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L.A. Schools Report Test Results Rose Slightly

TIMES EDUCATION WRITERS

As state attorneys went to court Monday trying to win the release of California schools’ full scores on standardized tests, Los Angeles school officials announced a highly limited summary of their results--showing students rising a point on a national scale.

Apparently seeking to give as rosy a spin as possible on the test scores, Los Angeles Unified School District officials Monday morning released only the average scores of about half its students--those who had taken the Stanford 9 standardized exam last year and this year and also were classified as fluent in English.

That group, officials announced, had scored at the 40th percentile nationally, a number suggesting that the country’s second largest school district had climbed out of the bottom third of the nation for the first time in decades.

“It’s encouraging, but only a start,” said Supt. Ruben Zacarias, who has pledged to increase test scores in the district by eight percentile points in four years.

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District officials acknowledged, however, that they had excluded the scores of, among others, about 90,000 students classified as not fluent in English, although they had been deemed proficient enough in the language to take the test last year.

Later in the afternoon, after skeptical questioning, officials recalculated the totals, adding some of the district’s students with limited English proficiency, and revealed that there still was a one point improvement--one that lifted the average only to the 32nd percentile nationally.

Even then, the average excluded many students in the 681,000-student district, such as the large number of limited-English students who had been tested in Spanish last year.

The district’s flip-flop underscores the confusion that has beset California’s testing program since a judge last week blocked the state from releasing scores that include those for more than 1 million students who are classed as having limited-English skills.

The order has forced a delay in the state’s plan to post results for all 8,000 public schools in California on the Internet today.

Attorneys for the state Department of Education on Monday petitioned the Court of Appeal in San Francisco to limit the impact of the court order to the two school districts--Oakland and Berkeley--that requested it.

The petition argued that San Francisco Municipal Judge Ronald E. Quidachay exceeded his jurisdiction in applying his order statewide.

Doug Stone, an Education Department spokesman, said the state argued that because the complaint filed by the two Bay Area districts was not a class action lawsuit, it was improper of Quidachay to treat it as one.

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The Court of Appeal responded by demanding legal documents from the attorneys representing the schools in Oakland and Berkeley before the close of court Monday.

“It looks like the court will take this matter up quickly,” Stone said.

As the legal battle played out, state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin scheduled a news conference this morning to at least unveil statewide summaries of the scores for students who are fluent in English.

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Those summaries--for each grade from two through 11 and for every subject in which the students were tested--will be posted on the Internet, Stone said.

The timing means that the state will have partially complied with the section of the testing law requiring that the results be made available by June 30.

It’s still unclear when school-by-school scores will be posted on the Internet and if they will reflect the nearly 4.2 million students tested--or only those fluent in English.

But although the court challenge has interrupted the state’s plan to publish the scores on the Internet, individual school districts remain free to release their own results in any form they wish.

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Many, including most districts in Orange County, have decided to publish all their scores, some including those of limited English students.

But other districts were waiting to disclose their results, and many long have campaigned for the elimination of scores for limited-English students--a change that would drive averages considerably higher.

The scores on the Stanford 9 tests are measured against a national sample of students of whom only 1.8% are limited English speaking. Most California school districts have a much higher percentage of such students, which would tend to drag down the state’s ranking on the national scale.

The fear was even more intense in the Los Angeles district, which had voluntarily administered the Stanford 9 test last year, and thus faced comparison against itself as well as other districts.

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What’s more, the district had on its own given the test to many limited-English students last year--so it could not as easily protest that practice as other districts.

Dreading the prospect of low scores in the year when Zacarias had promised improvement, Los Angeles school officials worked seven days a week to beat the state report with an analysis showing how the results would look without the limited-English students.

Although Quidachay’s ruling took the pressure off, the district decided to go ahead Monday with plans to disclose a limited analysis that combined the scores for all the battery of tests at all grade levels into a single number.

At a morning news briefing, Zacarias announced that this combined percentile score had inched up a single point from 39 to 40.

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The analysis also showed a two-point improvement--from the 23rd to the 25th percentile--in the scores of the 100 schools identified last year as the district’s lowest performing.

Challenged by reporters as to why the district’s 1997 scores, previously reported in the low 30s, had jumped all the way to 39, district officials explained that they were using scores consistent with those that would be reported if Quidachay’s order stands.

That meant excluding about 90,000 students who took the district’s Stanford 9 last year, although they are classified as limited English proficient.

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Through a spokesman, Zacarias said he was concerned that there was an appearance of disingenuousness, and by late afternoon released a second set of numbers--including the scores of the limited-English students who took the test both years.

The new calculation then showed the whole district advancing only from the 31st to the 32nd percentile. And 100 schools gained only one point rather than two, going from the 19th to the 20th percentile.

Testing experts said it is hard to conclude from a single point increase that a district is improving.

“Obviously if they get that kind of a change every year for the next 10 years, that’s huge improvement,” said Tom Brooks, manager of Applied Research for Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement. “It could be part of a long-term improvement or it could be just a blip in a long-term pattern of no change at all.”

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