Reading Marks Drop : Seniors’ Scores Improve in 3 Areas on Test

Times Education Writer

California’s high school seniors are doing slightly better this year in writing, spelling and mathematics, but poorer in reading, according to state test results released Friday.

The 12th-graders who took the test in December scored higher in writing, spelling and math than any senior class since 1977, although the improvement amounts to a gain of only 1% or 2%.

In reading, however, the reverse was true. Since 1975, when the test was last revised, reading scores have moved generally downward.

L.A. Follows Trend


In the Los Angeles school district, the same pattern was evident. Reading scores fell slightly from last year, but the seniors scored better in the three other subjects. Once again, the scores in the Los Angeles high schools were well below the state average.

“Reading is the toughest area to turn around,” said state Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig, who has tied his political future to turning around the state’s low test scores. “I think it’s partly our language problem. We have a lot of kids coming into our schools who don’t speak English as a native language.”

Honig noted that California students also tend to score above the national average in mathematics and below average in the verbal areas on the Scholastic Aptitude Test. “It’s also true that a lot of reading programs are weak. No one person is responsible for reading in most high schools,” he said.

Honig Disturbed


Honig said he was particularly disturbed because scores in some areas have been steadily sinking, despite state policies and extra money designed to help high schools beef up their education programs.

“In the next weeks and months, we will be putting these schools and districts on notice, offering assistance, investigating what is wrong and working with them to upgrade their performance,” he said.

The state exams, part of the California Assessment Program, cover grades 3, 6, 8 and 12, and the 30-minute test is designed to measure trends in school achievement. The younger students take the test each spring, while seniors take the test in December.

For more than a decade, the younger pupils have scored steadily higher on the state test, but the increases have not been translated into significantly higher scores for seniors.


In 1983, the Legislature set new high school graduation requirements seeking to ensure that all students get the basics of a good education. The state has also lengthened the school year, added new summer classes, insisted on more homework assignments and raised teachers’ salaries, all in hopes of improving achievement levels.

Honig said a quick analysis of this year’s scores showed no particular pattern among the schools scoring better and those doing worse. For example, some urban districts, such as San Diego and Long Beach, had much better scores, while others were faring worse.

One pattern, though not new, was seen again this year. Before beginning the exam, students answer several questions about themselves. Those who admitted to watching the most television turned in the lowest scores on the average, while those students who avoided TV scored the highest.



These are average results of test scores among high school seniors who took the California Assessment Program exams in December:


Reading Writing Spelling Math 83-84 62.2 62.6 69.4 67.4 84-85 62.9 63.2 69.7 68.3 85-86 62.7 63.4 70.1 68.7



Reading Writing Spelling Math 83-84 56.4 56.6 65.8 61.3 84-85 57.3 57.4 66.7 62.3 85-86 56.7 57.5 66.8 62.5