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Scores Are In, but Verdict Out

TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

The results of the state’s most comprehensive standardized testing effort ever, involving about 4.1 million students and costing about $35 million, are now in.

Though a court challenge has made it uncertain when or whether full statewide results will be made public, many school districts have voluntarily released their own school-by-school results--and many parents have received reports of their children’s scores.

The controversy over the Stanford 9 testing program, however, is far from over. The interpretation of the numbers--and their use and misuse--is only beginning.

For example, what does a low score in math mean if the student who took the test is not fluent in English and perhaps did not understand the question?

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What does it mean to compare the students in California--where one in four are not fluent in English--with a national sample in which fewer than one in 50 faced that language barrier?

Another issue: Should the test scores be used to evaluate teachers? Many educators argue that they should not, because a teacher can’t be held responsible for where a child starts academically. But Gov. Pete Wilson, who initiated the testing program a year ago, is pushing to have test scores be among the factors that are considered when making such judgments.

Wilson proposed the testing program as a means of measuring whether the state’s multibillion-dollar investment in smaller class sizes is paying off. He also wanted to track the impact of the hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on teacher training and textbooks in reading and mathematics.

Educators generally agree that the first year of statewide testing should be viewed as a starting line--one that can be used in future years to show whether students and schools have made progress. But they also say the scores deal with only a fraction of what the schools teach and therefore should be seen as only a partial measure of their success.

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Despite such qualms, parents will now have at least some means of judging their schools. They also will have a starting point for discussing the performance of their children.

Here are four perspectives on how to view the test results:


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