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Monrovia School Link ~ Number 46 ~ Sept. 6, 2002

This is a special issue just about the SAT-9 results. I'm sure the school board will chime in at its next meeting, and I'll fill you in on what it says. Anyway, I've had a chance to read a bit about the SAT-9 results and look at the numbers, and in short, it looks as if we're making progress. Overall, the elementary schools seem to be doing quite well, and the upper grades are making some progress, though they are embarassingly far behind where they ought to be. Nevertheless, I like the direction.
~ Brad Haugaard (

At the heart of a recent editorial in the Star-News about the SAT-9 scores was the argument that we should all relax a bit because on a percentage-based test, not all the children - as in Lake Wobegon - can be above average. This, of course, is obvious, as far as it goes. By definition, half the kids will be above and half below the 50 percent mark, except for that tiny fraction that are at *exactly* 50 percent.

While I occasionally have doubts about our state officials, I'm fairly certain that they know this. They don't need to spend millions of dollars a year to determine that half the kids will fall above and half below the 50 percent mark in a percentage-ranked test. Nevertheless, the state thinks it appropriate to rank schools not only in absolute terms (How many you got right on the test), but also in relative terms (How you did compared with others taking the test).

And I agree with the state. Whatever the state's reasons, mine can be summed up in this quote: "To whom much is given, much is required." In other words, I would have very little patience with poorly-performing schools in a community with concerned parents who provide their children with good extracurricular educational opportunities. Such communities have great advantages and if the schools there don't perform well, I'd be pretty ticked. On the other hand, for communities without those advantages, or with big disadvantages, I'd be more understanding of lower scores.

So, in my mind, the question for Monrovia is this: Where does this community fall in the continuum between Lots of Advantages and Lots of Disadvantages? My guesstimate is that it leans toward the Advantaged side. Therefore I think Monrovia SAT-9 scores should fall roughly around the 60-65 percent ranking (though of course I'd like them to be a lot higher). In other words, Monrovia should at least be better than about 59-64 percent of all school districts.

One more thing before we look at the details. Upper grade scores in a lot of local districts went down, which suggests that something in addition to the management of individual districts is at work. What this may be I don't know, but it makes me a bit wary of criticizing Monrovia's upper grades in those cases where they also slipped.

With that in mind, let's look at the details.

Comparing Local Schools

On a local basis, I'd put Monrovia between Duarte and Arcadia on my "Advantages" scale. If that is correct, the results fall out pretty much as I'd expect. Overall we did better than Duarte and worse than Arcadia. (Interestingly, though, in math, Duarte actually beats us in the third, fourth and seventh grades, and ties us in second grade.)

And, well, it's pretty embarrassing to compare Monrovia with Arcadia, but I guess I gotta do it. Arcadia invariably beat us, and by whacking big percentages, 20 to 30 points.

But looking at actual *changes* compared to Duarte and Arcadia presents a more positive picture for Monrovia.

Duarte: A net 99 point gain [31 up scores (134 points); 11 down scores (35 points)]
Monrovia: A net 119 point gain [31 up scores (140 points); 10 down scores (21 points)]
Arcadia: A net 46 point gain [28 up scores (70 points); 11 down scores (24 points)]

Nice. Monrovia scores were up more than Duarte or Arcadia.

Duarte: A net 52 point gain [19 up scores (79 points); 8 down scores (27 points)]
Monrovia: A net 41 point gain [16 up scores (65 points); 10 down scores (24 points)]
Arcadia: A net 16 point gain [14 up scores (33 points); 8 down scores (17 points)]

Kind of a mixed bag. In the upper grades Duarte did better than we did, but we beat Arcadia.

Overall Results

Hooray for the Second grade reading program! Those students had the highest score - 62 percent. Boo for the tenth grade reading program. Those students had the lowest score - 26 percent (down, if you can believe it, from a lofty 28 percent last year). So much for the extremes. Now let's deal with the averages.

If I am correct that Monrovia leans toward the Lots of Advantages side of my scale, then the results for the elementary grades still have a ways to go to get to the 60-65 percent I think reasonable, but it is exciting to see them consistently improving. So I applaud.

Reading 50%
Math 57.75%
Language 55.25%
Spelling 55.75%

I feel encouraged about these numbers. Especially the Math. Great!

I'm not, however, so enthusiastic about the upper grade scores.

Reading 38.33% (6th - 11th)
Math 48.17% (6th - 11th)
Language 49% (6th - 11th)
Spelling 45% (6th - 8th)
Science 41.67% (9th - 11th)
Social Science 46.33% (9th - 11th)

You can see these numbers are poor. Basically, they mean that well over half of all upper grade schools are better than Monrovia's. Though in fairness, these scores are mostly better than last year, so we're going the right direction. And yes, I know that a few scores went down, but as I said, a lot of upper grade scores went down in other local districts, so I'm reluctant to pick on Monrovia.

So my conclusion is what?

Well, I'm pleased we're making progress, but clearly there's a ways to go for the elementary schools, and a lonnnng way to go for the upper grades.

Copyright (c) 2002, Brad Haugaard. Also on the Web at: