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Test scores creeping up but falling short of state and federal goals

Modified: Friday, Oct 12th, 2012




WATSONVILLE — Renaissance High School students saw a 34-point growth to 573 in their state test scores, according to results released Thursday by the California Department of Education.

Last year the continuation school showed a 50-point growth, the largest in the county.

“I’m really excited,” principal Artemisa Cortez said.

While the school’s small size puts it in a slightly different category than its larger brethren, the numbers were nevertheless a feather in the cap for the Watsonville school, which has seen double-digit gains nearly every year since the test was implemented in 2007.

Cortez said she largely attributes her school’s success to teacher collaboration and to classes in English and Spanish geared toward preparation for the math portion of the California High School Exit Exam.

“We really motivate the students,” she said. “I feel that the more students are prepared to learn the better.”

Cortez said that she was planning a celebration for the school to celebrate the results.

“This is big,” she said. “This is something our students need to feel good about.”

Students at Cesar Chavez Middle School exceeded the school’s API growth goal of 695 set last year by 27 points.

“We feel pretty good,” said principal Ian MacGregor. “It’s great to see student success and all the hard work paying off.”

MacGregor said the teachers held students accountable for completing their work, and giving them several opportunities to get it done. MacGregor also said that students arrive at his school from the lower grades well prepared for the advanced middle school academics.

“Elementary schools are doing a good job,” he said. “Students are really prepared when they get here.”

Watsonville Charter School of the Arts principal Trish Hucklebridge attributed the school’s 11-point growth to 812 in part to teacher collaboration, but stressed that the entire school worked hard for the success.

“It feels good,” she said. “To me it shows that the arts do not take away from the academics.”

Pacific Coast Charter School, which provides independent study programs for home-schooled students, saw a 61-point growth to 721, and met all their federal goals.

Principal Suzanne Smith attributed the scores to an increased number of writing and math classes, and to the introduction of common core standards to the families, which she said helped them align their lessons with state standards.

“Everyone is really excited about it,” Smith said. “We’re really proud of all our kids.”

Renaissance High School was among approximately 63 percent of PVUSD schools that met or exceeded their target Academic Performance Index scores, while 49 percent scored at 700 or more.

Countywide, schools fared better, with 48 percent scoring 800 or better, which arguably have higher stakes for schools.

 CDE results show that 59 percent of elementary schools, 49 percent of middle schools, and 30 percent of high schools are now meeting the state benchmark.

Latino students and English Learners statewide also posted strong gains, with Latinos adding 11 points to 740 and English Learners adding 10 points. PVUSD’s Latinos also showed growth, with six points of growth to 688.

The numbers were slightly worse for the federal Adequate Yearly Progress scores.

Thirty-eight percent of PVUSD schools demonstrated double-digit growth in their AYP scores for English-Language Arts over a five year span. In mathematics, 41 percent of the schools showed double-digit growth in mathematics during the same five-year period.

Santa Cruz County students have marginally boosted their state and federal test scores from last year, and made gains since every year since the federal No Child Left Behind program was implemented in 2001.

While both the state API and federal AYP results are based on the Standardized Testing And Reporting test and the California High School Exit Exam results and a handful of other assessments, both report progress in different ways.

The API is a number from 200 – 1000 used by California education officials to measure improvement from year-to-year. Schools receive more points for moving students up from the lowest performance levels.

The state wants every school to meet a goal of 800 or higher.

In contrast, the federal AYP system focuses on whether or not students are scoring at the proficient level or above on English and math tests and API scores, among other things.

School districts that fail to meet the standards for two consecutive years can be placed into Program Improvement, which can result in sanctions such as reduced federal funding, or replacing the principal or half the teaching staff. Schools that meet the goals for two years in a row are eligible to exit Program Improvement.

The strict federal AYP requirements often contrast those of the state. Santa Cruz County, for example, has seven schools in Program Improvement, but which have scored more than 800 on their API, said Santa Cruz County Office of Education Assistant Superintendent Mary Anne James.

Under NCLB, schools must meet yearly goals that will increase until 2014, when 100 percent of California students must score at proficient or above.

With that deadline looming, it is unlikely that many schools will be able to reach their goals. Countywide, 24 percent of elementary schools and 15 percent of middle schools met all their AYP goals, which were close to the statewide numbers. Meanwhile, only 19 percent of high schools met all their AYP goals, compared to 27 percent statewide.

In PVUSD, only Mar Vista and Rio Del Mar elementary schools met all their AYP requirements, as did Academic/Vocational Charter Institute and New School Community Day.

State law is currently silent on what will happen to schools that do not meet the 2014 benchmark. The California Department of Education, however, has applied to the federal government for relief from NCLB requirements. It is unclear when a decision will be reached.

“California’s request for a waiver from the requirements of NCLB is still pending,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. “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.”

The heavy reliance on test scores has left schools and teachers under enormous pressure, and opponents charge that the policy causes more harm than good. Teachers say they spend hours of instruction time preparing their students for the test and administering it. Subjects such as music and art that are not in the test often fall by the wayside.

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For information, visit www.cde.ca.gov.

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