The Sacramento region now has more schools with test scores ranked among the bottom statewide than schools with test scores ranked among the top.
Two years ago, 54 of the schools in the four-county region placed among the top 10 percent in the state. Last year there were only 41 roughly a 25 percent decline.
Meanwhile, the number of schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent of schools rose from 40 in 2010 to 48 in 2011.
Statewide, schools did much better, increasing their base Academic Performance Index, or API, scores by 11 points on average, according to data released Thursday by the California Department of Education. Released annually, the rankings are based on each school's API a composite of the multitude of tests administered each year.
Sacramento County schools chief David Gordon isn't alarmed by the data. He said some of the local schools that dropped out of the top 10 percent had scores that went down less than 10 points. Three increased their scores.
"It doesn't feel to me like there is such major change going on," Gordon said. "Just a reshuffling of the deck."
But the fall in API scores wasn't just among the top-achieving schools. Much of the region posted lackluster test scores in 2011.
About 43 percent of schools in the four-county area saw their API scores drop between 2010 and 2011.
Another 23 percent saw growth, but at a slower pace than the statewide average.
Only one-third of schools saw growth that matched or beat statewide numbers.
Del Dayo Elementary and Arcade Fundamental Middle School in San Juan Unified were among the schools that fell out of the top tier. Del Dayo Elementary School in Arden Arcade saw its API score fall by 21 points 934 to 913 from 2010 to 2011, while Arcade Fundamental saw a 26-point drop 904 to 878.
San Juan Unified officials say that sort of fluctuation isn't uncommon for schools scoring around 900. "What I often see is that one subject or grade level really struggled that year," said Donna O'Neil, director of assessment, evaluation and planning for the district.
Gayla Rios, president of the Del Dayo Parent Teacher Organization, said she is not too concerned about the drop, because her school now places more emphasis on critical thinking, teamwork and other skills that aren't well measured by multiple-choice tests.
"I don't think the STAR test is accurately assessing the enhanced learning our students are getting," said Rios, who had three children at Del Dayo last year.
Even so, Rios said budget cuts likely contributed to the regionwide trend of schools falling out of the top echelon. "You get what you give," she said. "I really think more funding is needed."
Parents and educators in the Davis Joint Unified school district expressed similar sentiments about falling scores at their schools in interviews earlier this year.
Falling scores at schools in Sacramento City Unified and Davis Joint Unified were responsible for about half of the drop regionally.
More than half of the top-scoring schools in Davis fell out of the top 10 percent in 2011. North Davis Elementary took an 18-point drop 927 to 909 while Frances Ellen Watkins Harper Junior High dipped 10 points 893 to 883. Ralph Waldo Emerson Junior High stayed at 894 the same as the prior year but fell out of the top ranking as other schools in the state improved.
Ten of the 14 schools in Davis saw test scores fall in 2011. That followed several years of slow gains that did not keep pace with statewide growth.
Sacramento City Unified also had three schools move out of the top echelon of state schools, while two Roseville City Unified schools lost that designation. District officials were not available Friday for comment.
The latest API scores represent an acceleration of a trend. In 2006, 63 schools in the four-county region boasted test scores placing them in the top 10 percent statewide. Last year there were 41. In Sacramento and Yolo counties, just 4 percent of the schools earned API scores good enough to rank them among the top 10 percent. In Placer and El Dorado counties, 13 percent of the schools earned that distinction.
Rocklin Unified now has the most schools six in the top 10 percent statewide, barely surpassing Folsom Cordova, which has five. In 2010, Davis Joint Unified, San Juan Unified and Roseville City Elementary had five schools on the top-achieving list. Davis saw three schools fall off last year, while San Juan and Roseville City had two schools drop from the list.