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School Rankings Expose State's Achievement Gaps

A scale of one to 10 works reasonably well to assess movies, restaurants or women's sense of style.

But applying that curve to the state's schools -- as state data released Tuesday do -- means that half are always below average, no matter how much they improve.

"I get calls from people basically saying, 'Give me the numbers,'" Mt. Diablo research director Robert Rayborn said. "That's a simplistic question."

Rayborn and other educators found no surprises in Tuesday's data, which are based on test scores from spring 2004 that were first released in August.

The data rank schools by decile: The lowest-scoring 10 percent of schools are in the first decile with a rank of 1, the next 10 percent get a rank of 2, on up to the top-scoring 10 percent of schools, which get a rank of 10.

The ranking system makes clear where the achievement gaps are. In the Mt. Diablo district, for example, Mt. Diablo High drew a ranking of 2, and Northgate High got a 10. In West Contra Costa, which has 56 schools, 31 are in the lowest three deciles and six are in the highest decile.

Parents and teachers may be concerned about their schools' rank, but schools' administrators actually worry more about whether their score on California's 1,000-point Academic Performance Index is improving.

The 2004 API rolls together results from the high school exit exam and California standards tests in second- through 11th-grade English and math, fifth-grade science and eighth-grade history, in a single score between 200 and 1,000.

"Results from fifth-grade science tests were added to the API calculation this year," said John Casey, school superintendent in Pleasanton, where 12 of 13 schools ranked at 10. "The district's challenge is to use this data to strengthen science instruction in our schools. Also, our Hispanic/Latino students are still scoring under the 800 target. This will be identified as an important area of focus for our staff."

The state's goal is to lift every California school's score above 800.

OF 597 schools in Alameda and Contra Costa counties, 171 schools are already there.

"The API is a powerful tool for holding our schools publicly accountable for student achievement and setting measurable goals for improvement each year," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell said Tuesday.

O'Connell said California's standard for growth and improvement is far more realistic and productive than the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which mandates 100 percent of students be proficient at grade level by 2013-14.

California sets school growth targets each year by adding 5 percent of the difference between a school's current score and the 800 goal. Concord's Clayton Valley High, which scored 692 last year, must increase its test scores by six points, for example. Richmond's Kennedy High, which is lagging farther below 800, needs to make a 17-point increase and hit 486 to satisfy state standards.

— Jackie Burrell
Contra Costa Times


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