MERCED -- Can slamming a water polo goal, raising farm animals or mastering a concerto raise test scores?
Merced Union High Superintendent Scott Scambray says yes, crediting a focus on school activities with raising attendance and keeping teens connected to school.
Merced Union high schools were all top performers in state score released Monday. The district earned a 780 rating and posted five of the six highest scores among comprehensive high schools in the county. Hilmar High came in fifth.
"When you look across the valley and compare we're doing we're doing very well. I think it's our student involvement. Getting student involvement in athletics, clubs, bands, whatever it takes. Because the research shows, when they're involved, they achieve," Scambray said.
Across Merced County, elementary and high schools gained ground overall, while middle schools slipped a few points on average from their 2011 scores.
Over five years there were solid gains of more than 50 points on average in all three groups. Results of individual schools varied widely, with a few schools now scoring lower than they did in 2007.
Among high achievers, Planada Elementary was the standout in the younger crowd, leaping 158 points since 2007 -- 43 of them last year. Over five years Weaver Middle School posted a 104-point gain and Atwater High 124 points.
The school scores average all the state tests taken at the school, with the single number ranging from 200 to 1,000. The state's goal for all schools is 800.
Weaver School District topped 800 for the first time this year, noted Superintendent John Curry.
More than half of Merced's elementary schools -- 28 out of 51 -- met that mark, many despite daunting demographics that predicted otherwise.
Planada's gains came despite the district's heavy concentration of low-income and English-learning students, said Superintendent José González. González called his district's higher scores "the heavy lift" made possible with lots of intervention, technology and a focus on writing.
"In our learning community (every student) has access to world-class content taught by world-class teachers in schools led by world-class leaders," González said.
Three middle schools, Cruickshank in Merced, Mitchell in Atwater and Ballico Elementary hit the 800 mark. Among high schools, Buhach Colony stood alone hit the high note.
"On the average, the 20 districts in Merced County are 2.3 percent away from achieving that goal," said Steve Gomes, Merced County superintendent of schools.
"The increases in student academic achievement is testament to the hard work teachers and administrators are doing in districts and schools across the county," Gomes said.
Atwater Elementary celebrated having 75 percent above 800, "with the remaining schools close behind," said Michele McCabe, Atwater assistant superintendent of educational services. McCabe said the district involves students in testing success, having them meet with teachers frequently to evaluate their progress and help set goals.
"We are asking our staffs to do more with less and they have really stepped up to the plate," McCabe said.
The highest numbers in the county were chalked up by McSwain Elementary, with 874, and Peggy Heller Elementary in Atwater and Chenoweth Elementary tied for second with 854.
"Merced City School District added one more to the 800-plus club -- Franklin Elementary. Overall we had ten schools improve their API score," Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran said.