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CAP Scores Show Weak Writing Skills : Testing: Some progress is shown in exams for eighth-graders. While only 44% showed skills regarded as adequate or better, it’s a 7% increase.

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Fewer than half of the state’s junior high school students have adequate composition skills, according to results of the California Assessment Program’s writing test for eighth-graders.

But there also were some glimmers of good news in the results released today--signs of steady improvement. Statewide, the eighth-graders who took the test last spring earned an average score of 259--four points higher than those who took the exam in the spring of 1989. And while only 44% displayed writing skills deemed adequate or better, that number represents a 7% increase since 1987, the first year the test was given.

Locally, eighth-graders throughout Los Angeles County posted an average score of 236, up six points from the year before. Only 37% of students in the county produced scores considered adequate or better, just one percentage point higher than previously.

Six of the larger districts in Los Angeles County scored 300 or above: ABC Unified, Arcadia Unified, Palos Verdes Peninsula, Torrance Unified, Walnut Valley Unified and William S. Hart Union High. Students in the Compton and Lynwood unified districts scored the lowest. Compton fell four points to 141, and Lynwood dipped three points to 183.

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In the 625,000-student Los Angeles Unified School District, the average score was 208, which represents a six-point increase. Just 31% of last year’s eighth-graders displayed adequate or better writing skills. But they still did better than their 1989 counterparts, only 29% of whom did as well.

The gains came despite a continuing increase in the proportion of students who are not fluent in English. In Los Angeles Unified, 19.8% of the eighth-graders had limited English skills, up from 13.8% the previous year. Countywide, the number of such students rose from 11.7% to 16.7%; in California, it grew from 8% to 11.3%.

While continuing to lag considerably behind students whose primary language is English, those who are still learning the language showed encouraging improvement, scoring an average of 176, up nine points over those who took the test in 1989.

All major ethnic groups in the state also registered improved scores. The average for Asians jumped from 290 to 300, while blacks went from 211 to 218 and Latinos from 218 to 222.

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State Supt. of Public Instruction Bill Honig attributed the gains to more classroom emphasis on writing and other language arts.

“When California first launched statewide writing assessment . . . we placed renewed emphasis on good writing instruction in public schools,” Honig said in releasing the latest scores.

“Our students are beginning to reap the benefits of that major step in educational reform,” he said. “Educators are being challenged to ensure that all students have equal access to a rich language arts curriculum that integrates reading, writing and oral language skills.”

But more needs to be done and at earlier grade levels, he added.

“Continued progress . . . will happen only if school staffs develop a multi-year approach to writing instruction that crosses all grade levels and subject areas,” Honig said.

The writing test represents the CAP program’s biggest step to date toward measures of student achievement that are “performance based” rather than widely criticized multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank tests. Students are assigned a subject from one of eight categories of writing--autobiographical incident, evaluation, firsthand biography, observational writing, problem solution, report of information, speculation about causes or effects and story. The essays must be completed within 45 minutes and receive two grades, one for thinking and writing process skills, the other for spelling, grammar and other mechanics of writing.

Because of state spending cuts, no CAP tests will be given this school year. Gov. Pete Wilson has set aside $10 million in his proposed budget to resume the evaluation program in the 1991-92 school year, but he wants the program to be changed so that students receive scores as well as the schools and districts. Currently, the program is aimed at measuring a school’s progress and not that of individual students.


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