When it comes to educating children, Alpine and Provo school districts are making the grade, but Nebo is below state averages in its test scores for high schools and junior highs.

Alpine and Provo scored higher than state and national averages in almost every category at three grade levels in the new Statewide Testing Program. While there is room for improvement in some areas, particularly in language arts/English, officials are pleased with their results in the controversial program."We'll use these scores to identify strengths and weaknesses," Alpine Superintendent Steven C. Baugh said. "We are happy to see these achievement levels . . . we are, however, not totally satisfied. We will investigate areas that need improvement and develop strategies."

Alpine and Provo school districts released the test results in board meetings Tuesday night. Nebo School District released its results in a special meeting Wednesday morning.

Provo School Superintendent Kay W. Laursen said the test results provide "one piece in the mosaic" of judging effective teaching, but warned against adapting curriculums and teaching methods to fit the test.

"Teaching to the test would be like putting us back on the Mayflower or on the covered wagon in education," Laursen said.

Nebo School District scored higher than the state average in its elementary grades. School officials are happy that the secondary scores are close to the state average.

Nebo teachers and administrators have been analyzing the results for more than a month, identifying areas of concerns and working on possible solutions.

"They (teachers and principals) have been told to make sure this test is going to be meaningful to the students and the school," said Tom Hudson, Nebo coordinator of pupil services.

Nebo's large class size may have contributed to not scoring as well as other area districts. There is evidence that supports that, especially in language arts, Hudson said.

"We feel good that we are near or above the state in most areas. We have given all the results to teachers and administrators and are looking at areas of concern," said Nebo Superintendent Denis Poulsen.

In September and October 36,000 students across Utah participated in the statewide testing program mandated by the 1990 Legislature. Students in grades five, eight and 11 took a new version of the Stanford Achievement Test, which evaluates students in five basic academic areas.

The testing company used 600,000 students across the nation to establish national averages for the test.

To help school officials and the public make fair comparisons, the State Office of Education classified each district and school into categories with other schools and districts with similar students. The criteria used to classify schools and districts are the number of students receiving free lunch, welfare assistance or foster care. Based on this information, the state developed expected score ranges.

Research has shown a very high correlation between socioeconomic status and test achievement scores, according to Kathy Hughes, Provo District administrator for curriculum and instruction.

In the Alpine School District, 17 of the district's 18 grade level scores are above state and national averages. The other score is equal to the state average, which is 10 percent above the national average.

Of the district's 180 elementary grade scores, 171 are at least as high as scores for similar Utah schools. And, all of the district's high school and junior high school scores are at least as high as scores for similar Utah schools. Overall, 60 percent of Alpine's students scored equal to or above national averages.

Students in the Provo District surpassed state and national averages at all three grade levels in every testing category. Scores remained consistent from grade level to grade level and were highest in math, reading and science.

"We either were at or exceeded in some cases our expected scores as a district," Hughes said.

Like the rest of Utah, Alpine and Provo's language arts/English scores are their lowest. Alpine's language art scores are lower than the national average and only slightly higher than state average. Provo students in fifth and eighth grades scored higher than state and national averages in language arts/English. Provo's 11th-grade students scored higher than the state average for the category but only about a percentile higher than the national average.

District officials said low language arts scores may be a reflection of the state curriculum's emphasis on writing skills rather than grammar and other aspects of language. Laursen said it's likely that state school officials will take a hard look at the language arts curriculum in Utah because of the test results.

While pleased with the test results, officials in both districts say standardized tests are only one measure of student performance and that differences in test scores may be due to factors other than quality of instruction, such as variations in testing environments.

"Do not assume that when you see higher scores for school A than you do for school B that you are looking at more effective instruction. It may be the program but chances are good it may be something else," Frank Cameron, Alpine director of testing, said.

Hughes said that because the test is new, it is not possible to make valid comparisons of performance in previous years.

"The expectation nationwide was that scores would go down," Hughes said. "We saw that reflected in our scores as did the whole state."

Schools will use this year's scores as a base line for measuring improvement or decline next year, she said.

Baugh said the Alpine district will not ignore the score differences and will look at the programs being used in schools that scored high and in schools that scored low.

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(Additional information)

Utah County test scores

SUBJECT ALPINE PROVO NEBO UTAH

5th grade

Reading 61 63 55 53

Math 68 68 66 60

Language 55 55 48 48

Science 60 60 56 52

Social science57 61 51 55

Total 61 63 55 53

8th grade

Reading 62 64 53 55

Math 58 63 49 53

Language 48 52 41 45

Science 62 62 49 53

Social science 54 61 57 50

Total 57 60 47 51

11th grade

Reading 65 69 54 58

Math 59 68 54 54

Language 51 51 39 45

Science 60 71 54 60

Social science 62 67 51 56

Total 58 64 51 53

In all subjects, the national norm is 50.

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Utah County test scores

Composite test scores by school, with the expected range, based on the economic and social-services makeup of each school.

Breakdown by schools in the Nebo District was not available early enough Wednesday to be included in this chart. It will be published later.

Alpine School District Provo School District

GRADE 5 GRADE 5

Alpine 62 (46-73) Canyon Crest 59 (44-72)

Aspen 58 (44-70) Edgemont 69 (44-70)

*Barratt 80 (45-72) *Franklin 54 (27-52)

Bonneville 61 (44-70) Grandview 62 (38-64)

Cascade 67 (45-73) *Joaquin 54 (25-48)

Cedar Valley 29 (36-62) *Maeser 56 (25-48)

Central 51 (35-60) *Provost 67 (36-62)

*Cherry Hill 76 (41-68) *Rock Canyon 75 (40-67)

Forbes not available Sunset View 53 (38-64)

Geneva not available Timpanogos 37 (27-51)

Greenwood 47 (37-63) *Wasatch 77 (38-64)

Grovecrest 54 (44-70) *Westridge 72 (37-62)

Highland 66 (46-74)

Hillcrest 66 (41-69)

Lehi 50 (39-66)

Lindon 53 (44-70)

Manila 62 (44-70)

Meadow 33 (41-69)

Northridge 66 (46-73)

Orchard not available

Orem 63 (45-72)

*Scera 77 (41-69)

Sego Lily 44 (40-68)

*Sharon 67 (37-63)

Shelley 63 (43-69)

Suncrest 58 (40-68)

Valley View 61 (44-70)

Vineyard 64 (41-69)

Westmore 48 (40-67)

Windsor 60 (38-64)

GRADE 8 GRADE 8

American Fork 57 (42-64) *Farrer 65 (38-60)

Canyon View 60 (42-64) Dixon 56 (34-56)

Lakeridge 63 (40-63)

Lehi 57 (39-61)

Pleasant Grove 50 (40-63)

GRADE 11 GRADE 11

American Fork 56 (38-63) *Timpview 70 (37-61)

Lehi 52 (37-63) *Provo 60 (34-58)

Mountain View 58 (38-63) Independence 17 (28-53)

*Orem 64 (38-63)

Pleasant Grove 57 (37-62)

* Above expected-score range

Below expected-score range