Many schools in San Luis Obispo County continued a “steady march” of improvement in their scores on state and federal test results released Monday, according to one local education official, with more than half of the schools meeting state goals.
However, some schools fell short of federal expectations despite having strong test scores, in part because the bar measuring how many students score at a certain level of proficiency on state tests continues to rise.
The results released by the state Department of Education provide a snapshot of how schools statewide are performing.
Sixty-two percent, or 42 schools in San Luis Obispo County, have scores higher than the target of 800 on the Academic Performance Index. That’s three more than last year. The API is measured on a scale of 200 to 1,000.
Of those, five elementary schools had API scores above 900: Branch, in Arroyo Grande; Shell Beach; and Bellevue-Santa Fe Charter, Los Ranchos and Teach in San Luis Obispo.
And, all but 11 schools scored more than the statewide API score of 767.
Julian Crocker, San Luis Obispo County’s superintendent of schools, likened the local performance to a “steady march.”
The measurements are based on state tests that students in grades 2 through 11 took last spring and from the California High School Exit Examination.
The data are used as an indicator of schools’ success by the state. Schools that don’t meet growth targets can be subject to greater scrutiny or intervention.
If a school fails to meet the growth targets for any student group, the school fails the federal standard. If a school fails for two consecutive years, it becomes a “program improvement” school. To be removed from the list, schools must also meet the federal standards for two consecutive years.
This year, 21 local schools dropped into program improvement; last year, 16 schools were on the list.
Statewide, 567 schools were newly identified for program improvement; 83 schools exited after meeting “adequate yearly progress” for two consecutive years.
Grover Beach Elementary was the only school in the county to exit program improvement this year.
Andy Stenson, the Lucia Mar Unified School District’s assistant superintendent of curriculum, said the achievement was a team effort among teachers at Grover Beach Elementary. The school offered students three voluntary additional weeks of instruction, including five Saturday school sessions, and one week each of classes during the winter and spring breaks.
Grover Heights Elementary and Arroyo Grande and Nipomo high schools are now in the first year of program improvement.
Arroyo Grande High’s English-language learner subgroup failed to meet its goals in English-language arts and math. At Nipomo High, the group of socio-economically disadvantaged students also did not meet those targets.
However, both schools made double-digit improvements overall in their API scores.
“You can still make really strong gains and be tossed into program improvement because the bar is going up,” Stenson said.
Raise the target?
Jack O’Connell, the state superintendent of schools who lives in San Luis Obispo, also thinks it’s time for educators statewide to “have a thoughtful and open discussion” on whether the 800-point target should be raised.
“Despite the fact that our schools are undeniably underfunded we need to continue to challenge ourselves and our students,” he said.
Crocker, the county’s superintendent of schools, said he does not anticipate scores to slip in future years because of funding cuts, but does fear that students’ learning experience is suffering in other ways.
Teachers, facing higher class sizes and less help in the classroom, are left to prioritize their teaching and focus more on the basics such as math and language arts, he said.
Crocker said that what students are not being measured in is equally important — such as problem solving, analysis, art and music.