Sunnyslope fifth-grader Madison Ballesta, 10, takes notes during class Wednesday.

Hollister
– Despite the fact that many San Benito County schools still
struggle to meet state testing goals, the schools continue to make
academic gains.
Hollister – Despite the fact that many San Benito County schools still struggle to meet state testing goals, the schools continue to make academic gains.

The California Department of Education released adjusted Academic Performance Index scores this week, as well as statewide rankings and rankings comparing schools with similar populations and challenges.

Nearly all schools in San Benito County saw overall academic gains last year, and most continued to keep pace with similar schools, but almost all still remain below the state median.

Despite gains, many schools are lagging behind their counterparts throughout California. Of the 15 San Benito County schools for which data was available, eight schools – slightly more than half – ranked in the bottom 40 percent when compared to similar schools throughout the state.

San Benito High School had the most drastic drop in its API as well as both its statewide and similar schools rankings. In contrast, other schools saw significant improvement. Several of the county’s rural schools performed very well, including Spring Grove, which saw its similar schools ranking increase from 5 in 2005 to 8 in 2006. A score of 8 means that when compared to 100 similar schools, Spring Grove ranked in the top 20 percent.

API, measured on a scale of 200 to 1,000, is based on a battery of standardized tests given in 2006. The state target is 800, a goal all schools are expected to meet. Similar school rankings compare a school with 100 other schools that have similar statistics regarding student body, teacher credentialing and class size. Schools are then ranked from 1 to 10. A score of 1 indicates the school is in the bottom 10 percent, while a score of 10 would indicate the school is in the top 10 percent.

Administrators and principals had mixed reactions to the scores.

The county’s overall improvement showed a positive step for San Benito County schools.

“I’m pleased that we continued to move in the right direction. This is a journey, not a destination,” said Tim Foley, superintendent of the San Benito County Office of Education.

San Benito High Falls Behind

San Benito High School saw a 20-point drop in its API scores, dropping from 695 in 2005 to 675 in 2006. Its similar schools ranking also slipped from 5 to 2. That means when compared to similar schools, SBHS ranks in the bottom 20 percent.

“I am not happy about the scores,” SBHS Principal Debbie Padilla said.

Padilla added that she was not surprised by the scores.

“We knew what the issues were, but we’ve been working on them,” Padilla said. “Unfortunately the fruits of our efforts are not always seen immediately, but I think over time we will see an improvement, not only in the rankings but in the scores as well.”

While SBHS saw a 20-point drop in its API scores, the elementary and middle schools saw the opposite.

Mixed Scores at HSD

Hollister School District saw an overall increase of 20 points on the district’s base API scores. All but one school, Sunnyslope, saw improvement.

While many schools improved, the gains were not always reflected in the schools’ rankings. While a school’s API scores improve, it still may fall behind the pace of other schools in the state or similar schools ranking.

Out of the eight schools in the Hollister School District, six saw an increase or remained constant in their statewide ranking. Two schools, R.O. Hardin and Sunnyslope, fell in the state ranking. In similar schools ranking, half the schools improved and half fell behind.

“I am pleased with the district’s growth, but we still have significant improvement to make,” District Superintendent Ron Crates said. “No matter what our demographics are, we can improve. We’re not living up to our potential.”

Crates said all the schools are striving to improve, especially those schools that fell in API scores and rankings.

Melinda Scott, the principal at Sunnyslope, said she was disappointed to see her school drop both in ranking and in API score.

“Although I don’t like to go down, I feel like 723 is not too bad considering our goal is 800,” Scott said.

Scott and her staff have plans to look at Sunnyslope’s curriculum and figure out what is working and what is not.

Sunnyslope dropped from a 5 to a 4 on its similar school ranking. That means the school ranks in the bottom 40 percent.

“I think (the similar school’s ranking) is a good indicator,” Scott said. “It’s nice to have a higher score, but it does give you something to look at and something to reflect on: That if these schools with similar backgrounds can do it, so can we.”

Gabilan Hills was the only elementary school to see improvement in both its statewide and similar schools ranking. The school improved from a 6 in similar schools ranking in 2005 to a 7 in 2006, putting the Geckos in the top 30 percent. The school’s statewide ranking also increased from 3 to 4.

Gabilan Hills Principal Dennis Kurtz said he was most excited about the similar schools ranking.

“That’s the score I care about. I’d much rather compare myself to the schools like me,” Kurtz said.

Kurtz said he feels reaffirmed by the steadily increasing scores in the school and in the district.

“There’s no doubt that people are getting a better education here in Hollister than they were five years ago,” Kurtz said.

Middle Schools Improve

While the elementary schools’ scores and rankings varied, both middle schools saw improvement.

Maze Middle School’s similar schools ranking increasing from 3 in 2005 to 6 in 2006, putting it in the top 40 percent. The school’s statewide ranking also improved from 4 to 5. Although less drastic, Rancho San Justo also saw improvements.

Alice Joy covers education for the Free Lance. She can be reached at 831-637-5566 ext. 336 or at [email protected].

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.

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