Ten of 11 schools in the Hueneme Elementary District rated among California's underachieving campuses when the state released its first set of rankings Tuesday. So why was Supt. Robert Fraisse smiling Wednesday morning?
The reason is that no Ventura County district did better than Hueneme when compared with communities of similar income, education and English-language proficiency.
Credit good, well-paid teachers, Fraisse said, and extensive after-school instruction in English for the predominantly Latino district, where nearly half the students speak halting English.
Filled with uniformed students, Hueneme schools--located in south Oxnard and Port Hueneme--are also marked by strict discipline and extensive use of computers, he said.
Four Hueneme campuses received the state's top ranking of 10 when compared with similar schools. Four more had similar-school rankings of 8 or 9 on a 1-to-10 scale.
"I'm just delighted they're looking at these rankings from two different angles," Fraisse said. "I'm extremely proud of our ranking relative to similar schools."
Districts throughout the county were reacting Wednesday not only to their overall state rankings but also to the separate ranking that attempts to reflect how districts--rich and poor--compare with their own kind.
And some administrators were not happy.
In Thousand Oaks, where 14 of 26 schools received the state's top ranking of 10, officials had to explain why their high-performing campuses did so poorly against schools in other well-educated, affluent communities. They concluded that the similar-school rankings were bogus because data the state used to make the comparisons were incomplete.
"Those results are sort of spurious," Conejo Valley Supt. Jerry Gross said. "But the state is now saying they're going to rerun those rankings with complete data and revise our rankings."
The problem in Conejo and several other districts was that educators did not provide information on two key variables used to determine the similarity of schools--student movement in and out of school and the number of students whose families are poor enough to receive subsidized lunches.
That background information was listed as optional on last year's Stanford 9 basic-skills test, the cornerstone for the first-time rankings of California schools, so many districts did not take the time and considerable effort to provide it, Gross said.
State education officials said Wednesday that they will require complete data the second time around, and that will be reflected in reports next fall.
They said they had received dozens of complaints--most from affluent districts--about the similar-school rankings and are considering rerunning them this spring once complaining schools provide the extra information.
But Bill Padia, director of policy and evaluation for the state Department of Education, said he believes that the similar-school rankings are already a good indicator of relative performance because so many variables were used. Even if one or two measures were off, the others would tend to balance out the equation, he said.
"Here's the deal--the data are not perfect because it's the first time we've ever done anything like this," Padia said. "But when you add in eight variables and you get three or four back, then you have a pretty good idea of where these schools are and which ones you can compare.
"Schools that always get these high rankings are not used to being compared with other schools like them that are out of the area," he added. "So suddenly the competition heats up, and it's uncomfortable. It's like when you graduate and go to Stanford or Berkeley and suddenly you're not the smartest in the class anymore. So we're getting a fairly disturbed reaction from the high-level schools."
Among the eight variables used to determine the similarity of schools are pupils' mobility, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and whether they speak limited English. The other variables are class size, and the percentage of teachers who have full credentials and those with only emergency credentials.
Responding to Conejo's specific complaints, Padia said the number of students who move into and out of a school--so-called student mobility--is one of the least important variables if data are otherwise complete.
Determining how many students receive subsidized lunches can be more crucial, he said, because it is one of only two variables used to determine a student's economic status. The second is parents' education level. If one of the two is provided, he said, the second is not necessary to fill out a school's profile.
But Gross wasn't buying Padia's explanation.
"I'm anxious to see how Conejo really ranks relative to similar schools," he said.
Around the county, other administrators were left either scratching their heads about similar-school rankings or celebrating them.
At the Oxnard High School District, it was mostly celebration.