STATE'S STUDENTS FACE CHALLENGES IN NEW STANDARDIZED TEST SERIES.
On Tuesday, local high school and junior high students will begin taking the same standardized test that will be administered to 4 million students in public schools all across California.
Gov. Pete Wilson and the state Legislature clashed last year over the use of one test to measure how well California's students - with their diverse array of ethnicities, socioeconomic classes and languages spoken - are learning the public school curriculum.
Wilson threatened to veto portions of California's $68 billion budget unless the Legislature agreed upon one test that all public schoolchildren would take so that academic progress could be compared from one district to the next.
Finally, the state Board of Education voted in November to adopt the use of the Stanford Achievement Test Series, Ninth Edition, published by Texas-based Harcourt Brace Educational Measurement.
Students in grades two through 11 will take exams specific to individual grade levels.
Of the 14,000 students in the William S. Hart Union High School District, seniors will be the only ones who won't take the Stanford 9, as the test is called. The standardized exams will be administered to the seventh- through 11th-graders over several school days until May 12, said Gary Wexler, the district's director of curriculum and assessment.
Hart district Superintendent Bob Lee said that while he hasn't seen the Stanford 9, he has heard about its content. ``The test is by far more difficult than any (standardized) test the state has ever had,'' he said.
Hart students tend to fare well on standardized tests though. ``They've always done above the national average,'' Wexler said.
If local youths struggle with the questions, other students across California likely will have the same difficulties and the scores probably will reflect that, Lee added.
In previous years, the Hart district has tested its students only in eighth and 10th grades, Wexler said. Last year, those eighth-graders scored in the 59th percentile in reading, the 60th percentile in written expression and the 78th percentile in mathematics, he said.
Last year's 10th-graders fared just as well. They scored in the 63rd percentile in reading, the 62nd percentile in written expression and the 73rd percentile in mathematics, Wexler said.
The main challenge Hart students will face is that the Stanford 9 tests - a separate multiple-choice exam for each grade level - don't perfectly match the California curriculum in general and the Hart district curriculum in particular, Wexler said.
``For example, in our district, we don't have all students taking a ninth-grade social studies class. Almost all our students take modern world history as 10th-graders,'' Wexler explained.
Yet the ninth-grade test will include questions on subjects - such as Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries - those students haven't studied, he said.
In the Stanford 9 exam, Hart district seventh- and eighth-graders will be tested on reading vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling, language arts, mathematics problem solving and mathematics procedures, Wexler said.
Hart district high schoolers will be tested on those subjects as well as science and social studies, Wexler said.
The Stanford 9 ``will take about five hours to administer,'' Wexler said.
Results for schools statewide, for each grade level, will be made public by June 30, including on the Internet.
For the past decade, the Hart district had used the Individual Test of Academic Skills, published by Mission Viejo-based School Research and Services. The questions on that standardized exam were specific to California's curriculum, Wexler said.
The Hart district's incoming seventh-graders for years had been given the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, another widely-used standardized test, he said.
Wexler said the content of the tests are closely guarded to maintain the integrity of the results. But a hint to the difficulty can be seen in the number of questions to be answered and the time allotted to do so, he said.
For example, the ninth-grade test has 40 science questions and 40 social studies questions. Students are given only 20 minutes to complete each section, meaning they have to work at a pace of 30 seconds for each science question and 30 seconds for each social studies question, Wexler said.
Each grade level, from seventh to 11th, has roughly 250 questions for all the subjects on their Stanford 9 test, he added.
Sean Walsh, the governor's deputy chief of staff, said that Wilson has been fighting to have one test for all California schoolchildren since he took office in 1990.
``If one area is doing abysmally poor, and one area is doing well, then we should find out what they're doing right,'' Walsh said. ``Quite frankly, we hope that this gets some parents upset,'' he said.
``If one school district is doing a great job, why? Right now, we have no way of understanding that,'' Walsh said. ``You have to identify the patient's illnesses before you can treat them.''
PHOTO (Color in SAC Edition only) Paul Priesz, principal of Valencia High School, displays faculty instructions for the Stanford test series.
John Lazar/Special to the Daily News