Few Schools Meeting Improvement Goals

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Fewer than half of California elementary and secondary schools met their annual targets for academic improvement this year, highlighting the increasing difficulty faced by the state's six million students in meeting aggressive performance goals.

The final piece of the annual school report card released today showed that schools lost ground on overall improvement on the Academic Performance Index and on the growth of different groups that are rated separately.

Overall, 48% of schools received passing grades, down from 78% last year.

"Frankly, this is unacceptable and I know, and educators around the state know, that we can do better," state Supt. of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said on releasing the new information.

The leveling off in the state's Academic Performance Index was no surprise after mixed results were reported in August on the California standards tests that make up the largest part of the index.

This year, scores were up at 62% of the state's roughly 7,200 schools, compared to 90% last year.

But the API growth report accentuates the flagging performance because schools can fail to meet their assigned goal even if their scores rise.

The index, which grades schools on a scale from 200 to 1,000, is a single measure of each school's performance. Besides rating the school as a whole, the state calculates an API for eight subgroups at each school, including race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status. Every subgroup receives its own target, and every group must reach the target for the school to pass.

About 1,000 schools — about a third as many as last year — fell short in the performance of one or more subgroups despite meeting their overall targets, according to a Times analysis of the state data.

The subgroup rating is intended to ensure that schools strive for gains among all races and academic levels.

Among all schools, about 40% of black and Latino subgroups failed to meet their goals this year, about twice last year's rate for blacks and four times for Latinos. The rate for whites was 25% and for Asians 11%, both nearly double last year's level.

In the API, each school has an assigned target based on its past year's score. Those lower on the scale must improve more, and those at or above 800 do not receive a target.

The state's middle schools had the highest rate of growth, with 55% meeting the target. Only 47% of high schools reached the mark and 46% of elementary schools.