests taken by School District students last spring are mixed, with scores on a national standardized test suggesting slight declines and state test scores painting a more complex picture of gains and losses, an analysis by The Lookout has found.

As in 2003, more than 60 percent of students in the district scored better than the national averages on the California Achievement Tests (CAT) for reading, language and math. But there were minor dips in performance on all three tests, compared to scores from the previous year. The percentages of students who beat the national average in each of the three areas dropped a percentage point or two.

On the other hand, results of the California Standards Test (CST), which compares students’ performances to standards set by the State Board of Education, revealed some sharp declines in middle and high school math scores, but also showed positive trends, such as strong scores for English-language learners.

The CST scores provide a more detailed assessment because they are more specific, with different tests for algebra, algebra II and geometry instead of a single math test for each grade level, for example.

Superintendent John Deasy believes California educators consider the CST scores much more important than the national CAT scores because the CST is more rigorous and this was the last year students in California will take the CAT.

A press release distributed by the district emphasized that about 90 percent of seniors passed the state’s high school exit exams and that English-language learners and low-income students outperformed their counterparts in other districts on the CST exams.

The strong performance by low-income and English-language learners, Deasy said, shows that the “achievement gap” that separates those students’ scores from the rest of the student body’s was narrowing -- “something that’s in our district’s mission statement.”

The district’s press release, however, glosses over lingering discrepancies between elementary school scores, sharp declines in some math scores and a worsening in African American students’ performance compared to national averages, as well as the fact that Malibu schools on the whole did better than Santa Monica schools.

Middle and high school math scores down

Results of the California Standards Test (CST) showed a minor drop in English performance and a major decline in some math scores, particularly among middle and high school students, the Lookout’s analysis found.

The test classifies students as "advanced," "proficient," "basic," "below basic" or "far below basic.” Deasy said the state’s standards are so rigorous that “proficient” in California is equal to “advanced” in other states.

The percentages of Santa Monica middle and high school students who earned advanced and proficient scores in algebra and general math dropped this year, with eight grade algebra scores showing some of the sharpest declines.

At John Adams Middle School (JAMS), the percentage earning advanced or proficient scores was cut in half, from 60 percent in 2003 to only 31 percent this year. Losses were less severe at Lincoln Middle School, but the percentage earning advanced scores dropped from 31 percent to 23 percent. The percentage of Lincoln eighth graders who earned proficient scores, however, did increase by nine percent.

Eighth graders at JAMS and Lincoln who took the easier general math test instead of the algebra test showed double-digit percentage setbacks as well.

At JAMS, only five percent qualified as proficient this year, and zero percent qualified as advanced, compared with 18 percent proficient and one percent advanced last year. At Lincoln, the percentage earning advanced or proficient scores dropped from 50 percent in 2003 to 41 percent in 2004.

But Deasy said the drops in math scores actually mask a positive math trend -- more students are enrolling in advanced courses like algebra.

“We’re trying to have a much larger number of students taking algebra and we absolutely expected that to happen,” Deasy said, referring to the decline in algebra scores.

Enrolling more students in algebra instead of general math, even if they didn’t score quite as well on the exam, is “what the state wants…and I actually consider that very, very positive,” Deasy said.

The drops in general math scores, Deasy said, reflected the more advanced students switching from general math into algebra, leaving only the students who struggle most with math in the general courses.

The number of eighth graders who took the harder algebra test instead of the general math test has doubled since 2002, according to the test scores.

Sixth and seventh grade math scores at both middle schools were similar to those last year, with about 40 percent of each grade earning advanced or proficient scores at JAMS and about 60 of each grade getting those scores at Lincoln.

Math scores at the high school level followed the same pattern as the eighth grade scores, showing setbacks in Algebra I and General Math.

As was the case last year, zero percent of Algebra I students at Santa Monica High earned advanced scores, and the percentage of students qualifying as proficient dropped between last year and this year from fifteen percent to eight percent in ninth grade, three percent to two percent in tenth grade and five percent to zero percent in eleventh grade.

In Algebra II, tenth and eleventh graders did about the same as last year. About 40 percent of tenth graders qualified as advanced or proficient both this year and last. Of eleventh graders, about a quarter took the Algebra II test in 2003 and 2004, and in both years zero percent earned advanced scores. The percentage of eleventh graders scoring in the proficient category fell from eight percent in 2003 to three percent in 2004.

The number of ninth graders who took the algebra II test was nominal.

Geometry scores, like those for Algebra II, were similar to last year’s. Scores were fair for ninth graders but poor for tenth and eleventh graders. Out of the 237 SaMoHi tenth graders who took the geometry test this year, zero percent earned advanced scores, and of the 129 eleventh graders who took the test, zero percent earned advanced or proficient scores. Ninth graders came in at 56 percent advanced or proficient both years.

Geometry enrollment did not increase the way algebra enrollment did. The number of students staking the geometry CST test at SaMoHi increased by some 20 students in each of the ninth, tenth, and eleventh grades, compared to last year.

Math scores at the Santa Monica Alternative School (SMASH) were also low, with the percentages of students who scored better than the national average on the CAT exams in the 30s and 40s for the four grades for which data was available, fourth through seventh. Those percentages were in the 60s and 70s for the language test, though. Data from 2003 was not available for comparison because so few students took the test that year.

Marked discrepancies between elementary schools; scores for upper grades worsen

As has typically been the case, some of Santa Monica’s elementary schools -- namely, those in more affluent areas of the city -- did much better overall.

Franklin, Roosevelt and Grant outperformed the other elementary schools, with more than 50 percent of students -- and in most cases, more than 60 or 70 percent -- besting national averages, almost without exception, on reading, language, math and spelling for every grade that was tested, from second through fifth.

Fifth grade reading scores did decline at Grant, however, dropping seven percentage points to dip just below the national average.

Scores at the other elementary schools, McKinley, Will Rogers, John Muir and Edison, were lower than those of Franklin, Roosevelt and Grant, although in most cases students still beat national averages.

Deasy said those schools continued to lag because “predominantly the populations that attend those schools are very impacted by factors of socio-economic status.” He said the district was trying to alleviate the problem by concentrating the resources it has for extra-help programs in those schools.

The older students at John Muir showed some marked declines, especially in fourth grade math, in which the percentage scoring better than the national average dropped from 61 percent in 2003 to 43 percent in 2004, and fifth grade language, which fell from 58 percent beating the national average last year to only 42 percent this year.

One variable in John Muir’s performance this year could have been the need to adjust to the new principal who arrived just last fall, some parents contend. Different principals instruct their teachers to train students in test-taking to varying degrees.

The trend of scores worsening for older students was even more pronounced at McKinley, where 92 percent of second graders beat the national average in math, compared to 76 percent of third graders, 46 percent of fourth graders and 52 percent of fifth graders. Reading and language scores were lower, but the pattern of decreasing performance at older grades was the same.

At Edison, a Spanish language immersion school where reading and language scores tend to lag behind the other elementary schools, scores on the CAT tests showed double-digit jumps in second, fourth and fifth grades. In fact, on the CAT reading test this year, fourth graders at Edison outperformed those at McKinley, Will Rogers and John Muir, and did the same as fourth graders at Grant.

A new section of the California Standards Test measured fifth grade science performance this year, and scores were poor at almost every elementary school.

The exceptions were Franklin, which is known to have a superb science club, and Roosevelt. A remarkable 82 percent of Franklin fifth graders earned advanced or proficient scores, while 50 percent of Roosevelt fifth graders earned similar scores.

Only 38 percent of fifth graders at Grant, where scores overall were quite high, qualified as advanced or proficient in science.

Science performance was even worse at other schools. The percentages of fifth graders classified as advanced or proficient at Edison was 28 percent, 26 percent at John Muir, 17 percent at Will Rogers, and only 15 percent at McKinley, where the percentage earning advanced scores was zero.

Deasy said the district “hadn’t adjusted [its] curriculum” to the state’s fifth grade science standards yet because they were new and the state had yet to issue an approved textbook. Scores statewide were very low, he said.

Minorities’ scores continue to trail

CAT scores for Latino and African American students, who together make up about a third of the district, continue to lag far behind the rest of the student population's scores.

Scores for African Americans on the CAT followed the same trend as the overall district scores, dropping slightly this year. Math scores dropped the most; last year 45.2 percent of African American students scored above the national average, this year only 39.9 percent did.

On a positive note, though, Latino students performed better on the CAT in 2004 than they had the previous year, with the percentage of students scoring above the national average in reading rising from 36.6 percent to 37.7 percent, in math from 45.7 percent to 46.5 percent and in language from 40 percent to 41.8 percent.

The data in this article is from the California Department of Education’s Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) website, star.cde.ca.gov.

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