Students' Stanford 9 Test Scores Improve

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Ventura County students showed marked improvement on this year's Stanford 9 test, pushing countywide scores above the national average in reading, math and language arts at most grade levels, but state education officials cautioned that an error may have skewed the scores.

The highest scores in the county at the elementary level were in math and language arts, which officials attribute to class-size reduction in kindergarten through third grade. The lowest scores were in ninth-, 10th- and 11th-grade reading, and in spelling across-the-board.

"We were one of the top counties in California last year and we expect to be among the top few counties again this year," county schools Supt. Chuck Weis said Wednesday. "But we will continue to work on our scores, especially in reading."

Although Weis' office released preliminary results, the state Department of Education withheld county, district and school scores scheduled to be posted on the Internet on Wednesday.

Harcourt Educational Measurement, which administered the statewide achievement test to more than 4 million California public school students between March and May, misclassified about 300,000 students as not being fluent in English, a mistake that may have inflated scores of the limited English students.

But Weis expects that the corrected scores--which are now scheduled to be released July 15--will not change significantly.

About 96,000 Ventura County students in grades 2 through 11 took the Stanford 9 exam this spring, marking the second year that the test has been administered. The exam measured students' basic skills in reading, language arts, math, spelling, science and social studies, based on grade level. This year's test had an additional set of questions based on California's newly adopted math and language arts standards.

Districts throughout the county showed improvement in math and language. In fact, county math scores were up 6 to 10 points in the primary grades, and 3 to 5 points in the middle and high school grades. In language, county scores rose 4 to 8 points in the primary grades, and 1 to 5 points in the upper grades.

Much like last year's results, this year's scores highlight the difference in achievement between east and west county schools.

For example, the average national percentile rank for Conejo Valley Unified fourth-graders in reading was 71, compared with 34 in Hueneme Elementary. And the average for Simi Valley's eighth-graders in math was 56, compared with 30 for Fillmore's eighth-graders.

Like many educators, Oxnard Union High School Supt. Bill Studt attributes the gap to socioeconomic factors. Districts such as Fillmore, Santa Paula, Oxnard and Hueneme have more students who move frequently, are low-income and speak limited English.

"The majority of the students in [east county] districts come from very affluent families and have had educational opportunities that our kids haven't had," he said.

Although generally the west county scores weren't as high, superintendents said they were still pleased to see gains. For example, 10th-graders in the Oxnard Union High School District jumped from the 31st percentile to the 37th in language arts.

"We're happy campers," Studt said. "The state is putting the heat on everybody to improve, and we are up to the task."

Santa Paula Elementary School District test scores also showed modest increases. In math, eighth-graders improved from the 31st percentile to the 34th.

"We were pleased with what we had done because we made quite a bit of advancement," Supt. Bonnie Bruington said. "But then when we look at ourselves compared to the rest of the county and we're pretty close to the bottom."

Bruington said a heightened focus on reading skills helped nudge up scores. She said teachers are doing the best they can and will continue to improve the curriculum quality.

"You'd like it to be higher, but if it's not, we'll just work harder," she said. "We'll live through this. Not only will we live through this, we will triumph."

Countywide, the scores dip at the high school level, especially in reading.

Moorpark Unified Assistant Supt. Frank DePasquale called his district's high school reading scores disappointing.

Tenth-graders in the Moorpark district scored below the national average at the 47th percentile, while their peers countywide scored at the 39th percentile.

Ninth-graders' scores were also below what Weis would have wanted.

Weis, as well as state Supt. of Public Instruction Delaine Eastin, said the drop in those scores may actually be due to a flaw in the test.

School officials say test questions based on new standards do not reflect what is being taught in the classroom. Although the standards were adopted last year, teachers still do not have curricular guides or textbooks that match them.

"The raw scores [for the augmented test] don't really tell us much," Fillmore Unified Assistant Supt. Jane Kampbell said. "I see it more as information gathering."

Eastin also said the standards-based questions were harder than they should have been.

"Let's make it tough; let's make it a challenge," she said. "But for heaven's sake, let's make it realistic."

Others argue that students who speak limited English should not have to take the Stanford 9 test. In fact, the state Assembly is considering a bill that would exempt students who have had less than 30 months of instruction in English from taking the exam.

But Ventura Unified Supt. Joseph Spirito said districts shouldn't rationalize low test scores. Rather, they should focus on the areas that need improvement and implement whatever programs are necessary to raise scores.

"We have to stop looking for ways and means to excuse why our kids aren't doing well," he said. "This test is here to stay and it is a big deal."

Educators throughout the county will be looking closely at this year's scores because there is more riding on them than last year.

Gov. Gray Davis plans to use the results to rank California schools and determine which schools will receive rewards or sanctions. Those with low scores in 1998 and 1999 may apply for funds to improve achievement.

Individual districts may also use scores to determine which students advance to the next grade, take summer school or participate in after-school tutoring programs.

Because of the high stakes, some teachers set aside regular curriculum for weeks to prepare students for the exam. A few schools hired outside experts to show students test-taking techniques. Others sent letters home encouraging parents to make sure that their children ate breakfast and got a good night's sleep before the exam.

Districts are already making plans to raise next year's scores.

Fillmore Unified intends to reduce the size of 10th-grade English classes. Ventura Unified wants to hire reading and math specialists at the middle and high school levels.

The Oxnard Union High School District will continue its extended school year program, which adds 15 days of instruction. Moorpark Unified plans to launch a remedial reading class next year for all ninth-graders who score below the 35th percentile, as a mandatory summer school for at-risk students.

And Simi Valley Unified recently implemented transitional first grade for students who struggled in kindergarten. It also plans to offer before- and after-school tutoring programs in the fall.

"We've been putting a lot of our efforts in that early time," said Rebecca Wetzell, director of elementary education in Simi Valley. "We think it's really important to catch them as early as possible."

Gorman is a Times staff writer and Hamm is a Times Community News reporter.

* RESULTS DELAYED: Testing firm's botched scoring prompted state officials to delay release of scores. A1

Ventura County School District Scores

* Understanding the Numbers / Reading the Tables

In Ventura County, about 96,000 public school students in grades 2 through 11 took the Stanford 9 standardized test this year. All of them were tested in reading, writing and math. Students through grade 8 also took a spelling test.

On Wednesday, the county superintendent of schools office released preliminary districtwide scores for each of the area's 20 school districts. Full test results for individual schools were not available.

Officials caution that test results may be skewed because the testing company misclassified some students as not being fluent in English. Although corrected numbers are expected to be released July 15, officials said they do not expect districtwide figures or trends to change significantly.

* How to Interpret the Percentile Rank

Even among experts, there is no one view on what a percentile rank tells about performance. But a 50 means that, taken together, the district's students were right at the national average when measured against a sample of their peers across the country.

A percentile rank of 25 or less suggests that many of the students are doing poorly when measured against the national sample. A rank of 75 or above shows that a high percentage of students are doing well.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The 'Stanford 9' Assessment Test Results

Grade 4

*--*

Year Reading Math Language Spelling VENTURA COUNTY 1999 53 51 55 47 1998 49 44 51 44 DISTRICTS Briggs Elementary 1999 38 35 38 34 1998 29 25 35 23 Conejo Valley Unified 1999 71 69 72 66 1998 69 65 69 65 Fillmore Unified 1999 33 30 40 31 1998 24 21 29 21 Hueneme Elementary 1999 34 36 39 28 1998 28 29 36 24 Mesa Union Elementary 1999 58 54 65 51 1998 51 35 52 45 Moorpark Unified 1999 56 52 59 49 1998 54 49 57 46 Mupu Elementary 1999 * * * * 1998 37 21 42 38 Oak Park Unified 1999 79 71 80 77 1998 75 65 77 75 Ocean View Elementary 1999 39 43 46 39 1998 33 28 37 28 Ojai Unified 1999 62 52 57 55 1998 60 51 59 53 Oxnard Elementary 1999 28 30 33 25 1998 26 26 30 24 Pleasant Valley Elementary 1999 64 62 64 59 1998 64 58 64 59 Rio Elementary 1999 29 32 33 26 1998 29 27 33 24 Santa Clara Elementary 1999 * * * * 1998 * * * * Santa Paula Elementary 1999 23 29 32 25 1998 30 28 36 23 Simi Valley Unified 1999 61 60 63 57 1998 57 52 57 53 Somis Elementary 1999 48 47 44 38 1998 48 51 47 39 Ventura Unified 1999 56 51 57 48 1998 53 43 53 46

*--*

Grade 8

*--*

Year Reading Math Language Spelling VENTURA COUNTY 1999 55 54 58 44 1998 53 50 55 42 DISTRICTS Briggs Elementary 1999 37 50 44 31 1998 44 58 55 35 Conejo Valley Unified 1999 71 74 75 61 1998 72 74 73 60 Fillmore Unified 1999 32 30 29 24 1998 31 29 29 25 Hueneme Elementary 1999 43 44 48 36 1998 39 37 44 34 Mesa Union Elementary 1999 57 55 62 46 1998 65 63 71 55 Moorpark Unified 1999 56 58 62 45 1998 58 55 63 42 Mupu Elementary 1999 59 49 62 44 1998 53 35 49 43 Oak Park Unified 1999 76 76 82 61 1998 74 72 80 61 Ocean View Elementary 1999 39 39 44 34 1998 35 36 38 35 Ojai Unified 1999 67 63 67 50 1998 67 65 69 54 Oxnard Elementary 1999 36 34 40 29 1998 33 30 40 28 Pleasant Valley Elementary 1999 66 68 71 54 1998 63 59 66 49 Rio Elementary 1999 36 32 39 34 1998 31 29 36 27 Santa Clara Elementary 1999 * * * * 1998 * * * * Santa Paula Elementary 1999 35 34 34 28 1998 31 31 31 27 Simi Valley Unified 1999 61 56 61 48 1998 58 54 58 42 Somis Elementary 1999 46 47 47 35 1998 44 40 41 34 Ventura Unified 1999 58 52 58 43 1998 55 47 54 41

*--*

Grade 10

*--*

Year Reading Math Language Spelling VENTURA COUNTY 1999 39 50 46 ** 1998 38 46 42 ** DISTRICTS Conejo Valley Unified 1999 61 70 66 ** 1998 58 66 63 ** Fillmore Unified 1999 18 28 19 ** 1998 22 24 22 ** Moorpark Unified 1999 47 52 54 ** 1998 38 46 41 ** Oak Park Unified 1999 67 70 72 ** 1998 62 64 68 ** Ojai Unified 1999 47 59 46 ** 1998 48 58 50 ** Oxnard Union High 1999 28 39 37 ** 1998 26 37 31 ** Santa Paula Union High 1999 25 34 29 ** 1998 18 26 25 ** Simi Valley Unified 1999 48 58 51 ** 1998 47 53 50 ** Ventura Unified 1999 41 46 44 ** 1998 39 44 44 **

*--*

* Figures not available.

** Spelling test is not given in the 10th grade.

Source: Ventura County superintendent of schools office

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