By Paul Aranda Jr., EGP Staff Writer | Eastside Sun / Northeast Sun / Mexican American Sun / Bell Gardens Sun / City Terrace Comet / Commerce Comet / Montebello Comet / Monterey Park Comet / ELA Brookyln Belvedere Comet / Wyvernwood Chronicle / Vernon Sun
October 1 -- Three local Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) schools have been identified as “Focus Schools” that could eventually lead to outside operators such as charter or nonprofit agencies gaining control of the campuses. LAUSD Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines announced on Sept. 25 that Garfield High School, Lincoln High School and Burbank Middle School are among 12 existing schools and 24 new schools selected to participate in the initial “Public School Choice” process as the District sets forth its efforts to implement a hotly debated reform measure passed on Aug. 25.
The 12 existing schools were selected partly based on the latest data released by the state that measures academic performance. The results of the 2009 Accountability Progress Report (APR) by the California Department of Education showed that the District’s overall 2009 Academic Performance Index (API) score jumped 13 points, a single point shy of the statewide average. At first glance, the low scores illustrate what led the LAUSD School Board to adopt the Public School Choice resolution at the end of the summer. However, the recent scores also show that most schools have experienced positive gains.
Based on feedback from LAUSD staff and local communities, Cortines revised his earlier selection criteria for focus schools to include only schools that had shown zero or negative growth in API this past year. As a result, because Lincoln and Garfield High School experienced negative growth they were both tagged as focus schools; while Roosevelt High which has a much lower score was not selected because it achieved positive growth in its API this past year.
API measures the academic performance and progress of public schools in California. A school’s API is a number that ranges from 200 to 1000 and is calculated from the results for each school’s students on statewide tests. The state has set 800 as the API target for all schools to meet. In LAUSD, the number of schools with an API above 800 increased to 25 percent in 2009. The number of schools scoring 550 or below dropped to 11 percent from 39 percent in 2002. Lincoln High posted a 22-point drop from its 2008 score for an API of 587. Garfield High dropped three points from its 2008 score, now at 594.
Cortines identified conditions for choosing the 12 focus schools: Program Improvement Status for more than 3 straight years, zero or negative API growth in 2008-2009, less than 21 percent proficiency in either math or English language arts, and a drop out rate larger than 10 percent for high schools.
EGP identified eight large public high schools that make up the various communities that comprise the greater east/northeast side of the District, from Los Feliz and Pico Union down to Boyle Heights and into unincorporated East Los Angeles. The eight traditional public high schools include: Belmont, Marshall, Eagle Rock, Franklin, Wilson, Lincoln, Roosevelt and Garfield. Of these eight schools, only Garfield and Lincoln had their API decrease in 2009. The remaining six schools saw their API scores improve an average of 29.5 percent.
In a heated community meeting held at Garfield High School the evening before the Board’s Aug. 25 vote, students, parents and staff cited improving test scores as a reason to oppose the measure. The 2009 API report shows that Garfield is one of six large public high schools district-wide to experience a decrease in its API score.
Of those six high schools, five were selected as focus schools. Birmingham High, the lone school not selected, converted to a charter school this year. The 2009 API scores offer a glimpse into the complex task of assessing a school’s academic achievement. For instance, even with its three-point drop, Garfield still remained well ahead of its neighbor Roosevelt. Despite Roosevelt’s significant improvement of 28 points, it still lags behind other comparable schools with an API of 577.
Furthermore, Lincoln’s API of 587 still placed it higher than Roosevelt. However, Roosevelt’s 28-point increase could provide much needed positive news for the Mayor’s office, which took over the troubled Boyle Heights campus last year and has been the subject of heavy criticism from faculty and parents throughout the past year.
The API scores for the rest of the large public high schools in the local area show that although gains have been made, there is still plenty of room for improvement as only one school is even remotely close to the state target of 800. Although it failed to post any improvement, Eagle Rock continued to be the semi-gold standard for large public high schools east of the 5 Freeway with an API of 717. In El Sereno, Wilson posted a 16-point improvement to barely climb above the 600-point threshold with a 2009 API of 601. In Highland Park, Franklin posted a 35-point increase to land at 639. Just outside the outer edges of the Eastside, two schools also enjoyed significant improvements. Marshall increased its API score by 18 points to 665. The biggest improvement came from Belmont, which saw its score jump a dramatic 78 points. In 2008 Belmont scored below Roosevelt with a score of 540. It now stands with an API of 618.
In his letter to LAUSD staff and the community released on Sept 25, Cortines said the “focus school” classification should not be viewed as a negative term.
“Instead, I want us to work together to identify strategies that can help our schools overcome the challenges that they are facing,” he said. “It will take all of us working together to help our students reach their highest potential.”
Cortines said that the Public School Choice resolution calls for the development of a process that will allow parents, communities and educators to work with the superintendent to initiate reforms for any school that has been classified as a Program Improvement school for three straight years. This process is scheduled to be completed by Oct 27, 2009. For complete information and updates on the Public School Choice Motion visit the LAUSD Web site at www.lausd.net.