State Gives Southeast Schools Cash for Improved Scores on Skills Tests

Times Staff Writers

When the state announced last year that it would give cash awards totaling $14.4 million to schools that raised their test scores and tested more students, some local educators privately expressed the fear that average scores would fall because more low-achieving students would be taking the exam.

At many schools, the opposite occurred.

In Los Angeles County, 12th-grade scores improved on the California Assessment Program test of basic skills, and although the rise is slight, it brought a sizable financial payoff.

One hundred and nine county high schools have won a total of $3.7 million in bonus money. The big winner was Rowland High in the east end of the San Gabriel Valley, which collected $140,818, by far the largest payoff in the county, from the Education Improvement Incentive Program.

In the Southeast-Long Beach area, test scores at nine high schools improved enough to land cash awards ranging from $10,821 at Mayfair High in Lakewood to $71,846 at Cerritos High.

Schools qualified for the cash awards if at least 93% of their seniors took the exam and the scores were generally better than those of last year's seniors. Districts who wanted to compete for the cash pool also were required to hire outside personnel to monitor the testing, which takes place annually in the fall.

Mixed Results

This year's testing, however, produced mixed results at a majority of high schools from Long Beach to Whittier, with writing, reading, spelling and math scores either below or only slightly better than last year.

Two local districts--the Whittier Union High School District and Paramount Unified--even decided not to participate in the cash-for-CAP-scores program. Of 51 districts in the county with seniors, Whittier and Paramount were the only school systems that did not test for dollars. Officials in both districts maintained that it is "grossly unfair" to give cash bonuses based on a single year's scores, without considering past performances.

"We started working hard on bringing up test scores three years ago, and the payoff was a year ago when our scores were among the best in the state," said Paramount Supt. Richard Caldwell. This year's scores for the district's 450 students fell dramatically in all four skill areas tested.

"It would have been next to impossible to duplicate last year's numbers," the superintendent said. "Yet, shouldn't we receive something for our showing last year?"

Supt. Norman Eisen of the Whittier Union High School District agreed: "The program rewards those who failed to come to grips with the problem (of low test scores) when it first surfaced. Now, when there's money on the table, they decide to get serious."

Many educators said they believe the cash incentive program played a big part in the improved scores and the increased number of students taking the test.

Statewide Scores Up Too

Statewide, 12th-grade scores in reading, writing, spelling and mathematics also rose this year compared to last year, even though many more high school seniors took the test than before.

"There was a lot of discussion around here about what would happen with the scores" because of the cash incentive, state Department of Education consultant Sue Bennett said from her Sacramento office. "Apparently, they (12th-graders) took the test with better preparation. Or they took it more seriously."

At many high schools, administrators made a special effort to get at least 93% participation in the voluntary exam. Some schools staged rallies, some promised hamburger vouchers and others offered pep talks to 12th-grade classes.

"They did whatever they thought would work," said Bill Turner, testing consultant to the county superintendent of schools. "And in the main it worked."

At Cerritos High, principal Stanley Steddom said seniors were told about the cash awards before testing began but officials made no promises about how any money received would be spent.

"Some kids tried to win concessions for their participation, but we felt that wasn't appropriate," said Steddom, who hopes the $71,846 the school collected will be spent on computers, desks, typewriters and a field trip for seniors. "After all, they earned it."

Scores in all skill areas tested improved at Cerritos, with the largest gains in math and writing.

Although a success at some campuses, the incentive program backfired at one high school in Chico, where four seniors persuaded many of their fellow 12th-graders to deliberately fail the test when the administration said it would refuse to let them use a portion of any bonus funds earned for a beach trip. No such cases were reported in Los Angeles County, however.

County Seniors Improved

Test scores for the county's high school seniors rose from 59.4% to 60.1% in reading, 59.8% to 60.5% in writing, 68.0% to 68.3% in spelling and 64.3% to 65.3% in mathematics.

The scores were slightly below the state averages. The average scores statewide are 62.9% in reading, 63.2% in writing, 69.7% in spelling and 68.3% in mathematics.

Turner attributed the county's below-state-average scores to the high number of non-English-speaking immigrants entering county schools. According to county officials, 228,000 of the county's 1.2 million students in kindergarten through 12th grade have limited proficiency in English because it is not their native tongue.

The scores in the accompanying list reflect the percentage of correct answers given by the 12th-graders to 31 questions, and they allow comparisons between individual schools and to the district and state averages. State officials caution that fluctuations of a few points in individual school scores are not statistically significant.

Because the test is meant to provide a snapshot look at achievement levels, scores are computed for districts and schools only; individual pupil scores are not released.

Tested in December

Twelfth-graders took the exam in December. Third-, sixth- and eighth-graders will take the test this month and their scores will be released in the fall.

There were no surprises in the county's 12th-grade scores, Turner said. "One can almost guarantee that some (scores) will go up a little, and some will go down a little," he said.

The scores generally reflect the socioeconomic realities for the students in various regions of the county, Turner said. Schools with a majority of students from poor families and whose parents have little or no college education tended to score lower than schools whose students come from wealthier, better-educated families.

"Overall, the trend (in scores) is upward," Turner said. "So parents can conclude we are making progress."

96% Tested at John Glenn

At John Glenn High School in Norwalk, 96% of the senior class took the exam, and the scores rose 1% to 3% in math, reading and writing. Spelling scores dropped slightly. As a result, the school earned $29,703.

Despite the windfall, John Glenn principal Elias Galvan was reluctant to credit the cash incentive program for the school's gains.

"We've been working for several years to improve student attitudes about the tests," he said. "In past years, a lot of students simply skipped school on test day.

"But we started telling seniors their scores would be compared to other classes, once they graduated. It would be a measure of their class character. It would be their legacy. I think it's worked. I've sensed a new pride to score well among this year's seniors."

The area's most impressive gains were at Polytechnic High School in Long Beach, where test scores jumped nearly five percentage points in three of the four skill areas--reading, writing and math. Spelling scores also went up.

But when given the option by district officials last fall, Poly principal Robert Ellis chose not to try for the cash. Because daily absenteeism at the school averages about 10%, Ellis said it would have taken a "monumental effort" to get the required number of students to take the exam.

"But hindsight is pretty good," remarked Ellis, who added the school will test for cash next year. "Maybe we should have offered them a free hamburger or a half-day off."

Ellis attributed the seniors' strong showing to "simple school pride." He said in recent years, officials have encouraged seniors to score well "for dear old Poly High."

"This school is over 100 years old. There's a tradition here," said Ellis, a graduate of the downtown Long Beach campus. "We play on that emotion by telling students the scores appear in the paper. We tell them it's their reputation, not ours, that is at stake.

"And, I guess it didn't hurt we've beefed up math and English requirements."

Cash Incentive Has Critics

Some educators, including Turner, are critical of the cash incentive program, arguing that it is ethically wrong to motivate students to learn--or take a test--in return for money.

Tom Martin, supervisor of research, planning and evaluation in the Cerritos-based ABC Unified School District, questioned what will happen to student performances when the incentive money runs out. A state Department of Education spokeswoman said the program will continue at least one more year.

"We all realize the power of money. It is a remarkable motivational tool," Martin said. "But what happens when the state says, 'That's it--no more money'? Will the students suddenly stop caring? Are we creating a monster?"

Twelfth-graders at most of the winning schools will not be around to enjoy the fruits of their labor, however. Graduation is a month away, and most of the high schools have yet to decide how to spend the money.

Downey High School Principal Moses Chavez said that may be why some schools, including his own, received no bonus money. "It's hard to motivate a student to do well for the sake of someone else," he said. Scores among the school's seniors fell in all categories by about 1% to 4%.

Several principals said their schools probably will invest in materials and equipment--computers were frequently mentioned--that would not be purchased in time for the senior class to use. Others around the county are discussing ways to use part of the cash award to defray students' graduation-related expenses, such as cap-and-gown rentals and senior prom tickets.

At John Glenn, principal Galvan believes the school's test money should be spent on this year's to serve as an incentive for next year's 12th-grade class.

"I'd like to see some type of senior awards breakfast. Or, increased funding for student activities," he said. "The key is to keep students enthused and excited about their campus. Money can do that."

High School Scores for 12th-Graders State, County Averages STATE OF CALIFORNIA

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 63.1 63.0 69.5 67.7 83-84 62.2 62.6 69.4 67.4 84-85 62.9 63.2 69.7 68.3

LOS ANGELES COUNTY

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 60.7 60.6 --- 64.9 83-84 59.4 59.8 68.0 64.3 84-85 60.1 60.5 68.3 65.3

ABC Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 63.1 64.2 72.1 68.2 83-84 63.1 63.2 71.9 68.4 84-85 63.6 64.3 71.7 71.2

ARTESIA HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 61.0 60.1 --- 63.1 83-84 61.0 59.3 72.5 69.1 84-85 61.5 59.1 69.8 69.0

CERRITOS HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 62.3 64.6 --- 67.5 83-84 62.9 63.2 71.6 65.3 84-85 64.3 66.6 72.0 69.0

GAHR HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 62.6 63.8 --- 69.4 83-84 62.4 63.2 69.8 67.7 84-85 61.7 62.6 70.0 71.0

WHITNEY HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 77.4 78.5 --- 84.3 83-84 75.0 77.5 79.7 83.9 84-85 74.9 77.7 83.4 88.5

Bellflower Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 63.9 62.0 70.4 65.5 83-84 62.9 62.5 69.4 65.3 84-85 60.8 62.3 68.3 67.4

BELLFLOWER HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 60.1 59.5 --- 65.0 83-84 61.6 61.7 66.5 65.9 84-85 59.0 60.3 67.2 66.5

MAYFAIR HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 67.2 64.1 --- 66.0 83-84 64.0 63.2 71.8 64.9 84-85 62.7 64.4 69.3 68.4

Compton Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 48.2 47.5 59.8 47.5 83-84 48.1 48.7 61.1 47.9 84-85 49.4 48.3 59.9 48.7

CENTENNIAL HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 47.5 48.8 --- 47.5 83-84 47.2 50.1 59.9 44.9 84-85 47.7 43.6 58.9 44.6

COMPTON HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 83-84 49.1 47.2 --- 46.4 83-84 49.2 48.0 61.1 47.0 84-85 52.7 51.1 60.5 49.6

DOMINGUEZ HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 47.4 46.8 71.5 49.1 83-84 47.1 48.0 62.0 51.0 84-85 47.5 48.5 59.9 50.3

Downey Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 66.3 67.5 71.5 69.6 83-84 64.4 65.6 69.1 68.4 84-85 64.5 65.2 69.4 67.2

DOWNEY HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 64.5 65.8 --- 68.7 83-84 64.6 64.2 71.2 67.3 84-85 62.0 63.0 67.5 64.2

WARREN HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 68.4 69.5 --- 70.6 83-84 64.2 67.2 66.9 69.7 84-85 67.3 67.8 71.6 70.5

El Rancho Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 59.5 61.2 70.1 62.6 83-84 56.6 62.0 70.4 63.3 84-85 57.4 57.4 67.1 61.7

EL RANCHO HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 59.5 61.2 70.1 62.6 83-84 56.6 62.0 70.4 63.3 84-85 57.4 57.4 67.1 61.7

Long Beach Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 61.6 60.7 69.2 65.2 83-84 58.1 58.2 68.2 62.6 84-85 59.6 58.8 68.2 64.2

AVALON HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 63.5 59.4 --- 68.0 83-84 67.4 56.8 59.4 68.6 84-85 54.4 59.2 69.0 69.3

JORDAN HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 58.6 58.0 --- 59.1 83-84 56.4 56.0 66.8 59.3 84-85 56.9 55.3 64.3 57.7

LAKEWOOD HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 64.3 63.4 --- 67.9 83-84 61.6 61.8 72.4 66.2 84-85 59.5 60.2 70.2 66.8

MILLIKAN HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 61.4 62.3 --- 67.8 83-84 56.0 56.9 65.0 61.8 84-85 58.7 57.5 66.5 62.2

POLYTECHNIC HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 59.8 57.0 --- 62.2 83-84 54.9 55.3 67.0 59.2 84-85 59.2 59.0 68.6 64.1

WILSON HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 63.4 62.4 --- 67.9 83-84 61.4 60.9 70.6 65.9 84-85 63.0 61.1 70.1 68.0

Los Angeles Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 57.5 57.4 65.6 61.7 83-84 56.4 56.6 65.8 61.3 84-85 57.3 57.4 66.7 62.3

BELL HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 50.7 52.0 --- 55.3 83-84 50.0 52.1 61.2 55.2 84-85 54.4 52.3 63.5 58.9

HUNTINGTON PARK HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 49.7 49.9 --- 54.4 83-84 50.2 49.7 63.0 56.7 84-85 52.4 51.7 62.5 56.9

SOUTH GATE HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 53.9 51.6 --- 57.5 83-84 51.6 51.7 60.5 57.2 84-85 52.3 55.0 64.9 60.8

Lynwood Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 56.2 55.7 71.8 59.0 83-84 50.8 52.3 63.7 54.0 84-85 51.2 52.2 61.3 52.0

LYNWOOD HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 56.2 55.7 71.8 59.0 83-84 50.8 52.3 63.7 54.0 84-85 51.2 52.2 61.3 52.0

Montebello Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 57.6 58.3 67.0 62.7 83-84 56.8 57.4 68.3 62.9 84-85 57.0 58.2 65.7 62.9

BELL GARDENS HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 53.5 52.7 --- 57.8 83-84 51.4 50.6 62.9 56.7 84-85 52.9 52.4 61.1 58.5

MONTEBELLO HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 57.2 58.1 --- 61.5 83-84 56.7 56.2 69.5 62.6 84-85 55.8 57.0 64.9 60.2

SCHURR HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 61.2 62.7 --- 67.8 83-84 61.5 64.5 71.7 68.7 84-85 61.2 63.9 70.2 68.9

Norwalk-La Mirada DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 62.1 59.7 67.4 64.0 83-84 59.8 59.3 68.9 62.6 84-85 61.3 60.7 70.4 64.1

GLENN HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 62.5 59.5 --- 64.8 83-84 56.5 53.9 66.1 60.1 84-85 59.8 56.3 65.5 61.4

LA MIRADA HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 63.2 60.8 --- 65.1 83-84 62.5 62.9 69.2 65.4 84-85 61.9 63.1 71.8 66.6

NORWALK HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 60.0 58.2 --- 61.7 83-84 59.9 60.2 71.5 61.5 84-85 61.9 61.5 73.1 63.2

Paramount Unified DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 60.5 61.7 74.9 60.9 83-84 65.7 63.6 83.8 68.1 84-85 57.4 56.8 73.7 59.7

PARAMOUNT HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 60.5 61.7 74.9 60.9 83-84 65.7 63.6 83.8 68.1 84-85 57.4 56.8 73.7 59.7

Whittier Union DISTRICT AVERAGE

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 62.2 63.2 70.1 66.7 83-84 61.5 60.8 69.7 65.6 84-85 62.0 61.1 68.8 65.8

CALIFORNIA HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 62.8 63.5 --- 67.6 83-84 64.2 63.3 72.8 67.4 84-85 64.2 62.6 68.4 65.5

LA SERNA HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 63.2 64.6 --- 69.1 83-84 60.9 60.8 67.9 65.9 84-85 62.1 62.9 68.4 66.5

PIONEER HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 59.2 59.1 --- 64.0 83-84 58.6 57.7 67.2 62.8 84-85 58.3 58.3 65.7 63.8

SANTA FE HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 60.4 63.7 --- 66.4 83-84 62.0 60.0 71.7 67.2 84-85 60.8 61.0 68.9 68.3

WHITTIER HIGH

Reading Writing Spelling Math 82-83 66.4 66.0 --- 66.6 83-84 61.3 62.5 68.8 64.6 84-85 65.3 61.4 73.8 65.2

CASH FOR CAP CORES The following high schools in the Southeast area received money from the state based on increases in California Assessment Program test scores.

District School Award ABC Cerritos $71,846 Whitney $11,931 Gahr $14,391 Bellflower Mayfair $10,821 Downey Warren $46,626 Montebello Bell Gardens $27,893 Norwalk-La Mirada Glenn $29,703 La Mirada $12,029 Norwalk $27,054

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