3 col = Test shows disparities between Mira Costa students

Test shows disparities between Mira Costa students

by John Tawa

The Manhattan Beach School Board last month discussed whether to publicize SAT-9 test data at Mira Costa High School broken down by zip code. The Board voted 4-1 against making the information public, but what they did not know was that it already was.

Last week, after a public records request for the information by a Hermosa Beach resident, the school district reluctantly released the data, which compares test results of Mira Costa students from Manhattan Beach with those from Hermosa Beach and North Redondo Beach. The Board had determined that public release of the information served no legitimate purpose.

"Upon receiving the request and at the District's request, we did a review of the [Public Records] Act to try and find an exception that would permit us not to produce the data," explained Fram Virjee, the district's legal counsel. "We were unable to find any such exception, nor any authority that this would fit under the catch-all exception."

The test-score data revealed that Manhattan and Hermosa kids tested approximately at the same level across the board on the SAT-9 test administered last year. North Redondo students generally tested 20 percentage points lower.

"I'm profoundly disappointed," said Mira Costa principal Lynn McCormack. "I see nothing positive or productive in its public use. How does this improve anything? How does it make our kids feel good?"

"Our position is that when we get kids, we educate them," McCormack continued. "We get a lot of bright kids from Redondo and Manhattan Beach."

Redondo Beach school officials were not available to explain the 20-point difference between North Redondo students and those from Hermosa and Manhattan Beach, but national studies have found a direct correlation between socioeconomic status and performance on standardized tests. Manhattan Beach families generally have a higher standard of living than North Redondo families.

The test results did show that North Redondo students generally improved their scores year to year or suffered less of a decline when compared to their Manhattan Beach counterparts. For example, North Redondo language scores declined from the 60th percentile in ninth grade to the 54th percentile in 11th grade, a six-point drop. By contrast, the language scores for Manhattan Beach students fell from the 78th percentile in ninth grade to the 66th percentile in 11th grade, a difference of 12 points.

The data also showed Mira Costa students generally falling behind their counterparts from other areas as they moved from grade to grade. While the Manhattan Beach school district shared this phenomenon with Redondo Union, the other high school in the beach cities, it was not shared by other schools in high-income areas. For example, at Peninsula High School in Palos Verdes, test scores for 11th graders were higher in every subject tested than they were for ninth graders. The same was true at San Marino High School.

McCormack did not have a ready explanation for these phenomena.

"We're not sure what factors are operating," she explained, "but we feel more comfortable looking at the numbers year to year. The validity of the testing is to compare how students did year to year. We expect to see improvement in test results [this year]."

McCormack added that her predominant focus was on grade nine scores, when students entered the high school from the Manhattan Beach Middle School, North Redondo, Hermosa and other areas.

"We wanted to see what needed to be done to get kids on a level playing field when they came in," she said. "We wanted to see what the differences were in terms of our sending schools. Were there any groups we needed to address either through remediation programs here at the school or through better articulation with our sending schools? We wanted a seamless sequence in place."

McCormack was quick to point out that the talk of test scores said nothing at all about the other attributes students bring to a school beyond proficiency in testing.

"Our school is richer and stronger as a result of the entire population we have," she said. "Our diverse group adds to the leadership of the school and to the depth of our arts, athletics and character counts programs." ER