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94% of Orange County Schools Meet Test Goals

The figure is up from 74% a year ago, and tops the list of populous Southland counties in percentage of schools meeting their targets.

October 25, 2003|Jeff Gottlieb | Times Staff Writer

When a slot opened in a kindergarten class at Weaver Elementary School in Los Alamitos this week, one girl's parents were so excited that it took them all of an hour to show up with their 5-year-old, ready to learn.

That's what can happen when a school gets a reputation for academic excellence, which was underlined Friday when Weaver received the highest score in Orange County for the second year in a row on state achievement tests.

Not just the highest score among elementary schools, but the highest score among any public elementary, middle or high school in the county.

"We're ecstatic," said Weaver Principal Erin Kominsky. "We're thrilled. It validates for the staff all the things they're doing. It's a wonderful feeling around campus."

Throughout the county, 94% of schools met their targets on the 2003 state Academic Performance Index, up from 74% a year ago. The rankings put Orange County, with 513,000 pupils, first on the list of populous Southern California counties -- in percentage of schools meeting targets.

"Our teachers are doing a great job in the classroom," said Orange County Supt. of Schools William M. Habermehl. "In spite of cutbacks in education, Orange County kids are in safe environments and learning well."

The biggest jump occurred at high schools, where the number of schools meeting their targets went from 39% last year to 88%. Middle schools meeting targets increased from 61% to 93% and elementary schools from 82% to 95%.

Habermehl said the test was more difficult last year, which knocked down scores. This year, he said, teachers were more focused on meeting state standards.

"They saw the writing was on the wall that if they didn't focus on the test, the kids would come up short," he said.

Perhaps the most impressive performance took place in the Irvine Unified School District, where every campus met state goals. Five of the county's seven highest scores were in Irvine.

Skylark Elementary in Garden Grove has seen its score move up more than any school in the county since the test was first given in 1999. Principal Sharon Hazelleaf said nearly all activities at the school, where 90% of the students enter kindergarten with English as their second language, are tied to state academic standards.

That means if something isn't related to those standards, students don't do it. So, for example, there will be no Halloween parade.

"Halloween activities don't tie in to what kids need to know," Hazelleaf said.

She also credited after-school programs for students needing help in a subject. About a quarter of the students at Skylark have taken part in these classes, she said.

Habermehl said Skylark is following a trend in the county of cutting programs not specifically tied to academics.

"There are some wonderful projects kids would be involved in," he said. "But now we have to be selective. We know these kids will be held accountable at every grade level. So they don't have time to do anything else. We've got to stay focused."

Kominsky, at Weaver in Los Alamitos, credited innovative academics and increased parental involvement with helping increase test scores. Students must apply to the school and can come from outside the district. About 40% of the students live outside Los Alamitos and come from as far away as Santa Monica.

"When you make a conscious choice to be somewhere, you really put your heart and soul into your kid's being here every day and doing the homework," Kominsky said. "There's a different kind of code when you make a conscientious choice of doing something different for your children."

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