Educators debate skills test results


Most of Malibu’s public school students performed substantially better than the national average on a skills assessment test administered last spring, but in a potentially troubling signal to parents of students at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School, roughly half of the students there posted low scores on the statewide test, which measured skill levels in reading, mathematics and other basic subjects.

The second- and fourth-graders at Juan Cabrillo trailed the nation, according to the results of the Stanford 9, the first statewide skills test for public school students in four years. And Juan Cabrillo was the only Malibu school to regularly score below the average for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, even though hundreds of students with limited English abilities at the district’s Santa Monica schools tended to lower the district’s overall score on the test, which was administered only in English.

Sue Gee, a district assistant superintendent, said that because of summer vacation, district officials have not yet had the opportunity to analyze the scores with school principals and teachers. Gee refused to speculate on Juan Cabrillo’s performance, until more analysis of the scores was done. “I do not have a clue [how to explain Cabrillo’s performance],” said Gee.

Betty Glass, retiring principal at Juan Cabrillo, said the test was administered for the first time in California last spring, and that students did not have any special advance preparation for the exam.

“It’s just based on what the students learned in the classroom,” said Glass.

She said that she had seen higher scores on the other kinds of assessment tests that are regularly administered, like the California Test of Basic Skills.

“We expect the great majority of our students to score at or above the national average,” said Glass. “We’re all concerned when students score below the 50th percentile.”

Scores for third- and fifth-graders at Juan Cabrillo were mostly above the national average and more in line with the district average.

The Stanford 9 test was designed to assess the academic skills of California’s public school students relative to the nation’s as a whole. The scores released to the public in July by the state Department of Education show how each grade level at each school performed on the exam as measured against a national sample of public school students who took the same exam. Individual test scores have been sent to students’ homes.

A score of 50 represents the 50th percentile and the national average. With the exception of Juan Cabrillo, Malibu’s schools scored roughly between the 65th and 75th percentile on most of the subjects tested. Juan Cabrillo’s second- and fourth-graders scored, on average, in the 46th percentile.

All California students were tested in reading, mathematics and language. Students through eighth grade were also tested in spelling, while students in grades nine through 11 were tested on science and social science as well. California’s scores as a whole were below the national average, roughly between the 38th and 44th percentile.

Point Dume Marine Science and Webster Elementary Schools

Among Malibu’s elementary schools, Point Dume Marine Science Elementary School posted the highest scores for students in second through fourth grade, but Webster Elementary School had the strongest fifth-grade class of the three schools.

For comparative purposes, scores from Roosevelt and Franklin Elementary Schools in Santa Monica are also provided in the accompanying charts. The students at those two elementary schools, on Montana Avenue, are drawn from the more affluent communities in Santa Monica. Point Dume and Webster’s scores were generally comparable to Roosevelt’s and Franklin’s scores, although Franklin regularly posted the highest scores of the four schools.

Malibu Middle School

Malibu Middle School was the only school in the city to consistently outscore the district average, but Lincoln Middle School, on Santa Monica’s north side, had higher scores at every grade level in every subject except reading. The sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in Malibu had their weakest scores in the spelling category. Those scores were close to the national average.

Malibu High School

Santa Monica High School, with a far larger portion of students with limited English skills, had, with one exception, lower scores across the board on the all-English test than Malibu High School.

Reading scores for ninth- and tenth-graders at Malibu High were the lowest scores among the academic subjects tested. The reading score from eighth- to ninth-grade dropped more than 20 points. But the lower reading scores in high school are consistent with the results for the test across the state.

Assistant superintendent Gee said that because of the statewide drop in reading scores, she felt that some of the grade levels’ curricula was more aligned with the test than other grade levels’.

“What are we not teaching them at grade nine that we’re testing them on?” said Gee.

For comparative purposes, scores from Beverly Hills High School are also included in the accompanying charts. That school is widely regarded as one of the better public schools in California. On average, it scored in the 69th percentile. Malibu High, on average, was in the 64th percentile.

More information on the test is available at the Department of Education Web site, at