Alexandria students equaled or bettered last year's achievement test scores in every grade but 11th, though scores remained below those in most other Northern Virginia jurisdictions.

Minority students lagged far behind their white counterparts, but were able to close the gap slightly in some grades.

"We're real pleased with the upturn in test scores," said School Superintendent Paul W. Masem. ". . . . These test scores indicate that despite the {disadvantaged} population we're working with, schooling is making a difference."

Cognitive tests designed to measure ability rather than performance showed that many children entering Alexandria schools are poorly prepared for academic study. The school system also faces the continuing challenge of educating large numbers of poor and non-English speaking students, Masem said.

The superintendent added that several programs, including the expansion next year of full-day kindergarten classes to six schools, have been established to help develop learning skills at an earlier age.

The fiscal budget for the next school year also adds several social workers to assist students who are not performing well because of problems outside the classroom, Masem said.

For grades two through 11, only 10th-graders, scoring at the 47th percentile, fell below the national norm of 50 percentile. Students in lower grades fared the best, with second-graders ranking at the 69th percentile and third-graders the 67 percentile.

Masem attributed part of the poor performance at upper grade levels to "the give-up factor." High school students who have academic problems tend to fall behind faster than younger students because of the growing difficulty of the material, Masem said. As a result, some students become frustrated and stop trying, he said.

Of the city's 12 elementary schools, Charles Barrett and George Mason in the affluent Beverly Hills and Braddock Heights neighborhoods had the most consistently high test results.

The low point in those schools was a 59th percentile score for third-graders at George Mason, where several parents recently threatened to remove their third-graders because of discipline and curriculum problems. An administrative task force is trying to determine the scope and seriousness of the problems, Masem said.

Test scores at Francis C. Hammond Junior High remained low, but crept up in all three grades. Monte Dawson, a testing specialist with the superintendent's office, said the improvement resulted in part from that school's efforts to increase student motivation and instill a sense of pride in test results.

Black students continued to score poorly compared with other student groups, and bettered the national norm of 50 percentile only in the second and third grades. Black students scored between 28 and 45 percentile points behind white students, with larger gaps at higher grade levels.

Despite the disparity, black students were able to shave a few points off the gap in most grades compared with last year. "The gap is going to look bad for the foreseeable future, unless something drastic happens to change the economic outlook and life opportunities" of many minority students from low-income families, Masem said.

He praised test results in the state's new Literacy Passport Test, which students must pass before they can graduate to ninth grade. About 52 percent of sixth-graders tested passed all three sections of the test; 77 percent passed the reading section, 79 percent succeeded in math and 73 percent passed the writing portion, Masem said. He said his figures, which are higher than state figures for Alexandria, do not include handicapped students.

PERCENTAGE OF SIXTH-GRADERS WHO PASSED

PASSIGN RATES FOR ALL THREE TESTS

ALEXANDRIA..................52.2%

ARLINGTON................... 73.8

FAIRFAX CITY................ 80.8

FALLS CHURCH................ 79.1

LOUNDOUN COUNTY............. 72.4

PRINCE WILLIAM COUNTY....... 70.1

MANASSAS.................... 67.8

MANASSAS PARK............... 34.1

STATEWIDE................... 65.1

PASSING RATES FOR SEPARATE TESTS

JURISDICTION............READING.......WRITING.....MATHEMATICS

Alexandria..............72.1%..........67.7%.......73.4%

Arlington.............. 86.9.......... 80.2.........88.5

Fairfax County..........89.8...........88.9.........90.7

Fall Church.............94.6...........85.3.........93.5

Loundoun County.........86.2...........88.3.........86.8

Prince William County...87.2...........79.6.........85.4

Manassas................83.5...........80.3.........86.1

Manassas Park...........59.8...........56.5.........58.7

Statewide...............82.3...........77.0.........81.5

SOURCE: State Board of Education