By Connie Llanos, Staff Writer | LA Daily News |http://bit.ly/aMLZDM
9/13/2010 07:36:58 PM PDT -- Los Angeles Unified students continue to make steady gains in academic achievement, surpassing a key milestone on a closely watched state benchmark test, according to data released by the Department of Education Monday.
Los Angeles Unified scored 709 on the Academic Performance Index, up 16 points from the previous year and exceeding 700 for the first time.
"There is much to celebrate in LAUSD with the release of this data," Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said in a statement.
The statewide score was 767, up 13 points from last year.
And while Los Angeles Unified still trails the statewide score, the gap between the two is just 58 points, compared with 91 points three years before. In addition, LAUSD made the most significant gains of all urban districts in the state.
The API serves as a barometer of academic achievement, with scores ranging from 200 to 1,000 points.
After years of dismal test scores, nearly one-third of LAUSD campuses reached or exceeded the state's target goal of 800, and more than half topped 750.
"The API data also demonstrates that this district is focused on teaching and learning," Cortines said.
"We will continue to place the students at the center of everything we do. We will continue to stay the course on the reform elements we have in place that are clearly working with our students in our classrooms."
State Schools Chief Jack O'Connell said he was very proud of gains achieved by schools in California, despite budget cuts that forced reductions in staff, services and even the school year.
"This is another example of how resilient our educational system is and I have to applaud every teacher, principal, classified employee, parent, student and school board member for working very hard even during these very difficult and nearly impossible budget situations," O'Connell said.
O'Connell said as more districts hit the 800 target, there is debate over raising the goal. But he said that higher expectations would have to be matched by increased state funding for education.
"Under my watch I will not allow any excuses, such as funding, to shortchange the preparation of students ... but schools could do even better if they had proper funding," he said.
Despite the gains made by California and LAUSD on the API, more campuses statewide and locally failed to meet their federal academic benchmarks.
The API score helps determine whether schools meet their federal Adequate Yearly Progress benchmarks, or AYP, set up under the No Child Left Behind law.
The federal benchmarks are important because if schools - or districts - fall behind, they are labeled Program Improvement schools, and become subject to a myriad of interventions, including a state or district takeover.
The federal AYP report, measures the percentage of students who are proficient in English and math at all schools.
Unlike the API, which measures the progress made by students every year, the AYP sets a target every year that all students are expected to meet. So while students improved on test scores, they did not improve enough to meet federal targets.
This year that target was a proficiency rate of 56 percent in English and 56.4 percent in math.
This year just 22 percent of LAUSD schools met all of their federal benchmarks while the overwhelming majority fell into Program Improvement, although state data for high schools will not be complete until November, state officials said.
Regardless of the federal marks, the increase in API scores allowed five local schools to avoid being put out to bid under the district's School Choice plan, which lets outside operators compete to run public campuses.
Those schools are Woodcrest Elementary; Audubon and Harte Prep Middle school and Huntington Park and Los Angeles Senior High schools. None are in the San Fernando Valley.
Local charter schools, which are publicly funded but independently run campuses, continued to have some of the highest API scores in the district, including Granada Hills Charter High School, Ivy Academia and Magnolia Science Academy - all in the San Fernando Valley.
More than 100 schools increased their API scores this year by more than 30 points, including Roscoe Elementary School in Sun Valley, where scores rose by 52 points.
Richard Lioy, Roscoe's principal, said the secret to his school's success was a very simple formula.
"It's like the adage says `a three legged stool is only as strong as all of its three legs'," Lioy said.
"We have dynamite kids, parents who are very supportive and very dedicated teachers who work very hard to meet the needs of kids."
Despite uncertain financial times for schools, Lioy said that teachers at Roscoe simply kept their eyes on the prize.
"Sometimes you just have to take all the things you have no control over and put them aside to work on the things you can control," he added. "In our case that means keep providing the best education possible and doing better every year."