By Howard Blume and Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times | http://lat.ms/blvj5b
September 14, 2010 -- Los Angeles schools have shown marked improvement in their students' test scores, with gains so strong at five campuses that officials have removed them from a list of schools that could have been taken over because of poor performance.
The Los Angeles Unified School District had planned to offer Los Angeles and Huntington Park high schools, Harte and Audubon middle schools, and Woodcrest Elementary in Westmont to groups inside or outside the system to help boost student achievement.
But that plan was superseded by Monday's release of school rankings on the state Academic Performance Index.
Overall, California students increased their scores on the index by 13 points, according to data from the state Department of Education. Better gains were turned in by Latino students, low-income students and black students, resulting in a small narrowing of the achievement gap separating them from their white and Asian peers.
The state's target API score of 800 — on a scale of 200 to 1,000 — would generally require most of a school's students to be academically proficient. Just over half of the state's elementary schools have reached that goal, compared with 40% of middle schools and 25% of high schools.
"Our resilient system continues to show progress," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, alluding to recent steep education budget cuts.
Schools in L.A. Unified, the state's largest system, improved more than the state as a whole while remaining below the state average.
L.A. High in Mid-Wilshire improved 59 percentile points, more than any other traditional Los Angeles high school. The 74-point gain of Audubon Middle in Leimert Park outpaced all traditional L.A. middle schools.
Both principals used their schools' looming shake-up as a motivator for state tests that typically carry no consequences for students. L.A. High Principal Elena Anthony called separate meetings for students, parents and teachers and promoted the tests' importance at every opportunity.
Audubon Principal DeWayne D. Davis vowed to retain students who performed poorly on the state tests.
Anthony's academic strategies included focusing more on the results of student tests. Teachers would meet in teams to develop plans for struggling students, she said. Davis encouraged students and teachers to tell him when a class was ineffective for them. Then he would set out to learn why, spending about half his day in classrooms, he said.
Charter school operator Mike Piscal had been preparing bids to take control of Audubon and Harte.
"I applaud the gains," said Piscal, chief executive of ICEF Public Schools, which also achieved strong increases. "This got people to step up their game, but are these kids on a path to go to college?"
Charters are independently run, mostly non-union public schools that would have the option of replacing a school's entire staff.
Aside from charter groups, teachers and others can bid for control of low-performing schools.
The progress on test scores was welcome news Monday at Mayall Elementary in North Hills and elsewhere on the first day of the school year for most L.A. campuses.
Mayall Principal Linda Kim celebrated the school's healthy increase on the state API, along with its rating in a Times analysis of seven years of student test scores. The newspaper published a series on the so-called value-added method, as well as a database rating about 6,000 elementary teachers.
"In the L.A. Times, we were regarded as one of the most effective schools," Kim told an enthusiastic crowd of parents and students. "I am very proud of that, knowing our teachers are working hard."
Many teachers, however, were unhappy about the ratings and accompanying stories, said John Casebier, who was bringing his daughter Lauren to school.
"It didn't seem right to publicize" the teachers' names and their ratings, said Casebier, whose wife teaches disabled children at Mayall.
At nearby Langdon Elementary, parent liaison Virginia Flores said the newspaper's scrutiny "will show teachers how to improve and become even better than they are."
And in San Fernando, parent Norma Meza felt no need to look up the ratings of teachers at Gridley Elementary.
"My kids are learning well," she said. "They love it here."