City Life: School district needs leadership, accountability

On the website for each school in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, there is a School Accountability Report Card that has valuable information, including salaries, test scores, expenditure per pupil and more.

The report card also includes the "Academic Performance Index Ranks."

I like these because they show where a particular school rates compared with similar schools in the state on a 1-to-10 scale. A 1 means the school's API score is in the lowest 10% of all schools in the state, according to the district's website. A 10 means the school's API score is in the highest 10% in the state.

One year ago, I wrote, "At Pomona, Whittier and Wilson elementary schools, the latest reported Academic Performance Index rankings (2008) all have a statewide ranking of 2 on a scale from 1 to 10. Whittier has gone backward, having ranked as high as 4 in 2006. In 2006, Pomona and Wilson ranked 1 and 2, respectively" ("City Life: Education as an investment").

Since then, the next year of API rankings have been posted. So how did Pomona, Whittier and Wilson perform? I'm very sorry to report that their 2009 scores are, once again, all 2s.

Unfortunately, you have to dig for this important information because it sure isn't going to be posted on the district's homepage, and you sure aren't going to hear anyone from the district pointing it out. Instead, you are going to read spin.

On Sept. 1, the Daily Pilot reported: "[API] scores in Newport-Mesa Unified increased nine points to 830 of the 1,000-point scale in 2011, but nearly half of the district's elementary schools had declines, state data released Wednesday show" ("District's API score up, but some schools have dipped").

That group of declining elementary schools includes my three targets from last year: Wilson, Whittier and Pomona, which ranked among the lowest performers.

Let's pause for a moment to underscore that I reported API rankings while the Pilot reported API test scores. Together, however, they make the powerful statement that these schools have again failed. Worse, you won't read a single word of accountability from any of the district's trustees or from Supt. Jeffrey Hubbard.

Instead, you'll read this from Assistant Supt. of Secondary Education Charles Hinman, as reported in the Pilot's story: "If you look at our API score districtwide, longitudinally, we have eight straight years of growth. So there's something going on right longitudinally, but every year you are going to have ups and downs to some degree. But as long as we have that continued growth at the end of the day, we're going to have excellence, and that's the indicator now."

I am not entirely sure what that means, but here's what I do know: The school district is making some important incremental changes. There is a page on the website dedicated to students who chose to serve in the armed forces, online registration is blossoming and textbooks are coming online. All good stuff.

But what these current and future elementary school kids need is some accountability. They need to have a leader in the district say, "We've tried to fix these three schools and we can't, so we're going to try something else because what we're doing isn't working."

That's the right thing to do now, before yet another year passes with no progress.

STEVE SMITH is a Costa Mesa resident and a freelance writer. Send story ideas to smi161@aol.com.

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