Officials and parents debate Cabrillo school’s test scores

Parents anxious to know why many of the students at Juan Cabrillo Elementary School posted low scores on a statewide skills assessment test administered last spring packed a meeting with school officials last week. The explanations provided by officials did little to alleviate their concerns.

Juan Cabrillo’s second- and fourth-graders scored below the national average on most of the test, known as the Stanford 9, which was designed to measure skill levels in reading, mathematics and other basic subjects. The scores of Juan Cabrillo’s third- and fifth-graders were higher, but each grade level at the school almost consistently scored below the average for the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District.

At the same time, students at Point Dume Marine Science School and Webster Elementary School performed substantially better on the test, posting scores well above the national average.

While not going so far as to say the test results were invalid, Sue Gee, an assistant superintendent for the district, told Juan Cabrillo parents who attended the meeting the test did not accurately reflect what skills students had learned in the classroom because the test was not “aligned” with the classroom curricula designed for California’s public schools.

Delivered as part of a presentation designed to ease parents’ concerns, Gee’s explanation appeared to have had the opposite effect.

One father, Mike Scully, sarcastically asked, “If our kids had done fantastically on these tests, would you be here tonight saying, ‘Your kids aren’t that bright?'”

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If the issue was the statewide curriculum, parents asked, why did students at Point Dume and Webster perform so much better on the exam?

Gee handed off that question to Betty Glass, retiring principal of Juan Cabrillo. Glass said she thought the lower scores at her school may have had to do with the school’s more diverse student population. “But, I don’t have all the answers,” she said.

Pressed further, Glass said she did not want to make excuses, but she said with the largest number of special education students and students with limited English skills in Malibu, Juan Cabrillo’s scores may have suffered.

Of the students who sat for the exam at Juan Cabrillo, 8 percent are categorized as having limited English proficiency. At Point Dume, 3 percent of students tested had limited English abilities, but 5 percent of those tested at Webster, not far from the percentage at Juan Cabrillo, had limited English skills. Further, as required by the state Department of Education, scores from many of the special education students were not counted in a school’s total score.

Julie Scully said her children, in third and fourth grades at Juan Cabrillo, are not limited by any disability. “And their scores were stinky,” she said.

Glass said her second- and fourth-grade teachers would meet extensively to discuss what the lower scores mean.

“We’re very concerned, obviously,” she said. “We’ll be examining every student’s score to find out what we did not teach and what we should be.”

Larry Gray, whose children are in second and fourth grades at Juan Cabrillo, voiced his belief, although not to the meeting at large, that students at other public schools are being better educated.

“I don’t think they’re being challenged enough here,” he said.

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The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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