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API report: 83% of local schools rank in bottom half of the state

January 18, 2002|By DARREN SIMON, Staff Writer

Eighty-three percent of Imperial Valley schools ranked in the bottom half of the state in 2001, according to the Academic Performance Index base report released this week.

However, since API was started in 1999, school districts throughout the Valley have continued to show steady improvement in test scores.

API is used by the state Department of Education to determine what schools will receive awards and what schools need intervention.

The results are based on student performance on the Standford 9 norm reference test and, as of 2001, the California Standards Test in English-Language Arts.

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In coming years high school exit exams and math standardized tests will be included in the API findings, according to state education officials. Dropout and attendance rates also could be factored into the index.

API base results establish improvement targets schools are expected to meet during the next round of standardized testing in the spring.

The target for each school is based on a scoring index number ranging from 200 to 1,000. The statewide goal is that each school have an index of 800.

While schools have time to reach the 800 goal, there are set growth targets they must reach each year. Schools that reach or go beyond their targets may qualify for awards; schools that do not may be placed in the state's underperforming schools program.

In the Imperial Valley, no school reached the goal of 800, according to the base report.

While the clear majority of schools ranked in the bottom half of the state, the news is not all bad for Valley schools.

Several local schools performed in the upper half of the state, based on the statewide ranking system.

Schools also are ranked against 100 schools in the state with similar characteristics. In that equation, 19 local schools scored better than 80 percent of the 100 schools in their groups.

Additionally, seven Imperial Valley schools scored in the top 10 percent of schools in their comparison groups. Those schools were J.W. Oakley Elementary School in Brawley, Fremont Primary School and Bill E. Young Middle School, both in Calipatria, Hedrick, Martin Luther King Jr. and McKinley elementary schools in El Centro and Holtville Middle School.

That the majority of local schools ranked in the bottom half of the state is not unexpected, local school officials said.

Leo Monroy, school support coordinator for the county Office of Education, said some Imperial Valley schools have more than 50 percent of their student population considered English-language learners.

He said those students are being asked to take the Stanford 9 in English. He added it can take four to seven years for a student to develop English skills.

"We have a much higher percentage of English learners than the norm reference population used to design the Stanford 9 test," Monroy added.

He added the API still is meaningful to Imperial Valley educators.

"They give us an idea that a lot of work needs to be done and it puts us on attention," Monroy said.

He further said the addition of the California Standards Test in English-language arts makes the API more fair.

"We don't teach for a test," he said. "We teach to meet a standard."

He said the language arts test reflects more on what the state is requiring educators to teach and the type of learning happening in classrooms.

The release of the API base results this week comes just four months after the API growth report was released for the previous year. The growth report shows how many schools met their API targets for the year.

In the Imperial Valley 47 percent of the schools met their target growth index while 52 percent did not, according to the October growth report.

The growth report showed Brawley Union High School improved 17 points, going beyond its growth target.

"There is improvement in our school," said BUHSD Superintendent Garth Isom.

Isom said one "major problem" the district is working on is building reading skills. He said the reading measures the high school is taking along with accelerated reading programs in lower grades in Brawley will help.

Isom and other school officials said the goal is to continue to align the curriculum to the standards set by the state.

El Centro Elementary School District officials said some schools saw increases over the previous year while others saw drops in their scores.

Hedrick Elementary School in west El Centro, the only Valley school that reached the state's target of 800 on an earlier API report, dropped to 787. Hedrick remained the school with the highest API in the Valley.

Alicia Armenta, assistant superintendent of the ECESD, said once a school reaches the 800 mark it is difficult to stay there.

Armenta said the focus is "to keep an eye on the standards and to teach to those standards. I think we are going to stay focused in looking at those standards."

She added the release of the API does not set off panic buttons for the district. Overall, she said, the district is moving in the right direction.

Barbara Layaye, superintendent of the Imperial Unified School District, said the district performed well overall on the API.

Layaye said the district has done a lot of work in aligning its curriculum to the state standards and that can be seen on the API.

Robert Moreno, superintendent of the Calexico Unified School District, acknowledged his district has a long way to go.

However, he said since the API started in 1999 district schools have improved by 50 points.

Moreno said as students move up in grades their scores are improving. He said that is a sign students who are English learners are developing their skills and students are not falling behind.

"We have a strong commitment to continue to improve," Moreno said.

>> Staff Writer Darren Simon can be reached at 337-4082.

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