The Alpine School District may be spending less money per student than almost any district in the nation, but that's apparently not affecting students' academic achievement.

Alpine students are doing better each year on ACT and advance placement exams, and 1988 was no exception, though administrators feared it would be."We did so well last year that we were wondering if we could stay up there, but we did. We were a little worried," said Frank Cameron, Alpine's director of research and evaluation. "It scares me to think what's going to happen in 1989. We're going to drop someday."

But for now, Alpine students outscored their national counterparts in 14 of 15 areas on the test. The average Alpine score on the ACT has been better than the national average for 10 years.

Cameron said about 60 percent of the district's graduating class took the ACT, which is used by many universities as an entrance criterion. The test covers math, English, social studies and the natural sciences.

This year's composite score for Alpine students was 20, compared to a state composite of 18.9 and 18.8 at the national level.

One of the reasons administrators are so happy with the scores is that more students in the district are taking the test now and scores are still rising. They expected the opposite to be true. In 1979, when about 53 percent of eligible students took the exam, Alpine's composite score was 18.8.

"We're going against what would naturally be assumed to occur," said Superintendent Steven Baugh. "Test scores do not provide a complete picture of all that takes place in a public school system, but they do provide part of the picture. And in this case, it is a very positive reflection of the academic preparation of our students."

Math scores did drop slightly this year as well as last year, and though Alpine still outscores the nation, administrators are concerned. But Cameron said it's too soon to determine what the slump means.

"I think we ought to keep an eye on this. I think it deserves our attention but it's way too early to call it a trend," he said.

Alpine doesn't have much to worry about where it's advance placement program is concerned, though. Its students lead the nation on those test scores, too. More than that, more Alpine students (29 percent) participate in the AP program than in any other district.

The program allows high school students to earn college credit by enrolling in more rigorous courses and passing AP exams. Students who participated passed 74 percent of their exams. In 1988, one in five district seniors graduated with more than 19 college credit hours under their belts.

Alpine offers 20 subjects in the AP program, with 213 students enrolled in American history, 212 in English literature, 108 in Calculus and 101 in biology.

What does all this achievement mean? It depends on who you ask. Leaders of Utah's tax protest movement used Alpine's test statistics throughout the campaign for the tax initiatives in an attempt to show heavy funding and scholastic achievement are not strictly correlated. Because Alpine spends less per student than all but one district in Utah, protesters said, its test scores prove schools can survive with less.

But the story is very different if you're talking to an Alpine administrator or school board member. They say students are achieving because teachers are doing a superior job, but there is a limit to what can be expected of the faculty. The district's teachers have not gotten a pay increase in several years, and there may come a time when the best teachers will choose other careers.