More campuses in the Los Angeles school system are reaching state academic goals, but the district is still failing to meet important federal targets, according to data released Wednesday by the state Department of Education.
The district scored a 728 last year on the Academic Performance Index, which measures improvement on a 1,000-point scale based on factors such as standardized tests. That represents a 19-point jump for the nation’s second-largest district over the previous year. The state averaged a 10-point increase.
L.A. Unified officials said they were encouraged, especially because the district had to lay off staff and cut academic programs such as summer school over the last several years to deal with large budget shortfalls.
“These scores reflect the incredible strides that are being made at so many of our schools,” Supt. John Deasy said in a statement.
The district scores mirrored an overall state trend of rising achievement. A record 49% of California schools reached or passed the state’s goal of 800 on the API, officials said.
Individual API scores are frequently used by parents looking for schools and administrators seeking to shine the best light on their campuses. But the scores are often a more accurate reflection of the socioeconomic levels of the families who attend the campus, according to a Times article last year.
The results of some of the standardized tests used to calculate the API were released earlier this month.
The L.A. Unified school with the biggest gain was Napa Street Elementary School in Northridge, which jumped 130 points to 798. Principal Victoria Christie said several factors may have contributed to the increase, including breaking classes into smaller groups and paying closer attention to tests that measure student progress.
“But it wasn’t so much the model,” said Christie, who is starting her second year as principal. “It was the focus and the dedication of the teachers.”
Charter organizations also appeared to fare well as a whole, outscoring traditional campuses by 29 points, according to the California Charter Schools Assn.
One of the district’s biggest drops occurred at Florence Griffith Joyner Elementary, a school in its first year of operation by the Partnership for Los Angeles Schools, a nonprofit under the control of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. The school scored almost 60 points lower on the API.
The group had to hire staff quickly, making a calm instructional year difficult, said Marshall Tuck, the partnership’s chief executive.
The mayor’s nonprofit did better at George Washington Carver Middle School, which also joined the partnership last year. The previous Carver principal remained in place and was able to quickly win over the faculty, Tuck said. The school’s API score rose 38 points.
Despite the overall gains, schools throughout the state may face sanctions because they have not met federal education guidelines that require schools and certain groups of students to make progress toward scoring “proficient” on standardized tests.
Overall, the number of schools statewide that met those guidelines fell from the year before, according to the state.
State Supt. of Instruction Tom Torlakson has asked federal education officials to ease guidelines to give states more flexibility. The Obama administration has said it would be willing to do that if states are willing to make reforms.
“We want relief from Washington,” Torlakson said.