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ORANGE COUNTY ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE INDEX

88% of O.C. Schools Meet Test Targets

Lambert Elementary in Tustin sees the biggest gain, while Ruby Drive in Placentia-Yorba Linda shows the largest loss.

October 05, 2000|JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

At Lambert Elementary School in Tustin, teachers broke into cheers and tears of joy when they learned their school's score on the Academic Performance Index had gone up 102 points--the highest gain in Orange County on the new index that evaluates all campuses in the state.

At Ruby Drive Elementary School in the Placentia-Yorba Linda District, where students' scores actually dropped 89 points--the county's biggest decline--administrators said they were braced for disappointment but that it nevertheless stung.

These were the extremes of good and bad news in Orange County on the state's accountability index, which evaluates schools both on their actual scores each year and on whether they improve from year to year. This year the results are more than a pat on the back or an indication of potential problems: Schools that have improved will receive major financial bonuses, while schools that have not will get nothing.

Overall, administrators across Orange County said they were delighted with their students' achievements in this, the second year of a new program designed to improve California's struggling schools and make them more accountable to the public. For now, scores are based solely on students' performance on the Stanford 9 tests, but in years to come, state officials will add other criteria, such as graduation and attendance rates.

More than 88% of county schools achieved their growth targets--as opposed to 71% statewide.

More than 75% of county schools improved scores in all areas and tested a large enough proportion of their students to qualify for big financial bonuses in three state award programs that total nearly $700 million. That figure also bested the state average of 67%.

What's more, 29% of Orange County schools achieved the state target score of 800 points, up from 21% in the county last year.

School to 'Go Forward With Hope'

Even at Ruby Drive, teachers are taking heart from knowing that their test data from the previous year were skewed because many parents of non-English-speaking students exempted their children from the test, Principal Dorie Staack said. This year, all those students took the test.

"The scores do not reflect the quality of our instructional program," Staack said. She said school officials are asking the state to use this year's scores as a basis of comparison for years to come.

But even though teachers were expecting the drop in scores this year, Wednesday was a hard day.

"The staff took it really hard," she said. "We knew it, but it's still hard to see it in black and white. But we're going to go forward with hope, and a lot of hard work, and we know we'll see growth in years to come.'

Scores from five Orange County districts--Anaheim Elementary, Buena Park Elementary, Huntington Beach City, Huntington Beach High and Orange Unified--are not available because those districts provided incomplete demographic data to the state.

Most of the county's lowest-scoring schools are in the Santa Ana Unified School District, where many students are not fluent in English. The district's Hoover Elementary School posted the county's lowest score of 431.

But even with this news, Santa Ana Supt. Al Mijares said he was happy with students' performance. More than 75% of Santa Ana schools improved their scores enough to be in the running for the $677 million in rewards to be handed out by the state to high-performing schools and teachers.

The first program, the $227-million Governors Performance Award, gives as much as $150 per student--but which will probably work out in reality to $68 per student--to selected schools that improved in all areas and tested a high enough proportion of students. The second award, the $350-million School Site Employee Bonus, splits cash awards between employees at high-performing campuses and the schools themselves. The third award, the Certificated Staff Incentive Award, is earmarked to go directly to teachers at schools in the lower half of the statewide rankings where students showed growth of at least two times their school's targets.

Awards will be announced in December and January, once all districts submit their scores and statewide rankings and comparisons of similar schools are completed.

Harbor View Elementary School in the Newport-Mesa district posted the highest individual school score in the county, with 934 out of 1,000. That school will be eligible for awards, unlike nearby Andersen Elementary School, which achieved the county's second highest score of 931 but did not qualify for awards because scores actually declined from the year before.

"I know the school is incredible," said Harbor View PTA President Janet DiChiro. "This is just one more measure of it for the outside world."

Nevertheless, DiChiro said, she believes parents and students are matter-of-fact about the ranking. "Unfortunately, this isn't the stuff that is going to determine how successful the children are going to be in life. . . . I can't put it on their college applications."

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