Friday, October 12, 2012


Just like across California, campuses are at their highest-achieving level yet, but they aren't keeping pace with rapidly rising federal targets.

By Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times |

high school

The Jordan Downs housing projects sit just beyond the fence of the Watts high school's track and football field. (Mariah Tauger/ Los Angeles Times / October 12, 2012)

October 12, 2012  ::  This year was the best in a long time for low-performing Jordan High School in Watts and for schools across California, according to rankings on the state's Academic Performance Index, which were released Thursday.

To the federal government, however, the long-beleaguered campus in Watts simply notched another dreary year of failure.

So goes the complicated method by which schools are evaluated in California.

The state rating system, based on standardized test scores, indicates that schools are getting better — and are at their highest-achieving level yet. But they aren't keeping pace with rapidly rising federal targets.

L.A. Unified, the state's largest school system, echoed that trend in the state in all respects, which was declared cause for celebration.

"Our students continue to improve, and not by just a point or two, or at a school or two, but throughout the district, and at an accelerated pace," said L.A. schools Supt. John Deasy.

Statewide, more than half of schools, 53%, reached the target score of 800 in California's rating system. That's an increase of 4 percentage points over last year. Ten years ago, only 20% of schools reached 800.

The API ranks schools on a scale of 200 to 1,000 points, the higher the better. If every student at a school tested at grade level, its score would be 875.

Critics have charged that the state system reveals less about school quality and more about demographics — family income and parental involvement, for example — that are outside a school's control. It is used, however, by many parents and others to compare campuses.

The gains come amid several years of deep budget cuts during a state financial crisis.

"We've set a high bar for schools and they have more than met the challenge, despite the enormous obstacles that years of budget cuts have put in their way," state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said in a statement.

The glass, however, looked at least half empty by the federal yardstick. It's based on the 2001 No Child Left Behind law, which requires nearly all students to be academically proficient by 2014.

At this point, more than three-quarters of students are supposed to test at or above grade level in English and math. By this standard, California — and most other states — are foundering.

Nearly 700 California schools have entered so-called program improvement status for the first time because they fell short of federal targets for two years in a row. And 71% of all California schools that receive federal aid are so designated. These schools have been characterized as failing, although many are well regarded.

For years, Jordan High had a poor reputation, despite some signs of progress. In 2011, about 12% of students tested at grade level in English; 2.5% in math.

Then-L.A. schools Supt. Ramon Cortines used his authority under No Child Left Behind to reorganize Jordan before the 2011-12 school year.

The district displaced the faculty and other staff and turned over management to outside groups. Half the school went to a charter operator, Green Dot Public Schools. The other half went to the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit under the control of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.

The Green Dot portion bested Jordan's API of last year by 23 points, a strong gain. The partnership surpassed it by 93 points, the largest increase among traditional high schools in L.A. Unified.

Jordan still has vast room for improvement: only 19% of students tested at grade level in English; 8% in math. Few high schools are doing worse.

Still, the district's improvement across the board is significant, said David Rattray, an education specialist for the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.

"These are really strong, steady results," Rattray said.

Two L.A. schools this year were stripped of an API score because of mistakes or misconduct by a teacher. One was Capistrano Elementary in West Hills; the other was Short Avenue Elementary in Del Rey, which lost its rating for the second consecutive year.

The state denies an API score to a school when the scores of at least 5% of students are compromised by the actions of an adult involved in the testing process.



By Kimberly Beltran | SI&A Cabinet Report.

Friday, October 12, 2012  ::  For the first time, more than half the state’s schools met or surpassed the target score for achievement on California’s Academic Performance Index, a set of scores that serve as an indicator of how well districts and schools are educating students.

Some 53 percent of schools scored at or above the state target of 800, an increase of 4 percentage points over last year, marking a decade of steady growth. Ten years ago, just 20 percent of schools met or surpassed the API target.

At the same time, the number of California campuses meeting federal accountability measures under the No Child Left Behind Act dropped 9 percent from 2011, and 699 additional schools were identified as failing.

The Obama administration has offered states a waiver program exempting schools from some of the requirements of NCLB. California’s waiver application still awaits federal approval.

The 2012 numbers were released Thursday at a press conference held by state Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

“We’ve set a high bar for schools and they have more than met the challenge, despite the enormous obstacles that years of budget cuts have put in their way,” Torlakson said in a statement about the record API improvement. “While there’s still more work to do, California’s schools have earned a vote of confidence.”

The API results released by Torlakson show that 59 percent of elementary schools, 49 percent of middle schools, and 30 percent of high schools are now meeting the state benchmark.

Both the state API and the federal NCLB law’s Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, targets are based largely on the Standardized Testing and Reporting exams given to students in grades two through 11 each spring.

The state scores are based on a growth model under which students, schools and districts are judged by how much their scores increase over time.
The federal standards are based on all students meeting the same requirements at the same time, no matter where they scored when the assessments began.

AYP targets become more difficult to reach as more students must score proficient or advanced on the tests from the previous year, with the goal of all students being proficient in reading and math by 2014.

The 2012 data shows an overall increase in the percent of students scoring proficient or advanced, as well as by African-American, Hispanic/Latino, English Learner, Socio-Economically Disadvantaged and Students with Disabilities subgroups. But just 26 percent of all California schools met their AYP targets.

A school not meeting AYP for three consecutive years is placed into Program Improvement – a  category for failing to meet all program benchmarks – which triggers new oversight and compliance requirements.

For 2012-13, 699 schools were newly identified as PI, bringing the total number of thus designated schools to 4,402.
California, along with a majority of other states, have sought waivers from some of the more onerous sanctions of the Bush-era NCLB, criticized by many for its heavy focus on testing and flawed school rating system. Waiver requests from 33 states have been approved by the U.S. education department; 11 others, including California’s, are still being reviewed, and six states chose not to apply.

“While we’re waiting for the flexibility we need, we’re not going to allow a flawed system to distract us from the work we’re doing to help schools improve,” noted Torlakson.

Focusing on the positive gains in the state’s accountability system, Torlakson pointed out that the overall API score for all students increased by 10 points for 2012, to 788, with substantial gains among all student groups.

African American students and students with disabilities realized the largest gains with an increase of 14 points for each student group, to 710 and 607, respectively. Latino students and English Learners also posted strong gains, with Latinos adding 11 points to 740 and English Learners adding 10 points to 716. Asian and white students made smaller gains of 7 and 8 points respectively, but still have the highest API totals among student groups of 905 and 853 respectively.

Statewide, elementary schools’ API score grew by 7 points to 815, middle schools by 14 points to 792, and high schools by 11 points to 752.
Earlier this week, Torlakson also unveiled the California Department of Education’s new School Quality Snapshot, a free, online accountability tool that puts a wide variety of academic results and other information about a school’s performance at the fingertips of parents and the public.

These reports – visual representations of data schools already reported to CDE – represent a first step in how the department and the State Board of Education plan to use data to better inform the public about the progress of California schools as they reshape the School Accountability Report Card and revise the Academic Performance Index under a new law passed by the Legislature this summer.

All results can be found on the CDE Accountability Progress Reporting Web page.

No comments: