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A Utah Foundation study of the 1991 statewide tests results for children in grades five, eight and 11 confirms what has been understood by educators for some time - there is a strong correlation between family income and test results.

"Test scores could arguably be said to be as much a measure of a student's home support system as they are a measure of the quality of the faculty and administration of the school," said the report released by the foundation.The tests taken by children in the three grades last fall were the second since Utah's Legislature mandated a statewide accountability effort.

Foundation analysts studied Salt Lake District scores in detail to test the correlation between the number of free school lunches a school provides - an indication of socioeconomic status in the school neighborhood - and the test results.

In Salt Lake, the Avenues and southeast sectors showed the highest test scores and the lowest participation in free lunch. The northwest, southwest and Central City areas had lower test scores and higher participation rates.

A high percentage of free lunches correlates strongly with family mobility, children's preparation for school and their support while in school. These factors have a strong impact on how well a child does in school.

The foundation found that in 1991, two schools in the southwest sector, Franklin and Edison, had 61 percent and 50 percent, respectively, in student turnover.

"It is very difficult to blame a teacher for poor student scores when half of the students tested in the fall of 1991 were not in the school the year before," the report says.

The foundation also determined that the schools with higher scores tended to fall at the high end of the expected range, or even to outdo the expectations set by the State Office of Education. The low-scoring schools, conversely, tended to be at the low end of the expected range of scores.

Statewide, the foundation found that test scores improved over the fall, 1990 scores in fifth and 11th grades and stayed the same in eighth grade. The Utah average battery scores are slightly above the 50th percentile - a midpoint established by testing of several hundred thousand children nationwide.

"Utah Foundation believes the statewide testing program has provided valuable performance measurements for parents and educa-tors," said the report, with the warning that comparisons should be made judiciously.

People comparing schools based solely on scores may be misled, the report says. Valid comparisons cannot be made without accounting for the many differences among student populations. The best comparisons are of a school against its own performance from year to year.

The foundation has created a diskette with the statewide scores for both years. It is available for $5. For information, write the foundation, 10 W. 100 South #323, Salt Lake City, UT 84101-1544. Disk formats include 3.5-inch and 5.25-inch.