Academic performance scores released

As state standardized testing wraps up this week, the California Department of Education has given local school officials something new to chew on, releasing base academic performance scores and comparative school rankings.

The base Academic Performance Index scores — which mirror those reported last fall as part of the 2009-10 testing data — are important because they will serve as the benchmark by which all school testing progress will be measured when the new results are announced this fall.

In a statement accompanying the baseline scores last week, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said the information “provides parents, schools, educators, and the general public valuable insight into how schools are performing when measured against others.”

The rankings are two-pronged and based on a school’s base API score and how it compares to 100 campuses with similar demographics.

Local schools consistently finished in the top 20th percentile. Seventeen Glendale Unified schools earned a 10 — the highest ranking possible — in either the statewide or the similar-schools rankings. The top performing Glendale schools included Verdugo Woodlands, Mountain Avenue, Monte Vista elementary schools, Rosemont Middle School and Clark Magnet High School.

Burbank Unified followed closely behind with seven schools logging rankings of nine, including Providencia, Stevenson, Walt Disney elementary schools, John Muir Middle School, and Burbank and Burroughs high schools.

The newly released data mark the start of the 2010-11 API reporting cycle in which schools are tasked with hitting new academic targets as outlined in the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

State standardized testing began in mid-April and wraps up this week.

This year, 67% of elementary and middle school students at each school site must score proficient in English-language arts, and 68% of students must score proficient in mathematics. The new targets represent an increase of about 11% in each category.

If any subgroup of students misses the federal benchmark in two consecutive years, their campus is placed on “program improvement,” a designations that brings stricter oversight with the goal of boosting scores.

Glendale Unified has four schools on program improvement, including Roosevelt and Toll middle schools, and Hoover and Glendale high schools. Luther Middle School is the sole Burbank Unified campus currently in program improvement.

District officials said that they use both state- and internally collected-data to monitor student progress.

“If we are not using this information to identify how we can teach students better than we are already, then we are really not doing our job,” said Glendale Unified Assistant Supt. Katherine Fundukian Thorossian. “Our job is to see that students learn, and this is one indicator.”

Burbank Unified Assistant Supt. Jan Britz said the data also helps drive curriculum priorities. In the past, Burbank principals have visited high-ranking school sites to study and adopt best practices.

“We look at these a great deal,” Britz said of the base API scores. “We realize this is just a snapshot of our student performance, but at the same time, it is based on the California content standards, and it is what we are obligated to teach in our classrooms.”

But officials also said that making an 11% jump in proficiency in a single year would be a challenge, despite a concentration of resources to boost scores. Schools can post respectable gains, but still fail to meet the federal targets, Thorossian said.

The pressure on individual principals is intense — no one wants to see their scores drop.

“We celebrate success, it is always good to move up,” Thorossian said. “But there is something so fundamentally wrong with the API calculations and the growth indicators that are expected. That hill is so steep that it is going to be a herculean effort…I look forward to a day when the expected growth is realistic, and we can use it to see how students can be more successful.”

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