Glendale Unified improved its overall score to 851 for the 2010-11 school year on the Academic Performance Index, the all-important statewide measure of student achievement, according to data released Wednesday.
The district score improved nine points from the year before, putting it comfortably above the benchmark score of 800 set by the state.
Mountain Avenue Elementary School once again topped the list of high-performing Glendale schools, earning a score of 949, according to 2010-11 data released by the California Department of Education.
Rounding out the top three were Monte Vista and Verdugo Woodlands elementary schools with scores of 939 and 932, respectively. The highest performing secondary schools were Rosemont Middle School, which scored 930, and Clark Magnet High School, with a score of 909.
“Being able to start with that sense of celebration is a boost in itself,” Mountain Avenue Principal Rebeca Witt said. “It can just spur you to do more than what you are doing.”
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 how well students do on state 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.
Within Glendale Unified, six of 20 elementary schools broke the 900 mark, and 19 scored at least 800. Franklin Elementary School, in Southwest Glendale, was the exception — its API score tumbled 68 points to 777.
Five of the district’s eight secondary schools also topped 800. Roosevelt Middle School earned a score of 793, and Glendale and Hoover high schools notched scores of 768 and 776, respectively.
John Muir Elementary School in Southeast Glendale recorded the biggest improvement — its score jumped 27 points to 824.
“Overall, we are obviously very pleased with our continued growth as a district,” Glendale Unified Supt. Dick Sheehan said. “It is a tribute to the hard work of our teachers on a daily basis, [and] our principals providing the quality leadership that they do.”
Sheehan described the API scores as a “snapshot in time,” adding that they are just one of many tools used to monitor student progress throughout the academic year.
“What is more important to us is probably the trend data,” Sheehan said. “We want to see an upward trend over a five-year [period]. Statistically speaking, when schools have gone up dramatically, sometimes, unfortunately, there is a settling down effect; sometimes schools do back up a little bit.”
There were seven that were not able to keep pace with rigid — and much criticized — federal benchmarks. Franklin, Columbus, Mann, Marshall, Muir and Edison elementary schools, and Wilson Middle School, have been newly identified for “program improvement,” a designation born out of the No Child Left Behind Act. It is applied to a school if any one subgroup of students fails to hit federally established target scores in two consecutive years.
The seven newly designated program improvement schools joined four others — Toll and Roosevelt middle schools and Glendale and Hoover high schools — that are already in the category.
But the label must be considered within a certain context, officials said, adding that hitting ambitious federal growth targets is unrealistic. Roosevelt Middle School has seen its API score grow year over year, and has made significant strides with Latino students, but is now in its third year of program improvement because the gains weren’t big enough, said Principal Lynn Marso.
“We made significant growth last year in the subgroups that we were identified in,” Marso said. “This year we continue to show growth. But with the [adequate yearly progress] target going up again this year, as it does each year, we will continue in that status.”
The real value of the API scores is the opportunity it provides for improvement, educators said. Principals and their teachers use the data to pinpoint areas of instruction that need extra attention, and district administrators can then back them up with additional resources.
“We really try to use the information diagnostically, so we are strengthening out the program and also meeting the needs of our kids,” Monte Vista Principal Susan Hoge said.
More than anything, educators said, they try and keep the scores in perspective.
“It is not college admission, it is just one piece,” Hoge said. “[Testing] is part of the routine that kids need to know.”