A decline in eighth- and 11th-grade test scores is no cause for alarm, especially when fifth-grade scores are on the rise, Murray District officials say.

Murray students again performed above the national average and above or within expected ranges on the annual statewide Stanford Achievement Tests.And when compared with scores from 1991, the first year the tests were required, all three grade levels have shown steady improvement.

But Murray's 11th-graders scored in the 53rd percentile in relation to nationwide results. That's a drop of three percentage points from a year ago and one that puts Murray's juniors below the state average.

The eighth-grade group scored in the 55th percentile, down from the 59th percentile ranking of last year's eighth-graders but up by four points from 1991.

"I feel bad about that decline," said Janice Evans, district test coordinator and director of elementary education. "But when you understand statistics, you expect some fluctuations.

"I'm glad we're above the national norm. . . . Overall, the results were pretty positive."

The best news is that Murray's fifth-graders climbed from the 62nd percentile to the 64th, a point above the expected range for that group. The district's eighth-grade scores are in the higher end of the expected range, while the 11th grade scores are at the lower end of the range.

The expected range takes socio-economic factors into account and is considered a better judge of performance than comparisons to state and national averages.

The Stanford tests are given each fall to all Utah children in grades five, eight and 11. Every year, a different group of children takes the test.

Evans said this year's results show the district is on the right track and does not need to make dramatic policy shifts.

"We're going to continue to provide the instruction directed specifically toward student needs," she said.

Murray is achieving positive test results, despite spending less money per student than 30 of the state's 40 school districts, according to the latest information available from the state Office of Education.

That figure is deceiving, though. Because the district is spending less on capital improvements than any other Utah district, more of its money is devoted to curriculum and instruction.

The same data, based on the 1992-93 school year, shows only 15 districts spend more money on teacher salaries than Murray.

Evans said one reason why elementary scores are up may be that instruction methods associated with new math and science curriculums may be carrying over into other areas of study.

"What (teachers) are doing is giving more hands-on experiences - how does it work, how does it deal with daily life?" she said. "We want kids to make what they learn a part of their life and use it."

Murray's fifth-graders performed best on the math and science portions of the tests. Language and reading scores also improved, but less significantly.

Murray's eighth-graders dropped in math, reading and social science, but scored as well as last year's group in science and language. The 11th-graders improved dramatically in science, but dropped or remained at the same level in the other subject areas.

Some Murray schools showed significant improvement this year. Fifth-grade scores at Horizon Elementary jumped from the 58th percentile to the 69th, and fifth-graders at Longview Elementary climbed from the 61st percentile to the 72nd.

"That's an indication to me that the teachers are getting through to the kids and that the children are responding to the way the teachers are presenting the material," said Jan Pecharich, who has two children at Horizon. "I'm very pleased with Horizon's staff and the way they have responded to the children in other areas as well, not just academics."

Longview principal Marilyn Prettyman said the improvement is great to see, but isn't something her staff can get too excited about unless the trend continues.

"We try to keep it in perspective," she said. "A lot of it can depend on the class, so we won't really know for sure until next year whether we've made a big difference."

Eighth-grade test scores at Riverview Junior High dropped from the 60th percentile to the 54th, still 10 percentage points ahead of the 1991 class of eighth-graders. Fifth-grade scores at Viewmont Elementary, whose students graduate to Riverview, fell from the 72nd percentile to the 67th.

Riverview principal Al Church, alarmed by a 12-percentile-point drop in math scores, said his staff will work more closely with feeder elementary schools to make sure the new math curriculum is taught uniformly.

"We feel comfortable that we're well within the norm," Church said of Riverview's overall results. "We recognize that the public and our parents see these test scores as significant, but they are just one indication of how our school is doing."

This is the first year districts have been able to compare performances of a semi-constant group with previous scores on the same tests. Murray's eighth-graders are eight percentile points below where they scored as fifth-graders in 1991. The district's 11th-graders moved up two percentile points from their position as eighth-graders.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

SAT results: Murray School District

SCHOOL TOTAL BATTERY 1994

1993 1994 CHANGE EXPECTED RANGE

FIFTH GRADE

Grant 70 66 -4 46-76

Horizon 58 69 +11 41-70

Liberty 54 60 +6 39-68

Longview 61 72 +11 46-76

McMillan 74 79 +5 40-70

Parkside 44 52 +8 37-64

Viewmont 72 67 -5 47-77

Total Fifth Grade 62 64 +2 52-63

EIGHTH GRADE

Hillcrest 57 56 -1 40-64

Riverview 60 54 -6 43-68

Total Eighth Grade 59 55 -4 45-61

ELEVENTH GRADE

Murray High 58 55 -3 42-68

Bonnyview* 24 20 -4 36-62

Total Eleventh Grade 56 53 -3 50-63

*Alternative program