Shandon High School is one of San Luis Obispo County’s smallest high schools — it’s also among the lowest performing by state standards.
The North County school, which educates just 87 students, was recently listed among 781 California district, charter and alternative institutions in need of additional federal support.
Two alternative schools — Lopez Continuation High School in rural Arroyo Grande and Loma Vista Community School in San Luis Obispo — were also included on the list.
All of the institutions listed will receive an additional $150,000 to put toward school improvements, according to EdSource, a publication that reports on California education.
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Measuring schools’ performance
The schools’ performance was measured using the California Department of Education’s school dashboard, which looks at the quality of students’ education using indicators that rate institutions on a blue-to-red scale.
The dashboard reviews different aspects of school performance, including suspension rates, English and math test scores and college and career readiness. Poor performers are given a red ranking, while the best performers are given a blue ranking.
The schools receiving additional support are separated into two categories — 481 institutions make up the lowest-performing 7 percent in the state, while the remaining 300 have graduation rates of less than 67 percent, according to EdSource.
All three of the San Luis Obispo County schools that appear on the list are low performers, meaning they receive federal Title I funds and a majority of their dashboard indicators are red or orange.
The schools all have very small enrollments — 118 students and under — meaning the state evaluates them using only a few dashboard indicators.
For example, Shandon High School and Loma Vista Community School have only one dashboard indicator, suspension rates, which is red.
Lopez High School has three indicators — suspension rate, graduation rate and college career readiness — and two are red, suspension rate and college career readiness.
Serving socioeconomically disadvantaged students
The three low-performing schools educate some of the most socioeconomically disadvantaged high school student populations in the county, according to state data. They also have among the lowest 11th grade standardized test scores.
Students are categorized in this way if they’re eligible for free or reduced-price school meals or have parents or guardians who didn’t receive a high school diploma.
Loma Vista primarily serves expelled youth, according to Katherine Aaron, assistant superintendent of student programs for the San Luis Obispo County Office of Education.
“The students we receive are the most at-risk youth in the county,” she said. “They just come to us with a whole host of needs, and it’s a transitory population, as well.”
The school has the largest percentage of socioeconomically disadvantaged students among county high schools at 87 percent. About 15 percent are also English learners.
Shandon is second, with about 79 percent of its students classified as disadvantaged. About 37 percent of students are also English learners — the largest percentage among county high schools.
Lopez has the fourth-largest percentage of disadvantaged high school students at nearly 70 percent. Eleven percent are also English-learners.
On the other end of the spectrum, Templeton, San Luis Obispo and Central Coast New Tech high schools have the smallest percentage of disadvantaged students.
Fifteen percent of Templeton students fall into that category, as do 30 percent of San Luis Obispo students and 33 percent of Central Coast New Tech students.
Templeton and Central Coast New Tech are also among the schools with the smallest percentage of English learners.
Just 0.3 percent of students enrolled at Central Coast New Tech in Nipomo are English learners.
Templeton and Independence High School, an alternative school in Paso Robles, come next with 1.2 percent and 2.6 percent of their students classified as English learners, respectively.
A fair evaluation?
County education leaders say the evaluation system is especially tough on small schools that mostly serve disadvantaged students or those with discipline problems.
“The deck is kind of stacked against them right off the bat,” said Jim Empey, curriculum director for Lucia Mar Unified School District, which oversees Lopez.
Empey said school leaders may spend the additional money to improve students’ college and career readiness by bringing more dual-enrollment Cuesta College classes to to campus.
“Those would be the perfect bridge to get those kids to continue their education,” he said.
Shandon will likely use the funds to reduce suspension rates by providing alternatives, along with counseling efforts and opportunities to cut down on students’ drug use, said Kristina Benson, superintendent of Shandon Joint Unified School District.
“We will likely bring in outside experts to assist us in training staff and students on meeting goals in these areas,” Benson wrote in an email.