Autumn Payne / apayne@sacbee.com

Michelle Lopez, 13, smiles Thursday as classmates applaud her writing in a class at Fern Bacon Middle School. The school recently posted a 55-point gain in its Academic Performance Index score.

Sacramento-area school districts see improvement in API scores

Published: Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Friday, Oct. 12, 2012 - 7:13 am

Local school districts posted strong gains from 2011 to 2012 on the state's Academic Performance Index, a composite of test scores that measures student performance.

Forty-five of 54 districts in the four-county area saw their scores improve, with a median improvement of eight points, or about 1 percent, according to results released Thursday. Statewide, the overall API score rose by 10 points to 788.

On a scale of 200 to 1,000, the statewide benchmark is 800 for each school. Almost two-thirds of local school districts earned API scores above 800, including William Land Elementary, which rose 57 points to an 805 API score.

Despite those healthy gains, nearly three-fourths of schools in the four-county region are now in "Program Improvement," meaning the state thinks they should improve their scores faster.

Any school that receives funding under Title I, the nation's largest federally funded K-12 education program for low-income schools, can be placed in Program Improvement. Schools in Program Improvement face sanctions and restructuring. The state raises the bar for avoiding Program Improvement each year.

Locally, three schools exited Program Improvement – Whitehead Elementary in Woodland and continuation high schools Adelante in Roseville and Phoenix in Lincoln.

"We are really proud" of Whitehead Elementary, said Debra Calvin, an associate superintendent at Woodland Unified. "It's an incredibly difficult thing to do to pull a school out of Program Improvement."

In fact, more schools entered Program Improvement than left it. In all, 27 local schools were placed in Program Improvement on the basis of their 2011-2012 scores.

California has requested a waiver from federal sanctions associated with No Child Left Behind, which requires all students to be at grade level in reading and math by 2014.

State schools chief Tom Torlakson said the NCLB waiver is pending.

"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," Torlakson said in a news release.

Among local districts with more than 1,000 students taking the test, Rescue Union Elementary saw the largest API gain, 21 points, followed by Woodland Joint Unified (20), Robla Elementary (16) and Winters (15).

Natomas Unified, which has 8,600 students taking the state tests, had an API increase of 10 points.

Among districts with more than 10,000 students taking the test, Folsom Cordova posted the largest gain, 12 points, followed by Sacramento City (eight), Elk Grove (seven), San Juan (six) and Twin Rivers (four).

The biggest decline in API scores, excluding county offices of education, came at Galt Joint Union High, which posted a 14-point drop.

Latrobe, an elementary district in El Dorado Hills with two schools and 150 students total, earned the highest API score (953) in the region. Twin Rivers Unified earned the lowest score (726) in the region among 50 school districts, excluding the four county offices of education.

Almost 60 percent of individual schools posted API gains from 2011 to 2012.

Among schools with at least 150 students, Theodore Judah Elementary in Folsom Cordova posted the largest gain (90 points), followed by Folsom Cordova's Mather Heights Elementary (77) and Cottage Elementary in San Juan Unified (69).

John D. Sloat Elementary in Sacramento City Unified saw the largest decline (79 points), followed by San Juan's Greer Elementary (60) and Fairbanks Elementary in Twin Rivers (51).

The release of API scores on Friday came two weeks after Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that will rework how API scores are calculated beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

The bill, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, will put less weight on state tests in order to emphasize factors such as graduation rates and college readiness.

Sacramento City Unified Superintendent Jonathan Raymond said he welcomes those changes. Raymond said there are better ways to gauge how well students are learning and whether they leave schools prepared.

"When you are talking about the attributes we want our students to have, in the top 10 isn't being a good test taker," Raymond said.

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