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API Scores Find County Schools Met State Targets

Education: Tests that measure student progress show that 78% of local campuses achieved specified growth, compared with 71% in all of California.


Ventura County students again displayed their academic strength by besting their peers throughout California, this time on a statewide index designed to measure student progress.

Seventy-eight percent of schools countywide met their growth targets on the Academic Performance Index, compared with 71% throughout the state, according to results released Wednesday by the California Department of Education.

Nearly as many--69% of local campuses--are eligible for thousands of dollars in awards. To qualify, students schoolwide including low-income and Latino students, had to improve on the Stanford 9 exam, and the campuses had to test a high percentage of students--95% in elementary and middle schools and 90% in high schools.

Several of the campuses that posted the strongest gains on the performance index, measured on a scale of 200 to 1,000, were those with large numbers of poor students and students who speak limited English.

"Those schools started relatively low, but they are showing significant progress," said Ventura County Supt. of Schools Chuck Weis. "This definitely will close the gap."

In Fillmore, for example, Piru Elementary School jumped 88 points to an API score of 630 and San Cayetano Elementary School improved 86 points to 601. "The challenge was monumental, and the achievement was monumental," said Fillmore Supt. Mario Contini, who said he is pushing every school in his district to reach 800 by the year 2003.

The highest API scores are still found among affluent districts such as Oak Park and Conejo Valley, where most schools were above 800--the performance target set by the state based on overall test scores. All but a few of the schools in these two districts also improved, but not as dramatically.

The Academic Performance Index is the critical component of Gov. Gray Davis' push to hold teachers and principals accountable for student success or failure. State officials will use these scores to dole out millions of dollars of awards, principals will use them to pinpoint areas for further improvement and parents will compare them to decide where to send their children to school. In January, California schools were given their first API scores, based on 1999 results, and a target for growth. They were also ranked statewide and against schools with similar socioeconomic characteristics. The second year of rankings is scheduled to be released in January.

On the 1999 API, 18% of Ventura County schools reached the state target of 800. On the 2000 API, 25% of local schools met that target. With financial awards as incentives, school officials have been pushing to bring their campuses up to that mark. They have aligned their curriculum to the new state standards, provided additional training for teachers, emphasized test-taking strategies and started after-school intervention programs.

"If you keep doing what you've always done, you will keep getting the same results," said Denise Vale, principal of Mountain View Elementary School in Simi Valley, which raised its API 117 points. "We had to do something different."


Mountain View is one of 111 Ventura County campuses eligible for the cash awards, which will be distributed early next year. The largest awards are $25,000 each for teachers, principals and other administrators at campuses in the bottom half of the state ranking where students had the greatest gains. More of the campuses will receive the Governor's Performance Award, projected at about $68 per student.

Santa Paula Elementary School District Supt. Bonnie Bruington said the incentive funds were not a driving factor, but will be much-appreciated rewards. "We never have enough money to do the things we want to do," she said. "So any time we can find extra dollars, we'll go for it."

The greatest performance increases were among the younger students--both in Ventura County and throughout the state. Of the local campuses that met their targets, 73% were elementary schools, 16% were middle schools, and 11% were high schools. The two campuses that improved the most were Mar Vista Elementary in Oxnard, which raised its score 162 points to 670, and McKevett Elementary in Santa Paula, which jumped 124 points to 582.

Thirty-five local campuses did not meet their targets, and 18 saw decreases in their API scores. In Thousand Oaks, Los Cerritos Middle School dropped 24 points to 781, and Redwood Intermediate dipped 20 points to 826.

"These schools have made commitments to double their efforts," said Conejo Valley Supt. Jerry Gross. "It's just a matter of tightening the belt and going after the scores a little harder."

Gross compared the classroom to an emergency room, where doctors continually check patients' vital signs. "If the patient needs intervention, you intervene," he said. "It's much like what the teachers are doing with the students."


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