L.A. SAT SCORES ON UPGRADE; BUT CITYWIDE RESULTS STILL BEHIND NATION'S.
For the second consecutive year, Los Angeles students' scores on the Scholastic Assessment Test improved slightly but still lagged well behind California and the rest of the country, according to results released Tuesday.
The average score for Los Angeles students on the test's verbal section rose one point to 432. Math scores climbed three points to 452.
Statewide averages were 496 on verbal tests and 514 on math compared with national averages of 505 on verbal and 511 on math. The highest possible score on each section is 800.
Van Nuys High School once again topped the Los Angeles Unified School District with an average of 541 verbal and 572 math. Van Nuys was among seven Valley high schools that improved on both tests. Seven others declined on both, and four Valley highs improved on one section and declined on the other.
Improvement in LAUSD results mirrored the slight improvement statewide and marked a welcome change from the early 1990s, when SAT scores in the LAUSD steadily declined.
``We've certainly tried to put that behind us,'' said Board of Education member Jeff Horton. ``I'm pleased that there's a slight improvement in the scores.''
LAUSD officials said that some of the achievement difference can be traced to the number of students whose first language wasn't English. Of Los Angeles students taking the SAT, 39 percent learned another language before English, compared with 19 percent in California and just 8 percent nationwide.
With so many non-native speakers taking the test, Horton said, the SAT results should be seen as encouraging.
``It seems clear that a lot of students have learned English pretty well in L.A. Unified, well enough to compete,'' he said.
At high-achieving Van Nuys High, Principal Russ Thompson said many of his students - drawn from throughout the city by the school's magnet programs - come from families that emphasize academic achievement and expect their kids to go to college.
``It's the high expectations of the parents,'' Thompson said. ``When the kids come here and they're prepared to learn, everything comes together.''
The SAT originally was designed to gauge students' ability to handle college-level work, not provide a report card on a school's or district's educational program.
``In the absence of state testing over the last decade, it's taken on added importance,'' said Pat McCabe, with the state education department's Office of Policy and Evaluation.
Not all students are tested. The SAT remains voluntary, taken mostly by those planning on college. Students interested in community colleges sometimes don't take the test because those schools don't require it, McCabe said.
``Some of the best students may not be taking the exam,'' he said.
In Los Angeles public schools, about 40 percent of seniors took the test during the last school year. About 41 percent had taken it the year before.
Paula Moseley, a coordinator in the district office that compiled the test results, said that test score changes of one or two points at an individual school won't show a significant trend, since only a few hundred students are tested in each place. But a districtwide improvement of a couple of points, she said, is more meaningful.
``We have over 10,000 students we're testing,'' she said. ``So when you see one or two points for the whole district, I look at that as a good trend.''
At Granada Hills High School, one of the Valley schools that saw test scores drop during the last year, Principal Kathleen Rattay said she wasn't worried about the results. Her students' verbal scores fell from 485 to 478, while math scores dipped from 525 to 517.
However, those scores remained well above the district average. And they were little changed from five years ago, when the average verbal score was 477 and the average math score, 519.
``It's OK,'' Rattay said. ``I'd be exuberant if it were going up, but we're holding steady. So I'm pleased with that.''
She also noted that about 70 percent of Granada Hills seniors take the SAT. The school's average scores would probably increase if administrators didn't encourage so many students to take the test regardless of college plans, she said.
In another barometer of student performance, state education authorities announced Tuesday that 79,560 public high school students took Advanced Placement tests this year.
If passed with a sufficient grade, the AP exams qualify students for credit at most colleges. Students can take AP tests in 16 subjects, covering such topics as calculus, physics or composition.
BOX: SAT SCORES