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NCLB Outrages

Fewer schools meeting state's achievement goal

Ohanian Comment: Like NCLB, this formula demands that schools get better each year. It's rather like insisting that a baseball hitter improve his batting average by a prescribed number of points each year.

Nanette Asimov

Far fewer schools than last year are meeting the achievement goals established by California's measure of school progress, the Academic Performance Index.

New results released Thursday by the state Department of Education show that this year, only 52 percent of the state's 9,553 schools raised their test scores by the expected amount, compared with 68 percent last year.

The news was even worse for high schools: 36 percent of schools met their goals, compared with 68 percent last year. By contrast, 57 percent of elementary schools and 43 percent of middle schools met their test-score goals.

State schools chief Jack O'Connell blamed the decline in part on a new requirement that English learners and students with disabilities be held to the same achievement standards as other demographic groups.

"I'm proud of how far we've come, but we have a long way to go," O'Connell said. He also called unacceptable the wide disparity between schools with low-income and minority students versus those with wealthier Asian American and white students.

"The disparity in achievement is unacceptable," O'Connell said. "The gap is real and glaring. We need to do a better job."

O'Connell said one approach is to offer experienced teachers a bonus to work in lower-performing schools. He said he supports Senate Bill 1133, which would authorize that.

But he said the decline is also due to a "general, across-the-board slowdown" in improvement on the California Standards Test, taken by more than 4 million students each spring in grades 2 through 11. The state uses those and other test results to compile the Academic Performance Index goals for each school and district.

Even though fewer schools met their goals this year, O'Connell tried to put a positive spin on the results, downplaying the failure of schools to attain their test-score targets and focusing instead on whether schools had improved at all -- and many had.

The Academic Performance Index places schools on a 1,000-point scale, depending on how well their students do on tests. A score of 800 is considered excellent.

The new results show that across the state, schools averaged a score of 720 on the 1,000-point scale. That's better than last year, when they averaged 709.

The superintendent timed the release of the Academic Performance Index report to coincide with the release of another report showing how well California schools are satisfying the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind law -- a competing measure of school progress.

He acknowledged that having two separate yardsticks for measuring California schools is confusing, but O'Connell has been adamant about keeping the state's approach because, he believes, it is more fair to schools than the federal measure.

Although there are no penalties for failing to meet the state's goal, many parents look askance at those schools that do not.

"I would be real reluctant to send my sons to a school that wasn't meeting those goals," said San Francisco parent Mark Gerhard, who has a 10-year-old son at Lakeshore Elementary, which met its goals.

Gerhard's 15-year-old son is at Washington High, which did not meet its goals. Hearing that Washington fell short, Gerhard shrugged and recalled that the school ranked high in a Newsweek survey last year.

"You know what? It's all sort of a game," he said. "Ultimately, education comes down to the work that the kids and teachers and parents are willing to put into it."

Here are high school API results from several Bay Area districts:

-- Oakland: Six of 22 high schools met their goals.

-- Antioch: None of the three high schools met its goal.

-- Mount Diablo: Three of six high schools met their goals.

-- West Contra Costa: One of eight high schools met its goal.

-- Novato: None of the three high schools met its goal.

-- Napa: All three high schools met their goals.

-- San Francisco: Four of 18 high schools met their goals.

-- Jefferson Union High (Daly City): Three of five high schools met their goals.

-- San Jose: Two of seven high schools met their goals.

-- Vallejo: None of the four high schools met its goal.

-- Santa Rosa: Two of six high schools met their goals.

— Nanette Asimov
San Francisco Chronicle


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