State schools show test improvements, but fall short of goals |

State schools show test improvements, but fall short of goals

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – A majority of California public schools scored better on standardized tests this past academic year, but the results still fell far short of state-mandated levels of academic performance.

State school Superintendent Delaine Eastin announced the results Monday from more than 6,700 schools, where the Academic Performance Index will be used to divvy up $257 million in funds this year.

The state calculates the index based primarily on the Standardized Testing and Reporting exam, or STAR test. Education officials track changes in each school’s rating as part of recent school reform efforts.

During the 2000-01 academic year, 20 percent of public schools reached the state-set performance target, up from 17 percent the year before and 12 percent in the 1998-99 academic year. State education officials attributed this year’s rise to the nearly three quarters of schools that increased their index scores over 1999-2000.

But the gains appeared to be wider than they were deep.

Just 57 percent of schools increased their scores at the rate mandated by the state – down from 71 percent during 1999-2000.

Eastin put a positive spin on the decline.

”An outstanding number of schools showed major gains on their 1999-2000 API reports,” she said, ”and this could not be expected every year.”

The index ranges from 200 to 1,000. Legislation passed in 1999 requires schools scoring below 800 to improve their scores each year. That improvement must equal 5 percent of the gap between the score and the performance target. So, for example, a school that scored 600 on the index in 1999-2000 would have to increase its score by 10 points – 5 percent of the 200-point difference between 600 and 800.

Schools that cannot show that one-year improvement lose access to the extra state money. Those that underperform over several years face local review or stiff state sanctions.

To be eligible for extra state funds, a school’s index must rise both across the board and within specific racial populations.

Two Los Angeles County schools provide a good example.

Monroe Elementary in Lakewood and Ramona Elementary in Bellflower both scored 579 in 1999-2000. Last academic year, Monroe scored 626 and Ramona scored 623 – gains of 8 percent that should have qualified both schools for extra state money.

But Ramona did not qualify for funds, because its scores among black students rose only five points. Those scores would have had to rise nine points to qualify, according to Pat McCabe, the department of education analyst who designed and tabulated the index.

High schools are finding it particularly difficult to meet the state goals, the new results show.

While nearly two thirds of elementary schools and half of middle schools made such improvements, barely a quarter of high schools did.

”We continue to be concerned with the lack of progress at the high school level,” Eastin said, adding that a new high school exit exam may soon boost scores.

Nearly 4.5 million public school students in second through 11th grades took the STAR test last spring. The exam has two main parts: the national Stanford Achievement Test (Stanford 9) and questions written for California schools based on state standards of what each grade should learn.

While 57 percent of schools did meet growth targets, only about 48 percent are eligible for extra money in 2001-02 under legislation Gov. Davis signed Sunday. Among the reasons for the difference is that not enough students took the test at some schools, said department of education spokesman Doug Stone.

Davis said Monday he thinks the tests are a good way to assess schools.

”This public index encourages schools to stay focused on progress,” Davis said. ”Our schools, students and teachers are working hard to meet the challenge of higher expectations.”

Sometimes, though, the index may not accurately measure a school’s progress.

Take Bodega Bay Elementary School, which fell from a 718 score in 1999-2000 to 581 last year – a 137 point drop that was the state’s largest.

The kindergarten through fourth grade school has only 37 students, a population small enough that a few poor performers can skew the results, said Stephen Rosenthal, superintendent of the district that oversees the school.

”Next year, we may increase 200 points because of one or two kids,” Rosenthal said. ”It’s not fair.”

With a score of 975, Faria Elementary School in Cupertino topped the list.

Principal Dolly Travers credited the school’s ”academic and traditional environment” for high scores among the 379 students tested. But she also said the scores only go so far.

”We don’t get too carried away by this,” Travers said. ”The kids are most important. They’re more important than the API.”


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