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2 Schools Vow to Improve Achievement

Education: Students' scores fell, costing the campuses a share of state financial rewards.

October 06, 2000|MARTHA L. WILLMAN and KARIMA A. HAYNES | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Administrators of two public elementary schools in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys that lost ground on California's new ranking of public schools pledged Thursday to redouble their efforts to raise student achievement.

Calabash Street Elementary in Woodland Hills and Peachland Avenue Elementary in Newhall saw a significant decline this year over last in their Academic Performance Index, dropping 14 and 12 points, respectively.

Because both schools' scores fell below the statewide target of 800 points, neither will share in the $677 million set aside by the state to reward achievement gains.

Although Calabash's score dropped from 801 in 1999 to 787 this year, it was substantially higher than most elementary schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Peachland needed to improve three points this year over last to qualify for rewards. While the school's score declined by 12 points to 736, it remained in line with the other six elementary schools in the Newhall School District.

Debbie Leidner, superintendent of LAUSD subdistrict A, praised Calabash as a high-achieving school that may need some additional support this academic year to regain its 800-point rating.

"We will meet with the faculty next week to analyze the data to see where they will need to put additional emphasis," Leidner said. "As a district, we will be there to try to help them meet those needs."

Leidner said assistance at the 309-student school could come in the form of professional development, revamped mathematics instruction and tutorial services.

"We are not talking about a low-achieving school. We are talking about a high-achieving school," Leidner said. "I am proud of them, and I don't want them to feel as though they are failures.

"Let's look at why we didn't make these goals," she said, "and do what we can to shore up the areas that need strengthening."

In the Newhall district, six of seven schools saw increases in API scores, ranging from nine to 41 points. Only Peachland saw a decline from last year.

Even so, Supt. Marc Winger pointed out that Peachland scored 736 and that the entire district ranked comparatively high among statewide scores, ranging from 661 points at Newhall Elementary to 869 points at Meadows Elementary.

"When you look at the raw numbers, even though it went down at Peachland, it is still 736, and that's not mashed potatoes," Winger said. "That's pretty good."

While test results cannot be fully analyzed until additional data are received from the state next week, Winger said he suspects the decrease at Peachland may be due to a failure to boost scores of the lowest-achieving students.

Each of the schools will use the in-depth data to determine the weakest areas, he said, pinpointing problems down to each classroom level.

Peachland Principal Brian Skinner said a series of intervention programs have been implemented at the 800-student school since the API tests were administered last March and April.

For instance, about one-fifth of the school's students--those in the lowest achievement level--now begin school an hour earlier each day, he said. Small study groups also have been set up to help students improve their English, math and reading skills.

"Of course, we are disappointed [with the test scores]," Skinner said, "but we are responding with renewed efforts.

"We have already implemented extensive intervention programs, and we believe the gains will boost our scores this coming spring," he added. "We are developing a positive reaction and looking forward."

The API, which makes California one of 26 states to publicly rank schools or districts, is based solely on the Stanford 9 basic skills test that is scored against a national sampling of pupils.

In January, schools were given index scores and assigned growth targets that they had to achieve to qualify for financial awards. Schools that consistently fail to meet their improvement targets could eventually face takeover by the state.

Schools qualifying for state reward money range from a projected $68 per student for those that met their targets to $25,000 per teacher at low-performing campuses that demonstrated extraordinary gains.

The API is the state's latest in a series of educational reforms instituted in recent years.

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