District's API scores up

Newport-Mesa Unified School District schools received a combined score of 820 on the Academic Performance Index tests, well above the state average, according to the results released this week.

The 32 schools, from elementary to high school, scored above the statewide target of 800 points on the test's scale of 200 to 1,000 points. Last year, the combined total was 811 points.

There were disparities, particularly among schools in Newport Beach and certain sections of Costa Mesa.

Among the top-performing elemetnary schools were Mariners at 946, Newport Coast at 949 and Andersen at 934.

Lower-performing elementary schools included Rea at 712, Whittier at 722 and Pomona at 725.

Although the combined score was above average, College Park, Eastbluff, Newport, Paularino, Victoria and Woodland elementary schools dropped between 10 and 20 points over the 2009 results.

Board of Education member Judy Franco said the district is looking in to the decline to see if it can't somehow improve on those scores and figure out what, if anything, went wrong.

"The district is looking at the API results for each school and determining the appropriate intervention steps that need to be taken to help those students who need the extra help," she said. "The overall district scores, however, continue to improve as they have for the last eight years. Our principals and teachers need to be congratulated for this steady improvement and dedication to their students' success."

District Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard said he was also pleased with the results. He credited the teachers and principals with "frequently assessing the progress of the students" before making adjustments where they were warranted in the classroom.

Hubbard said the elementary schools' slight decrease did not concern him.

Hubbard said the only time that administrators and faculty might give pause is when a school starts to decline over a long period of time, say three to five years. If that's the case, Hubbard said, then some sort of intervention must take place.

But so far such a scenario has not emerged, probably because the district schools consistently rank in the top 6th percentile across the country as far as test scores are concerned, he said.

"It's different today than when we were kids," Hubbard said. "When we were kids, you could go a whole semester without anybody paying attention to you, but now if a child is struggling in the first couple weeks, we say, 'What are we going to do about that?'

"And teachers are getting together with other teachers and talking about it, and it's really starting to show some benefits."

Additionally, principals have taken on a new role, and instead of administering from the top down, Hubbard said, they're actually getting involved, helping out and acting as resources.

In addition to the elementary school's drop, students at Back Bay High School, a continuation campus, scored 12 points lower than the year before, weighing in at 557 points, according to the test results.

There were also certain subjects in which some schools failed to measure up to the No Child Left Behind Act, which

doles out federal funding contingent upon acceptable test scores. The goal is to bring the nation's students up to their grade levels in core subject areas by 2014.

Costa Mesa High School Principal Phil D'Agostino calls the end goal "a tall order" for the roughly 48 million public school students in the country, including the 22,000 students within Newport-Mesa, saying that the education of the developmentally disabled students is a "continuing" challenge.

"I think the goal is quite unrealistic for a variety of reasons, not the least of which that every kid has individual needs and it's difficult to have a one-size-fits all for the millions of kids that go to school in our country," he said.

A former Estancia High School principal who moved across town this school year to serve at the helm of Costa Mesa High, D'Agostino said he was nonetheless proud of the considerable increase in points at both high schools, with Estancia racking up 19 points, Costa Mesa, 12 points.

And yet, D'Agostino is quick to point out that as great as the news is, standardized tests aren't always the be-all, end-all to what constitutes an academically successful school.

"The quality of a campus can't be looked through just one lens," D'Agostino said. "There's all sorts of things that you won't find on a test score, like theatre and the arts and the cheerleading squads who win awards, and the list goes on."

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