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Ventura County Schools Release State Test Scores

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Ventura County school officials on Friday unveiled scores from a historic statewide exam that showed students in Oak Park, Camarillo and Thousand Oaks emerging as the top performers across the county in an array of basic skills.

The release of the information came a day after a Municipal Court judge barred state officials from publishing results of the Stanford 9, given this spring in an unprecedented effort to gauge the knowledge of California’s schoolchildren.

However, the order did nothing to restrict individual school districts, many of which already had released results of an exam that--for the first time in years--allows for direct school-by-school and district-by-district comparisons.

“We did significantly better than I thought we were going to do,” county schools Supt. Charles Weis said. “There is a lot of room for improvement, but we’re pleased with these scores as a starting point.”

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Only three Ventura County school districts--Oak Park, Conejo Valley and Pleasant Valley Elementary in Camarillo--scored above the 50th percentile in every grade for reading, language, spelling and math.

That means that in those subjects, students did better than at least 50% of the students in a national sample.

The Oak Park district, long an academic powerhouse in the region, posted the highest scores, with students ranking no lower than the 61st percentile in all test subjects.

In language, for example, seventh-graders ranked in the 85th percentile, fifth-graders in the 82nd and eighth-graders in the 80th. Scores were equally impressive in math, where sixth- and ninth-graders ranked in the 80th percentile.

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“It’s a great validation of the quality of program that we have created here,” said Marilyn Lippiatt, superintendent of the 3,200-student school district.

“This is one more tool we can use to develop and improve our programs,” she said. “It gives us valuable data, and we want to use it.”

The Stanford 9, the first standardized tests in California since 1994, was given this spring to an estimated 4.2 million students statewide in grades two through 11, including an estimated 102,000 students in Ventura County.

The test measures skills in reading, mathematics, language and spelling for students in kindergarten through eighth grade. For grades nine through 11, the test also measures knowledge of science and history.

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Not surprisingly, the lowest scores were recorded in districts with the heaviest concentrations of limited-English-speaking students, including Fillmore Unified, Oxnard Elementary and Rio Elementary north of Oxnard.

Educators in those districts were quick to point out that scores were low largely because such students were required to take the test.

In fact, scores in some of the poorest performing districts bumped up as many as 21 percentile points in some subjects when limited-English speakers were filtered out of the testing pool.

“It’s very difficult for children to take a test in a language they neither speak, nor read nor write,” said Jane Kampbell, assistant superintendent of the Fillmore Unified School District, where about 45% of the elementary school students don’t speak English well.

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Remove those scores from the mix, Kampbell said, and Fillmore students are about average.

“Nobody wants to be average, we always want to improve,” she said. “But it’s unfair that districts with high [limited-English-proficient] counts are made to look like they’re not performing.”

Indeed, that is the subject of a legal battle brewing in Northern California.

A San Francisco judge ordered state officials Thursday not to release results of the Stanford 9, after school officials in Berkeley and Oakland objected to the state’s requirement that all students take the exams in English regardless of whether they could speak the language.

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The judge’s order blocked only release of the scores of students who are not fluent in English. But state officials said they could not separate those scores in time to release the data as scheduled next week.

“It’s no surprise that kids who could read the test did far better than those who couldn’t,” Weis said. “The scores lack validity and reliability if given in a language children don’t understand.”

When those scores were filtered out, Weis said, Ventura County students performed well across the board.

Most districts scored at least in the 40th percentile in reading and math, Weis said. And in the top-performing districts, he said, students at many grade levels ranked above the 75th percentile in a range of subjects.

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Weis said he was especially pleased that, by and large, there appeared to be a rise in test scores each year between second and eighth grade.

“That’s what we’re looking for,” he said. “We want our kids to get smarter and smarter every year.”

The 500-student Mesa Union School District in Somis nearly scored at or above the national average in every category for grades two through eight.

Eighth-graders turned in the highest scores, ranking in the 71st percentile in language, 65th percentile in reading, 63rd percentile in math and 55th percentile in spelling.

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“We are real pleased with the results,” said Dennis Convery, superintendent of the tiny district comprising an elementary school and a junior high on a single campus. “The students here have a great track record and I’m pleased that is continuing. Our teachers and parents deserve all the credit; they know what this school is all about.”

Scores for a handful of other districts--including Ojai, Moorpark, Simi Valley and Ventura--hovered near or above the national average.

But even in those districts, school officials were quick to point out that language and other demographic issues still affect test scores.

During a presentation last week to the Ventura school board, administrators talked about all the factors that could drag down results. They said 12% of the district’s 16,000 students speak limited English and nearly 40% come from low-income families.

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With those factors in mind, officials said they were relatively pleased with the test results. Truth be told, some said, they were fearful that the scores would be much lower.

“I wasn’t ecstatic about our scores, but I don’t feel too alarmed,” school board trustee John Walker said. “I see this first year as a stake in the ground, a benchmark. And it helps us assess whether we are meeting the needs of our students and parents.”

As part of the testing program, individual student scores have been arriving in mailboxes across Ventura County over the past couple of weeks.

And in the weeks ahead, administrators will pick apart the results, seeing what works in the classroom and what needs improvement.

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Ideally, school officials say, they want to work toward boosting every district in the county to at least the 50th percentile.

But educators also warn that the results can’t be viewed in isolation, that they must be considered in conjunction with a range of other measures aimed at gauging academic performance.

“It’s important, but it’s not everything,” Weis said of the Stanford 9. “It doesn’t test perseverance, it doesn’t test follow-through. This is one indicator, but it’s not everything about a school or a child.”

* REPERCUSSIONS: Court order to be appealed, A24, and some results are questioned. B1. Chart on B8.

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