Most local schools improved their test scores considerably in
2005, according to Academic Performance Index reports recently
released by the California Department of Education, but only a
handful managed to rank well when compared to the statewide average
or even to schools with similar demographics.
Hollister – Most local schools improved their test scores considerably in 2005, according to Academic Performance Index reports recently released by the California Department of Education, but only a handful managed to rank well when compared to the statewide average or even to schools with similar demographics.

The Academic Performance Index is a statewide ranking system of all public schools in California. A school’s rank is determined by student performance on the Standardized Testing and Reporting exams each year and, in some cases, the California High School Exit Exam.

Schools can earn a base score anywhere between a low of 200 and a high of 1,000. The statewide goal is 800. Each school is then ranked from one to 10, 10 being the best, against the California average and also against schools with similar demographics in regard to race, socio-economic status and how many students are English-learners.

Of San Benito County’s 23 elementary, middle and high schools, 18 have complete data available. Alternative schools such as San Andreas High School or Santa Ana Opportunity School do not figure into the API, and Panoche and Jefferson Schools have too few students to test.

Overall, Bitterwater-Tully Elementary School in rural King City had the highest score in the county earning 890 out of 1,000 points possible. It also saw the most growth, bringing scores up 75 points from the year prior, even though its initial base of 815 was above the statewide goal. Statewide, Bitterwater-Tully was ranked a perfect 10 but, due to its size, was not ranked against similar schools.

“A small school like that is like a family of learning,” said San Benito County Superintendent of Schools Tim Foley. “You have all the grades in one room, and the younger students pick up a lot from the older ones. It’s amazing what sticks in their little brains.”

Cienega Elementary, Southside Elementary and Tres Pinos Elementary, all rural schools, also scored above 800 points, earning 835, 844 and 801, respectively. Both Southside and Cienega scored above 800 in 2004 and Cienega’s scores actually dropped 23 points, but Tres Pinos exceeded its target growth of one point by 25, pushing its students up from 775 last year. Cienega was ranked with an eight statewide, Southside was ranked nine statewide and 10 compared to similar schools, and Tres Pinos scored a seven statewide, but only earned a rank of two when compared to similar schools.

“If you look across the board… it’s the smaller schools that are really in the lead. Those kids have a dialogue with their teacher every day,” said Southside Elementary School Principal Eric Johnson. “Our kids have an opportunity out here, and they’ve taken it and made something of it, and I’m really proud of them for that.”

Spring Grove, another rural school in North County, exceeded its target growth of six points and made a 31-point jump to a score of 720, while small Willow Grove Elementary actually lost one point receiving a 756 score.

Scores among schools in the Hollister School District, the largest district in the county, were decidedly more varied, although every school exceeded its growth target except Marguerite Maze Middle School, which actually saw a 10-point drop.

Maze Middle School Principal Bernice Smith was not available for comment.

 Cerra Vista received the highest overall score at 772, and was given a rank of six statewide but only three when compared to similar schools. Sunnyslope Elementary saw the biggest gain in its scores with a 51-point increase during the last year for a total of 726 with ranks of five and four, and Gabilan Hills Elementary, with a score of 685, compared the most favorably to similar schools with a rank of seven, but only a statewide rank of three.

“Anything over five means that your school is pretty decent, at least,” said HSD Director of Instruction Anita Franchi. “Overall our scores are up from last year, and that’s very good… My biggest concern is the gap between our English-learning students and those who speak English at home, I think it takes a lot more resources to get them up to speed.”

R.O. Hardin Elementary School scored the lowest in the district, and in the county overall, at 641. Statewide the school was ranked two, but compared to similar schools was given a three. Of R.O. Hardin’s 477 students, 400 are Hispanic or Latino, 356 are considered socioeconomically disadvantaged, and 228 are English learners.

“You see these issues reflected all over the state, but you have to remember that this is just one slice out of their year, just a few days they take these tests,” said R.O. Hardin Principal Linda Smith. “I’m really proud of my staff. They work very hard with students and parents and they’re helping them improve.”

HSD is hoping to implement “newcomer’s centers” at most, if not all HSD sites – hopefully by next year – to help introduce English-learning students, primarily from Mexico, to the school system and reverse the sort of trend R.O. Hardin and other low-achieving schools in the district are struggling with, according to Franchi.

“Maybe you would only go to this class for the first month or two, and then gradually you’d move into a regular classroom,” she said. “We want to make sure they have the right start.”

While Aromas School in the Aromas San Juan Unified School District scored higher, at 702, than its counterpart San Juan School, Aromas actually lost 11 points from 2004, while San Juan gained 17 points for a total of 680. Aromas was ranked four statewide but earned an impressive eight compared to similar schools, while San Juan came in at three and six, respectively.

San Benito County’s two high schools, Anzar High in ASJUD and San Benito High School had similar scores and, in fact, identical rankings: They received a statewide rank of six, but only a four when compared to similar schools. Anzar’s scores were slightly higher at 707 compared to SBHS’ 695, but while Anzar saw a score increase of 20 points SBHS increased by 25. Their initial target growth was six points.

“Education is all about continuously improving,” said SBHS Principal Debbie Padilla. “If you’re advanced, you want to get that much better, and if you’re somewhere in the middle, you want to work hard to get up to advanced… Six is good, but we want to get to that 10, we want to be the best.”

While STAR scores determine the rank of a school on the API, they have no bearing on an individual student’s grades, though letters are sent home to parents with a print out of each students’ performance in each subject area. As a result, students sometimes tend to blow the tests off.

“It’s really frustrating when you go to pick up the answer sheet and notice that the answers have been bubbled in shaped like a Christmas tree,” said Johnson.

Educators stress, however, that the results are important. The federal government determines adequate yearly progress from API scores as part of the No Child Left Behind Act and, should a particular school fail to progress for several years in a row, it could face sanctions and even state takeover. Moreover, colleges have access to the API rankings of all schools they receive applicants from, and use those figures to help determine the quality of the education an applicant has received.

“That’s our big push right now,” said Padilla. “Our API ranking comes with benefits and consequences, and we want not only our students to know that, but the entire community as well.”

Students begin taking this year’s STAR exams the first week of May.

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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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