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L.A. Schools: a Starting Point

Test scores are the thermometer by which parents and educators measure how children are doing. Los Angeles Unified School District Supt. Ruben Zacarias says he is encouraged that preliminary results indicate test scores have risen slightly. True, up is always better than down. But the fact is that LAUSD scores are still shamefully below the national average, and tiny improvements are not cause for satisfaction.

The district’s overall score on the state-mandated standardized test rose by one, from the 31st to the 32nd percentile (50 is the national average) for children who also took the test last year. That group includes students who are deemed proficient in English and limited-English students who get most of their instruction in English. For the 100 lowest-achieving schools, scores rose from the 19th to a still dismal 20th percentile. Meaningful judgments will have to wait until the district can provide a class-by-class, grade-by-grade, school-by-school breakdown, expected by the middle of next week.

The reporting process has been complicated by a court order barring the state from releasing the scores of limited-English students. The statewide results for all students broken down by grade and school district had been scheduled to be posted on the Internet today. But now only overall scores for fluent English speakers will be posted. Barring further court action, the state cannot release the full breakdown of scores needed for a district-by-district comparison.

In Los Angeles, the sheer number of students who took the Stanford 9 test in March, April and May also has contributed to the delay.

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The LAUSD has left important questions unanswered. How many students took the test? How many students completed the test? How many students sought (and were granted) exemptions? How many limited-English students were tested? How did limited-English students who have been enrolled for more than a year compare with the newest students? Next week’s breakdown should include this information.

The 1998 results represent a statewide ground zero. In future years, every student should be expected to improve, and the fate of teachers, principals, administrators, the superintendent and school board members ought to go up or down in tandem with test scores. Tests might not be the only measure of learning, but in a district as troubled as this one, they must be the guide.


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