Honest Open Logical Debate (HOLD)
on math reform
510 Center Drive, Palo Alto, CA 94301

For Further Information, Contact:
Bill Evers, 415-323-4322

Parents' Math Group Says Test Results Distorted

Palo Alto, Calif. -- Palo Alto school district officials have misled the public on how to evaluate district math scores says Honest Open Logical Debate (HOLD), a Palo Alto math-basics parents' group.

The California Department of Education released the scores on the 1994 California Learning Assessment System (CLAS) test Apr. 3, and, said HOLD steering committee member Bill Evers, Palo Alto school district officials are "already making misleading and wrongheaded comparisons." Evers referred to a statement of Associate Superintendent Barbara Liddell, who [San Jose Mercury News, 4/5/95] had compared the percentages of Palo Alto eighth-graders in the top CLAS rank in 1993 (1%) and 1994 (24%).

But, Evers noted, such comparisons are "completely invalid -- district officials simply don't know how to read the results." The state Department of Education says that because the test has been changed and the grading procedure has been changed: "Comparisons between 1993 and 1994 CLAS test results should not be made." [Calif. Dept. of Ed., news release #95-19, 4/4/95]

When district officials make comparisons between 1993 and 1994 'proficiency level' numbers, according HOLD member Zeev Wurman, they "must not forget" to tell the public that in 1994 the grading criteria for mathematics were "significantly lowered. It became especially easier to get a high grade. To take a metaphor from the high jump or the hurdles, the state of California has 'lowered the bar.'"

The statewide percentages for reading and writing essentially did not change between 1993 and 1994, but the math scores in the highest CLAS rank (6) changed from 0.03% in 1993 to 3% in 1994, a hundredfold increase. Similarly in the second CLAS rank (5) the numbers increased statewide by a factor of two to five at various year-level grades. "Such astronomical improvements within a year," Wurman says, "can only come by artificial means. Concluding, as the district does, that these results show children ascending to higher levels of achievement is wrong."

In addition, Evers points out that while Palo Alto scores still show the relative excellence of the Palo Alto school system within California, "the same set of students in Palo Alto just scored barely over the fiftieth percentile in computation nationally, some six month ago. While their 'higher level thinking', as assessed by the 'made-easier' CLAS seem to be intact, many of the same 8th grade students could not cope with the Stanford Achievement Test's elementary question of 900 divided by 3 without calculators."

The Palo Alto school district has historically recognized the need for assessment using both nationally-normed tests such as the Stanford Achievement Test, as well as California-normed tests like CLAS.

"What the CLAS results really show in Palo Alto," says Wurman, "is that we have excellent teachers who know how to teach-to-the-test, namely CLAS, and that the district should make sure that it does not ignore the teaching of basic techniques, which are the only foundation on which real higher-level thinking skills can flourish."

The parents' group HOLD, organized in mid-February, has close to 500 local households supporting math basics on its mailing list. The Palo Alto Unified School District covers the entire city of Palo Alto, the campus of Stanford University, and a portion of Los Altos Hills.


Stanford Achievement Test - National Percentiles, as reported to PAUSD
Board of Education on 12/6/94.

8th Grade Math Scores:

                      1992    1993   1994
Concept of a Number    91      88     87
Computation            86      79     58
Applications           89      89     91
Mean                   91      88     81