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10 Schools to Gamble on Test Scores

Education: Funding comes with strings attached--if performance doesn't improve, state might take over.


Ten Ventura County schools are among 430 statewide picked to take part in a big gamble: Improve test scores or risk being taken over by the state.

To help boost scores, these low-performing schools will receive hundreds of thousands of dollars each over the next three years. They will also be paired with outside evaluators, who will give suggestions and monitor student progress.

If scores improve, the schools could receive more money. If they don't, the schools could face staff reassignment, state takeover or even closure.

Five of the local campuses chosen are from the Oxnard Elementary School District: Driffill, Cesar Chavez and Christa McAuliffe elementary schools and Fremont and Frank intermediate schools. The other five schools are Fillmore High, El Rancho Structured Elementary in Camarillo, Rio del Valle Middle and Rio Plaza Elementary in El Rio, and Manzanita Elementary in Thousand Oaks.

This year, 936 schools statewide, including 20 from Ventura County, were eligible to apply for the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program. Those campuses ranked in the bottom half of the state's Academic Performance Index and did not meet some growth targets for specific student groups.

About 550 campuses applied for the intervention program, and the California Department of Education allowed them to participate on a first-come, first-served basis. State educators notified schools late last week that their applications had been accepted.

The schools will each receive $50,000 in planning grants next summer to hire outside evaluators and to write action plans for improving academic achievement. The following year, the schools will receive up to $200 per pupil to implement those plans. Districts have to raise enough money to match the state contribution.

Ventura County school officials said they hope to use the money to get more parents involved, assess reading and math programs and work individually with low-performing students.

At a few of the schools, Latino students improved dramatically on standardized test scores last year over the year before, while gains by white students with already high scores were not as strong.

That was the case at El Rancho Structured School in Camarillo. The campus improved its API score by 40 points to 639, on a scale of 200 to 1,000, but not all subgroups met their targets. Latino students went up by 58 points to 562, while white students dropped by 6 to 760.

Principal Linda Ngarupe said she wants to refine the school's education methods and make sure that teachers are reaching every student. "We've been doing an excellent job and seeing a lot of growth in our students," she said. "This is a way to help raise student achievement even more."

Manzanita Elementary School in Thousand Oaks, which had a 628 on its API, was the only east county school selected. The school had a goal to raise its API score by nine points over the previous year, but only managed to improved by one point.

Richard Simpson, assistant superintendent for the Conejo Valley Unified School District, said Manzanita is eager to continue raising its API score. "We're certainly open to learning about any interventions or strategies or ideas anybody has," he said.

McAuliffe Elementary School in Oxnard volunteered after nearly all its staff agreed in a campus vote that the state aid could help the school develop new teaching techniques. The campus has an API score of 620, up 10 points over the previous year. Although the campus met its school-wide growth target, not all income and ethnic subgroups improved.

Principal Peter Nichols said he looks forward to receiving financial assistance and working with an evaluator to develop strategies. "It's not just throwing money at a school," he said. "It's doing an in-depth investigation of the problem."

Nichols said he and his teachers are not worried about the potential consequences. "The faculty is confident that they know what to do to raise scores," he said. "There is no fear there."

Frank Intermediate School dropped by six points on its API to 503. Principal Ron D'Incau said he and his staff are not satisfied with student performance and are determined to boost scores. When he learned that his school was eligible for the program, D'Incau jumped at the chance to apply.

"We didn't want to miss this opportunity," he said. "We couldn't. We owe it to the students."

With the money, D'Incau said he hopes to examine teaching methods and do more parent outreach. "We want to look at everything," he said. "There won't be one silver-bullet solution. That's unrealistic."

Selected schools are posted on the Internet at

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