Several schools shine as API scores are released

Burbank schools uniformly exceeded the much-coveted Academic Performance Index score of 800, according to 2010-11 data released Wednesday by the California Department of Education.

Leading the pack was Stevenson Elementary School, which earned a score of 895. It was followed closely by Emerson Elementary School with a score of 882, and Roosevelt and Jefferson elementary schools, which both scored 873.

The top performing secondary schools were Muir Middle School and Burbank High School, which scored 865 and 820, respectively.

The overall Burbank score inched upward two points to 834.

“It is impressive to have all BUSD schools at or above the state goal of 800,” Supt. Stan Carrizosa said. “This places us in the highest performing districts in the state.”

Scores on the Academic Performance Index, known as API, range from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000, and are based on standardized tests. They are a cornerstone of the accountability system for California public schools, and are generally considered an indication of the academic effectiveness of a school site.

They can also be a source of pride or despair — high scores are posted on school marquees and advertised in PTA fliers, while low scores can trigger hand-wringing and parent meetings.

Statewide, 55% of elementary schools, 43% of middle schools and 28% of high schools met the state API target of 800, according to the California Department of Education. San Marino and La Cañada school districts again ranked as No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the state.

In Burbank, Washington Elementary School recorded the biggest improvement, climbing 24 points to a score of 821.

“We are ecstatic that we are past the 800 mark, and we are going to aim for 850 next year,” Principal Arlene Mooradian-Zenian said.

The gains at Washington are all the more notable given that it serves one of the poorest areas of the city — 69% of its students receive free- or reduced-price meals and 29% are English-language learners.

The school struggled to boost scores for years. In 2008, it slipped into “program improvement,” a designation born out of the No Child Left Behind Act and applied when any one subgroup of students fails to hit federally established target scores in two consecutive years.

But a newly implemented intervention program that organizes students into small learning groups according to their proficiency made an impact, Mooradian-Zenian said. And last year, Washington Elementary met the federal targets needed to pull it out of program improvement.

“When we went into program improvement we were told, ‘Don’t worry, everyone will be in program improvement soon,’” Mooradian-Zenian said. “But my teachers had the complete opposite outlook. We decided that is not us, we are going to do everything we can to get out, and we succeeded.”

What Washington Elementary was able to accomplish, other schools were not. Disney and McKinley elementary schools did not keep pace with the rigid — and much criticized — federal benchmarks, and have now joined Luther Middle School in program improvement.

District officials said that they were not overly concerned by the new designations, noting that federal education officials are currently considering implementing a waiver until the growth requirements can be restructured.

“We are not surprised that more schools are starting to slip into program improvement based on the federal criteria,” Carrizosa said. “When the No Child Left Behind laws were set, they did not take into account the special learning needs of children with diagnosed learning disabilities and those of children whose native language is not English.”

Stakeholders said they are generally pleased with the upward trend of Burbank API scores, noting the district-wide score has climbed steadily upward since the 2002 score of 720.

Burbank principals described a no-holds-barred approach to student success. The first ingredient is good teaching, they said, and then come the extras.

At Stevenson Elementary School, students take a test pledge promising to perform their best, use special test-taking pencils and dedicate each section of the test to someone significant in their life, said Principal Debbie Ginnetti.

“I feel like now we are really seeing the fruits of our labor of the last couple of years,” Ginnetti said.

Muir Principal John Paramo said he helps his teachers maintain a spreadsheet that tracks all students performing below their respective grade levels. Test scores are not meant to humiliate those who don’t do well, but rather serve as a starting point for improved instruction and learning, he said.

“What I tell my staff all the time is data isn’t to point fingers, it is simply to inform us,” Paramo said. “When we do well, we celebrate as a team. When we don’t do well, we need to put our heads together… It isn’t to increase scores and look really good and be at the top of the chart. It is to look at the individual kids and say these are kids who we want to do well in life.”
 
 

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