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Sept 16, 2010 - Scores showing the progress of elementary, intermediate and high school students across the state were released Monday, providing some reasons for cheer among schools and districts within Eastern Group Publication’s coverage area where many schools do not meet, and sometimes fall well below, the state’s target Academic Performance Index, API, score.
Several low-performing schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District that have been the subject of reform efforts saw increased API scores, while officials of the Montebello Unified School District were heartened to see continued double-digit increases to their schools’ API scores.
The API score increases bring local schools closer to the target of 800 set by the state ten years ago. This year forty-six percent of California’s schools achieved the statewide API target of 800, which is set on a scale of scores ranging between 200 and 1000.
California’s API scores are calculated based on how students performed on the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting Program) and the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Examination) tests.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell called the state’s target an “ambitious” goal that “challenged most California schools that had never been held accountable for improving academic achievement.”
The scores also provide a glimpse at how well schools are serving a state made up of 60 percent African-American and Latino children. Local schools covered by EGP are made up of a pre-dominantly Latino population.
In the MUSD, for example, 94 percent of the students are Latino or Hispanic. Also, 89 percent of students in the district are categorized as socio-economically disadvantaged, which means the students’ parents do not have high school diplomas or the students qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, while 9 percent of students in the district have disabilities.
Officials at MUSD were glad to see their students’ test scores improved again in the 2009-2010 school year, raising the district’s overall state Academic Performance Index by double digits from 696 to 710.
“MUSD has experienced double-digit growth as a district every year since 2003, when districts statewide were provided with an API score for the first time,” said MUSD Board President David Vela. “Our students are continuing to achieve academically and there is no better feeling than seeing their hard work and dedication reflected in these scores.”
Individual schools in Montebello Unified have already surpassed the state target. Montebello Gardens Elementary achieved a score of 868, and Portrero Heights Elementary achieved a score of 842.
Schools in the district that do not meet the state target are expected to increase their scores by a set amount each year according to a district target that is lower than the state’s. In this area, MUSD has performed well over the years.
A majority of schools at MUSD, including all of the high schools, have significantly surpassed the targets set at the district level. The district highlighted in particular the gains in its middle schools, which together have had an average growth of 82.6 API points in the last five years, double the average growth targets set by the state during the same period.
But while some MUSD schools, such as Fremont Elementary, which gained 40 points this year, performed beyond expectations, some individual schools lagged or actually lost points.
Washington Elementary, Winter Gardens, and Laguna Nueva increased their API scores, but did not meet the district’s target, while scores at Joseph A. Gascon Elementary, Greenwood Elementary, Montebello Park Elementary, Rosewood Park Elementary, and Macy Intermediate went down.
Meanwhile the scores of some subgroups at the high school level experienced decreases, even though overall scores not only went up, but also exceeded the district target. These subgroups are defined based on race, as well as according to socio-economically disadvantaged, English learner, and students with disabilities statuses.
MUSD’s high school students’ scores lagged in the categories not defined by race. Schurr High School, which achieved a 757 API score, was expected to achieve a 5-point growth among its socio-economically disadvantaged students this year, but went down by 2 points instead.
Montebello High School achieved a 670 API score this year, but instead of gaining 21 points among students with disabilities, the school’s score went down by 9 points.
Bell Gardens High achieved a 664 API score, but among students with disabilities, the school lost 8 points, instead of meeting a 22-point growth target.
LAUSD schools in EGP’s coverage area have fallen under much scrutiny in recent years. API scores are used by LAUSD to single out schools in need of reform. Any school that falls below a 600 API score and fails to reach targets for improvement for a number of years, can be designated as a “focus school” and is eligible for takeover by outside educational agencies such as charter schools, groups of teachers and administrators, and nonprofit organizations, in the hope that they can bring new ideas to the table to raise student achievement.
Charters and nonprofits are not bound by the LAUSD’s union contracts and could potentially replace all the teachers in any campus they take over. Five schools, not in the local area, raised their scores above 600 this year, allowing them to stay under the control of the district.
“I congratulate these schools for their growth in student achievement and hope it will become a trend with the help of extra support of the district,” LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines said Monday.
LAUSD turned over 18 new schools and 12 troubled ones to outside operators during the first round of the Public School Choice Initiative in February. Teacher-administrator groups backed by United Teachers Los Angeles claimed the vast majority, while four were awarded to charter operators.
One of those focus schools was awarded to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools. “We are seeing growth at the vast majority of our schools and, in some cases, we are seeing transformational growth,” he said, referring to all LAUSD schools. “While this shows we are moving in the right direction, we cannot content ourselves with anything short of transformational progress for every struggling school.”
Villaraigosa’s own nonprofit saw growth as well. Roosevelt High School made a record 57-point increase in the last two years to achieve a score of 607 this year, while Hollenbeck Middle School increased by 42 points in the same period to achieve a score of 625. Stevenson Middle School came back from a 7-point setback last year with a 16-point increase to its API score this year to achieve a 627 score.
The 21 Partnership schools, which consist of LAUSD schools that had been among the lowest performing in the district, have an overall score of 606, as compared to the LAUSD’s overall score of 709.
Charter-run schools in LAUSD did well this year, with three high schools run by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools ranked among the top ten in the district. College-Ready Academy High School #4, to be renamed Dr. Olga Mohan High School later this month, scored 883 and ranked fourth in the district. Environmental Science and Technology High School scored 859, ranking seventh in the district. Gertz-Ressler High School scored 853, putting them ninth in the district.
“We are proud that our charter schools ranked among the best schools in all of LAUSD, the nation’s second-largest school district,” said Alliance President and CEO Judy Burton. “These strong results only deepen our belief that all students can excel in the classroom and graduate from college. We look forward to continued academic improvement during the new school year.”
Reform efforts and steady progress in local schools also reflect a need for continued attention to schools with high concentrations of minority groups. A report by the Education Trust-West indicates that while African-American students together increased their API scores by 15 points, from 670 to 685, they continue to trail their white peers by 153 points. Latino students increased their scores by 17 points overall to achieve 715, which still leaves a gap of 123 points when compared to white students.
The report’s authors urge policymakers to go beyond “convening taskforces that highlight problems everyone knows exists,” and instead implement “high-impact solutions that have long been avoided or ignored.”
“It is extremely important that California address the specific needs of Latino and African American youth. Education reform efforts must address the crisis presented in these reports,” said Assemblymember Tony Mendoza (D-Norwalk), Vice Chair of the California Latino Legislative Caucus. “We are at a critic point. If we do not make a shared pledge to close opportunity and achievement gaps for Latino and African American students, we are putting California’s future at risk.”