California Raises Bar On School Scores

Howard Blume, Los Angeles Times, March 28, 2007

Superior Elementary in Chatsworth, as its name implies, is anything but deficient, with a state ranking that far surpasses the state’s measure of success.

But under new state rules, the school could go from A+ to F in a hurry. The regulations require schools to make measurable progress toward closing the gap between whites and lower-achieving minority students. And the scores of its students learning English aren’t rising fast enough.

Superior is not alone.

The same fate likely awaits other campuses in the Los Angeles Unified School District. The schools met their improvement goals for 2006 but would not have under the 2007 rules.

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The state’s primary measure of success is the Academic Performance Index, which grades schools on a scale from 200 to 1,000 based on student test scores in math, English and other subjects. Schools are required to meet annual improvement targets. Minorities, the poor, the disabled and other groups also have to improve, but until this year, the achievement gap could widen even while a school received credit for getting better.

The state’s push is in concert with national efforts under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which has its own ever-increasing requirements for closing the achievement gap.

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Superior Street Elementary has surpassed the state’s API target score of 800. It’s edging close to 875—the score a school would earn if every student tested as “proficient.” Even its English learners are flying high by district standards, but starting next year, they’ll have to do better. They must improve either by five points or 5% of the difference between their score and 800, whichever is more.

Or, put another way, the achievement gap must begin to close or a school won’t make its annual improvement targets.

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Besides highlighting the new rules, state Department of Education officials Tuesday released rankings that compare individual campuses to others in California and, separately, to similar schools.

Based on this data, L.A. Unified officials once again could show that the school system is improving faster than others in the state. At the same time, the district’s test scores remain below the state average.

Among the biggest gainers: Lanai Road Elementary in Encino has moved from the bottom 30% of schools to the top 10%. Other schools that have made similar strides include the Mid-City Magnet, a middle school, and Cleveland High in Reseda.

Critics of the API system say that the new standards come without specific interventions for failing to close the achievement gap.

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