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By KELLY RAUSCH

January 23, 2001|Staff Writer

Wednesday's release of the Academic Performance Index rankings and new growth targets for the state's public schools was met with mixed reactions from Imperial Valley educators.

This latest release includes two rankings comparing schools to more than 7,000 public schools statewide and to 100 others with similar demographics. Schools are rated from a low of 1 to a high of 10.

The release gives each school its 2000-2001 growth target, the recommended number of points the school should raise its API.

While 10 schools in Imperial County achieved school rankings of 10, no school in the county received such a ranking in the statewide comparison.

McCabe Union Elementary School and El Centro's Hedrick Elementary both received an 8 in the statewide ranking, the best in the county. Holtville's Pine Elementary and Imperial's Frank Wright Intermediate School received rankings of 7.

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"The teachers (at Frank Wright) did a lot of work aligning curriculum to state standards and implementing the Accelerated Reader program," said Imperial Unified School District Superintendent Barbara Layaye.

The three Imperial district schools receiving rankings all performed in the top half of both the state and similar school rankings. While Layaye is pleased with the district's performance and proud of teachers' hard work, she cautions against placing too much emphasis on the ratings.

"This is just one measure of academic performance taken on one day," Layaye said, adding the district has other indicators it looks at along with the API to gauge student performance.

Carlos Vega, superintendent of Holtville Unified School District, agrees that the API results and rankings don't tell the whole story about a school.

"I've never been a fan of the test," Vega said, referring to the Standardized Testing and Reporting exam upon which the API is based.

"In some ways it's not an accurate way to measure kids," Vega said.

"But," Vega said, "it's happening to all schools so I can't really complain.

"It's the district's priority to get scores up and we're very pleased with the results," Vega said.

Vega also is pleased the Department of Education has included similar school rankings.

"Schools have different demographics and resources," Vega said, adding such factors impact school performance.

For some Imperial County schools, like most in the Calexico Unified School District, API results and rankings are not available.

A recent change in the Department of Education's criteria for validating API scores erased the APIs and rankings for all six Calexico Unified elementary schools and De Anza Junior High.

On Jan. 11 CUSD Superintendent Roberto Moreno testified before the state board, asking it to include the scores of schools whose percentage of students not taking the STAR exam is equal to or greater than 15, Moreno said.

The board disagreed and subsequently about 150 to 160 schools statewide are without API scores, target growths and rankings for this reason, Moreno said.

"The most immediate effect is we don't have an API and we're out of competition for rewards," Moreno said, adding the district is still sorting out other impacts.

Moreno explained the high frequency of students with parental waivers "has to do with the bilingual program."

"I don't think they had 10 in the whole district in the English language arts program (opt out of the test)," Moreno said.

Moreno thinks the state board passed this new stipulation out of fear that some schools could raise their scores by having parents of lower-scoring children opt out of the test.

"It's too bad they would punish schools for something they would allow parents to do," Moreno said.

Moreno concedes he would better accept the rule had it been in place from the start, but "it's really disappointing to have the rules changing after the fact."

William Moreno Junior High, along with Calexico High, was not affected by the rule. Moreno Junior High received a 10 rating among similar schools.

Moreno attributes the junior high's success to the school's emphasis on reading through programs like sustained silent reading and Accelerated Reader. Both programs are now being implemented at De Anza, Moreno said.

Students at Calexico High also now participate in SSR and lower-achieving ninth- and 10th-graders are receiving twice the amount of language arts instruction as normal, Moreno said.

Moreno expects all three schools to see improvement on their API's, though De Anza's will have to be verified unofficially due to the new stipulation.

A phone call to the state Department of Education's Policy and Evaluation Division by a reporter regarding this matter was not returned.

All districts seem to be looking ahead at ways to improve API scores by meeting or exceeding their growth targets.

"Frankly, we're keeping our eye on the bigger picture of meeting API targets," said Alicia Armenta, associate superintendent for the El Centro Elementary School District.

Though the district's schools were ranked 9 or 10 in similar school rankings, the district, it's hard-working teachers and students aren't content to slow down, Armenta said.

"The focus (on meeting API targets) will translate into increased achievement year after year," Armenta said.

The state Department of Education bases API results solely on the Standardized Testing and Reporting exam. Other components will be added in the future.

For more information, visit http://api.cde.ca.gov.

Staff writer Kelly Rausch can be reached at 337-3442.

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