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18 School Districts May Face Sanctions

The systems, which did not meet testing goals set by the No Child Left Behind law, will have three years to improve.

September 01, 2004|Duke Helfand, Daryl Kelley and Jean Merl | Times Staff Writers

Eighteen California school districts that failed to meet federal goals in standardized testing for the second year in a row could face state takeovers or other sanctions if they do not show progress in the next three years, according to state data released Tuesday.

The small school systems, including the Centinela Valley Union High School District in the South Bay and Oxnard Union High School District in Ventura County, would be the first in California to experience tough new penalties under the federal No Child Left Behind education law.

Until now, similar federal sanctions applied only to individual schools.

Most of the districts wound up on the sanctions list because their students or a small segment of them scored too low on standardized exams. Others were named for not testing enough students, among other reasons. The school systems primarily serve high school students scattered in rural communities, including some in Riverside and San Bernardino counties.

"I was disappointed [by the results], but I believe we have all the components in place ... so that this will not be a permanent designation. We have been working very hard, and I believe we will continue to make progress," said Centinela Valley Supt. Cheryl M. White, whose 7,500-student district operates three comprehensive high schools and one continuation high school in Hawthorne and Lawndale. The district barely missed the requirement to test 95% of its students each of the last two years. Plus, its graduation rate dropped and its low-income students also performed slightly below expected levels.

The state Department of Education on Tuesday also released preliminary data showing that 64% of its 9,100 public schools met their federal targets in testing this year under the No Child Left Behind law. That was up from 54% last year -- largely because more high schools met required student participation rates on the tests, officials said.

But because of state delays in calculating the complicated formulas, schools won't formally learn until next month whether they will land on the sanctions list.

The state also released separate Academic Performance Index ratings, which are based on grade-by-grade scores released last month. The data showed that 64% of schools improved their ratings on a scale of 200 to 1,000, down from about 90% that showed improvement last year.

Data for individual schools and districts is available on The Times website, at or at the state Department of Education's website,

The school systems facing sanctions serve about 116,000 students in all. They include the Coachella Valley Unified School District in Riverside County; Baker Valley Unified in San Bernardino County; Liberty Union High School District in Contra Costa County; Reef-Sunset Unified in Kings County; Greenfield Union Elementary District in Monterey County; and Sequoia Union High School District in San Mateo County.

Also included are the Earlimart Elementary School District, Alta Vista Elementary and Alpaugh Unified in Tulare County; Kern Union High School District and Delano Joint Union High School District in Kern County; Washington Union High School District, Golden Plains Unified and the Coalinga-Huron Joint Unified School District in Fresno County; Santa Rosa High School District and Petaluma Joint Union High School District in Sonoma County.

State education officials, teachers union leaders and other educators voiced concern about the federal method for identifying failing schools and districts under No Child Left Behind.

They pointed out that schools and districts are judged on 46 separate criteria and that the federal method does not give credit for incremental improvements. Subgroups such as whites, Asians, Latinos and African Americans also have to demonstrate proficiency on the tests.

"I'm not endeared to No Child Left Behind," said Jack O'Connell, the state superintendent of public instruction. "I just don't believe their scale is the most accurate portrayal of school districts' improvement."

O'Connell and others cited systems such as the 16,000-student Oxnard Union High School District, which last year did not get enough students in five subgroups to take the test. This year, it met those participation goals but came up slightly short on another measure. Just 11.1% of its special education students were proficient on the language part of the spring basic skills tests. The district needed to reach 11.2%.

And so the Oxnard district landed on the sanctions list, even though its six comprehensive high schools showed sharp improvement overall in English and math scores.

"This is the disappointing part for us, but those are the rules and we live by them," Supt. Gary Davis said.

Oxnard, like the other districts on the federal list, must develop an improvement plan this year and put it into action next year. In three years, the district could face state action if it doesn't meet all of its federal criteria.

The state could reduce funding, replace district staff, appoint a trustee in place of the superintendent and school board or abolish the district altogether. The state also could authorize students to transfer to schools in other districts.


Times staff writers Doug Smith and Erika Hayasaki and data analyst Sandra Poindexter contributed to this report.

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