In a growing and changing school district, test scores are bound to fluctuate from year to year.

In the Jordan District, total battery scores on the Stanford Achievement Tests have remained constant for the past three years. Considering the district's size and fluid nature, administrators are pleased."To see either a stable statistic or a slight incline is always encouraging," said Barry Newbold, director of program services and evaluation.

Results of tests taken in September rank Jordan fifth-graders in the 56th percentile, eighth-graders in the 57th percentile and 11th graders in the 58th in comparison to students nationwide.

That's exactly where they've been since 1992. All three grades are above the state average.

But while the district as a whole is sailing smoothly through turbulent seas, individual Jordan schools are caught on a testing roller coaster.

A drastic change in scores from year to year, often spurred by movement of students into and out of the school's attendance area, can be frustrating to teachers and principals.

William Geist, for one, hopes the ride is over.

Geist, principal of Bell View Elementary, saw his fifth-grade class drop 11 percentage points in 1993. Because it followed a nine-point increase in 1992, last year's results were particularly bothersome.

"I lost some sleep and probably some hair," Geist recalled. "It was devastating because we have a very hard-working staff and we've all been concerned about (the tests) . . . I took (the poor results) as a personal assault."

Convinced the lower scores were due to something other than teaching methods and student ability, Geist and his staff took several new approaches this year.

One simple but apparently effective change the school made was to end the practice of allowing students to engage in fun activities after finishing each portion of the tests. The Bell View staff found that when students knew they could draw or read at their desk when they were done, they were more likely to rush through the tests.

This year, students were encouraged to take their time on tests and received various incentives, like additional recess, for doing so.

And rather than stretching the sessions out over a long period, Bell View tested its students the maximum amount of time each day until the tests were completed. Some principals in the district take the opposite approach so students aren't overloaded on a daily basis.

"The previous SATs were set up over eight days - we have a 12-day window - and one of the concerns that was brought back to our staff meeting was that the kids were getting burned out," Geist said. "We decided to condense it as much as we could, and say, `Here's the tests, take your best shot.' "

At the beginning of the summer break, students were given a packet of materials they could work on to keep their skills sharp. While the work was voluntary, Geist said many children did the work, most with encouragement from their parents.

The numerous strategies paid off. This year's fifth-grade class scored in the 54th percentile, a 13-point jump from last year's class and well within the school's expected range.

Consistency is the next goal, but Geist admits he'll sleep a little better for a while - at least until the next set of test results are released.

"Our superintendent and administrators here say the important thing is not where (the test scores) are, but what you're going to do about it," Geist said. "I had no pressure, but I wanted people to feel confident about sending their children here. And because (the SATs) are the tests that are published, we put just that much emphasis on it."

Consistent schoolwide discipline, a positive incentive program and a new emphasis on homework in the upper grades helped Heartland Elementary raise its fifth-grade scores, Principal Bridget Feighan said. The school's test results jumped from the 26th percentile to the 43rd this year.

"It's just a real combined effort," Feighan said. "When the kids do well, you have to know that the parents have been supporting with homework and the whole staff has been working hard.

"We've got such a diverse population - we have a huge amount of mobility - that you have to make it as stable an environment, and as positive, as you can and make everyone feel involved."

Other schools that experienced big jumps in test results include Terra Linda, Park Lane, Riverton and East Midvale elementaries.

Schools with significant declines were Peruvian Park, Sprucewood and Lone Peak elementaries and West Jordan and Bingham middle schools.

"The education of the student is so complex that any number of variable can move those scores up or down," Newbold said.

None of the district's high schools saw major changes in total battery scores, although there was a sharp improvement in 11th-grade language arts scores.

There has been steady growth in both math and language arts scores in the district since the tests were given for the first time in 1991. Science, social science and reading scores, however, have been less noteworthy.

"We have focused very heavily at the middle- and high-school level in the language area, and we're seeing that pay off," Newbold said. "Certainly, we're going to be reviewing reading in the intermediate grades and in the elementary schools to see what's happening there."

Maintaining good test results will always be a challenge for a growing district, Newbold said, but there are some indications Jordan's growth may be slowing. The district, which now has 71,307 students, had grown between 2 and 3 percent for three consecutive years until this fall, when the number of students increased by only 0.91 percent.

Jordan is the second-largest district in Utah, but state projections have it surpassing Granite District, the state's largest, by 1999.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

SAT results: Jordan School District

School Total Battery

1993 1994 Change 1994 Expected Range

EIGHTH GRADE 68 67 -1 45-70

Albion 51 42 -9 42-65

Bingham 67 67 0 44-69

Butler 56 60 +4 40-65

Crescent View 60 56 -4 43-67

Eastmont NA 56 NA NA

Elk Ridge 57 61 +4 45-70

Indian Hills 48 54 +6 37-61

Joel P. Jensen 60 60 0 32-55

Midvale 48 53 +5 38-61

Mount Jordan 50 48 -2 40-65

Oquirrh Hills 61 64 +3 45-70

South Jordan 57 57 0 42-67

Union 53 44 -9 38-62

West Jordan 57 57 0 45-61

TOTAL EIGHTH GRADE

ELEVENTH GRADE 67 65 -2 43-69

Alta 61 60 -1 42-68

Bingham 63 66 +3 44-70

Brighton 58 56 -2 41-67

Hillcrest 51 51 0 38-65

Jordan 20 20 0 46-71

Valley*** 51 50 -1 37-64

West Jordan 58 58 0 50-63

TOTAL ELEVENTH GRADE

FIFTH GRADE

Altara 54 58 +4 45-75

Alta View 69 69 0 37-66

Bell View 41 54 +13 43-72

Bella Vista 72 64 -8 46-76

Brookwood 68 67 -1 48-79

Butler 64 53 -11 47-77

Canyon View 69 71 +2 46-76

Columbia 41 40 -1 40-70

Copperview 41 28 -13 32-60

Cottonwood Heights 51 56 +5 46-76

Crescent 59 52 -7 44-74

Draper 47 53 +6 44-74

East Midvale 44 54 +10 38-67

East Sandy 53 53 0 43-72

Edgemont 48 50 +2 40-69

Granite 58 56 -2 47-78

Heartland 26 43 +17 35-63

Jordan Ridge 69 64 -5 48-79

Lone Peak 68 58 -10 50-79

Majestic 53 56 +3 37-66

Midvale 19 12 -7 20-44

Midvalley 48 50 +2 41-71

Mountain Shadows 48 40 -8 43-72

Mountview 53 55 +2 43-72

Monte Vista 48 54 +6 45-74

Oakdale 50 59 +9 47-77

Oquirrh 45 50 +5 39-68

Park Lane 55 72 +17 48-79

Peruvian Park 84 71 -13 45-75

Quail Hollow 58 71 +13 48-79

Ridgecrest 60 67 +7 44-74

Riverside 46 41 -5 40-69

Riverton 40 54 +14 44-73

Rosamond 50 58 +8 45-75

Sandy 38 33 -5 33-62

Silver Mesa 67 66 -1 47-77

South Jordan 69 69 0 47-77

Southland 60 51 -9 44-74

Sprucewood 66 54 -12 47-78

Sunrise 66 63 -3 47-78

Terra Linda 29 50 +21 36-63

Welby 56 62 +6 47-77

West Jordan 58 58 0 45-74

Westvale 51 50 -1 45-75

Westland 62 58 -4 43-72

Willow Canyon 67 61 -6 47-77

TOTAL FIFTH GRADE 56 56 0 52-64