Test scores plummet in Tahoe schools | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Test scores plummet in Tahoe schools

William Ferchland

A shakeup of the student population after two elementary schools closed contributed to two schools having double-digit decreases in state performance tests, unsurprised but concerned Lake Tahoe Unified School District officials said.

Two branches of assessments used to track student achievement were released Wednesday: the Academic Performance Index and Adequate Yearly Progress. The API is the state’s accountability system measuring school performance while AYP is the federal model. Unlike the elementary schools, South Tahoe Middle and South Tahoe High made modest gains in the testing.

Of the three elementary schools, Bijou Community and Sierra House took steps backward. Sierra House, which previously scored above the state’s API performance target of 800 with 813, fell to a score of 744 while Bijou went from a score of 677 to 638.

Tahoe Valley, the other elementary school, had a gain of 52 points, jumping from 721 to 773, the highest score in the district.

API scores range from 200 to 1,000.

Superintendent James Tarwater said Tahoe Valley did not have the influx of English learners when school demographics changed after Meyers and Al Tahoe elementary schools closed because of budget constraints caused mostly by declining enrollment.

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Student populations at the other three sites ballooned as did class sizes at the lower grades when class-size reduction, which caps the number of students at 20 in each classroom, was included in budget fatalities.

“I think when you change school boundaries and change the demographics it takes awhile to recover and get the maximum growth,” he said.

Scores could improve next year

Additions during the summer, including an environmental science magnet school at the Meyers site and return of class-size reduction from kindergarten to second-grade, has Tarwater believing this year’s scores are an aberration.

But he said he is concerned about the performance of student subgroups, particularly those learning the English language. New programs such as Read 180 and High Point, a literacy arts program for English learners will begin. In addition, a new English-language arts tracking system (a sheet of paper with detailed information) for all second- to fifth-grade students was approved by the school board last month.

“So we’re going to attack this issue and we have confidence,” Tarwater said.

Jim Watson, principal of Sierra House, anticipated a change in scores when student demographics changed. In the 2003-04 school year, the school had 46 English learning students. Last school year it had more than 200.

Watson was also optimistic. He’s glad the magnet school’s enrollment of 296 will lessen the crowds at the three other elementary schools. He also cited the student academic profile sheets and the High Point program that will help English learners at the fourth- and fifth-grade level.

“I expect a year from now we’ll see a tremendous improvement,” he said.

Secondary schools perform well

As for the secondary schools, both South Tahoe Middle and South Tahoe High had gains. The high school had the largest improvement of 54 points, which elevated its API score to 707.

Mt. Tallac High School, an alternative education program in the district, had an API score of 709 and met all its criteria for AYP.

South Tahoe Middle School increase it score to 720 after it gained 12 points.

The school with the highest score in the county is Otter Creek Elementary in Black Oak Mine Unified with a score of 981.

Vicki Barber, superintendent of El Dorado County schools, was pleased with the county’s scores and acknowledged changing student demographics affected LTUSD’s elementary scores.

Eight of 10 public schools in California improved their standardized test scores enough to meet their goals on the Academic Performance Index, said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. That figure is up from the 64 percent that met the target last year.

Fifty-six percent of all California schools showed “adequate yearly progress” according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The federal goal is to have 100 percent of children proficient in math and English. Last year, 65 percent of California schools met that goal.

Fewer schools made the federal standard because they were required to hit an escalating target, O’Connell said.

To make their federal goals this year, elementary and middle schools must show that 24.4 percent of students are proficient in English and language arts, an increase from the 13.6 percent goal last year.

High schools had to show that 22.3 percent of their students were proficient in English this year, compared to 11.2 percent last year.

For the math requirement, the goals rose from 16 percent to 26.5 percent for elementary students, and from 9.6 percent to 20.9 percent for high school students.

Only South Tahoe High School met all AYP criteria. Tahoe Valley was close, meeting 16 of 17 of AYP criteria, missing only adequate academic performance by Hispanic or Latino students in English-language arts.

All district schools met the criteria for test participation.

The ABC’s of the tests

The state’s Academic Performance Index and the federal Adequate Yearly Progress measurement are calculated using the same set of standardized tests.

Those tests include the California Standards Test, which tests curriculum unique to California classrooms, and the California Achievement Test. That exam allows educators to see how California students compare to children around the nation. High schools also are judged by graduation rates and scores on the California High School Exit Exam.

O’Connell said the difference is how the two benchmarks use the results. The state’s API looks at how much a school improved its test scores in a year, while the federal yearly progress measurement sets a static goal for all schools.

Because of that different approach, 40 percent of California schools showed improvement on the state scale but failed to make the federal goal.

While all schools are held to the federal goals, the consequences for failing fall only on schools that receive extra federal money because they serve high percentages of low-income students. If those schools fail to make adequate progress two years in a row, they must allow students to transfer to other schools that are making progress.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.