PROVO -- Provo School District's scores on the annual Stanford Achievement Test bear both good and bad news for the urban Utah County district.While scores noticeably increase as students get older, overall total battery scores are on the decline.

Scores earned by high school juniors increased only on the math portion of the standardized exam -- up from the 73rd to the 77th percentile -- but remained high enough in the four other portions of the test to rank a total composite, or total battery, score at the 63rd percentile.

Utah fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders take the Stanford each fall to measure students' knowledge in mathematics, reading, language-arts, social science and science.

All Stanford scores are reported in percentiles. For example, the 51st percentile total battery scores earned by Provo fifth-graders means local students scored higher than 51 percent of other students who took the test in elementary classrooms around the country.Requires Adobe Acrobat.

"I think the scores are typical," said Superintendent Michael Jacobsen, who believes the annual standardized test isn't the most efficient yardstick by which to measure how well students are learning.

"They don't tie to curriculum," Jacobsen said. "I don't know how closely it ties to what we are teaching."

He is, though, concerned about weak language-arts scores posted by students districtwide, especially in the lower grades.

Eleventh-graders earned a language arts battery score at the 53rd percentile, but eighth-graders earned a place at the 50th percentile and fifth-graders dropped to the 44th percentile.

"It's unacceptable to us to have students who can't read and communicate," Jacobsen said. "Language arts is something we're concentrating on."

On the elementary level, nine of the 13 schools didn't top the national norm when students were asked to spell, write clear sentences and correct poor grammar. In fact, Joaquin scored at the 22nd percentile and Timpanogos ranked at the 18th percentile in the language arts subtest.

Such inner-city schools face interesting challenges, however. Both have large numbers of students who speak English as a second language and more than half of the two student body populations qualify for free or reduced school lunch.

In the middle schools, only Centennial logged an increase, scoring at the 58th percentile. Dixon, at the 40th percentile, and Farrer, dipping to the 43rd percentile, pulled down the district' subtest battery.

Centennial, while dropping two percentile points on the total battery, typically scored well across the board, reaching the 67th percentile in science. The school earned a total battery in the 61st percentile.

"Centennial has a great administration," said parent Carolyn Wright. "Great parents and great students count for a lot, but you have to have direction from the top down."

For example, principal George Bayles dedicated funds to a "late bus" that will pick up students who opt to stay for an extra hour for additional tutoring. Each homeroom class also has a parent volunteer to assist with activities and homework.

"What could be better for kids who need a little extra help?" Wright said.

There are some bright spots, though, in Provo's scores. In the math portion of the test, Edgemont, Canyon Crest and Rock Canyon elementary schools all scored at or above the 70th percentile. Both Provo and Timpview high schools ranked at the 77th percentile.

All grades also scored at least in the 60th percentile on the science portion.