Many Merced County schools lose ground on API scores, results show

August 29, 2013 

— The California Department of Education on Thursday released 2013 school scores, showing a statewide slip mirroring test results announced earlier this month.

"The decline in scores across the state is probably a reflection of the movement away from the California Teaching Standards to the Common Core. I would imagine that the professional development activities last year for most districts focused on how to implement the Common Core and had very little to do with the current standards," said Delhi Unified Superintendent Brian Stephens.

Across Merced County, 26 schools posted higher numbers and 51 had a lower Academic Performance Index, an averaged score that gives greater weight to moving the lowest-performing students up than for gains made by high achievers. Four schools' scores plummeted 50 points or more, while others made major gains.

The top state score is 1,000, with 800 the bar to beat. Less than a third of schools in Merced County topped 800 this year. Statewide, 56 percent of elementary schools, 50 percent of middle schools and 31 percent of high schools now meet that benchmark.

Winfield Elementary in Winton was a standout, gaining 50 points to be just two points under the 800 state goal for schools. Luther Burbank Elementary in Merced jumped 45 points, moving to 822.

Winton Superintendent Randall Heller called the Winfield jump "phenomenal" and said the district is using Common Core methods to teach existing state standards as a way to bridge the transition.

"Utilizing teacher input, allowing for collaboration and staying the course of the current state standards proved to be successful," Heller said.

Los Banos Unified Superintendent Steve Tietjen said even if scores take a hit, the switch to Common Core will be worth it. "Basic knowledge will still have to be in place to succeed with the new assessments, but a drill and test regimen will not prepare students for the new assessments, just as it hasn't prepared students for the world of work or higher education. Educators generally see this as a great step forward," he said.

Hilmar schools, too, are making the move, said Superintendent Isabel Cabral-Johnson. "As we move away from teaching the California Content Standards and move into teaching the Common Core State Standards, the current state assessment will not measure what we are teaching. As a result of this mismatch we expect scores to be volatile and fluctuate during these transition years," she said.

In Livingston, Superintendent Andrés Zamora said the district lost some ground while implementing better teaching strategies of Common Core. That said, he added, "LUSD always strives to do better. We will continue to analyze the data and address areas that need improvement."

Working to help English learners continues to be the focus in Planada, said Planada Elementary Superintendent Jose Gonzalez. "We are pleased with our modest gains," he said.

The state scoring system figures into the accountability system mandated by No Child Left Behind, a federal pass-fail measure demanding all students be at grade level by the end of this school year.

For spring 2013 tests, about 89 percent of all students had to test as proficient. In Merced County, only six regular schools hit all the federal targets.

Two of them were in the Merced City Elementary district, noted Superintendent RoseMary Parga Duran. "Burbank and Peterson School made the greatest API gain. A total of eleven of seventeen schools demonstrated growth," she said, crediting the gains to systemic analysis of students' learning.

Statewide, 14 percent of 9,861 schools passed the higher bar this year, compared with 26 percent last year. That includes alternative education sites, which face different criteria. Local continuation schools and other alternative sites also fared better than traditional neighborhood campuses.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson called the federal criteria unrealistic.

"It is unfortunate that officials in Washington continue to enforce a program they have acknowledged is deeply flawed, and that paints too many high-achieving schools with the same broad brush," Torlakson said in announcing the scores this morning.

"As an elected official, I'm obliged to comply with the law. But as a teacher, I'll continue to urge Congress and the administration to get to work, change course, and replace No Child Left Behind with a workable law that fosters, rather than hinders, the progress California's schools are making," he said.


API SCORES

School: Olaeta Elementary District: Atwater 2013 score: 871 Change: 21

School: McSwain Elementary District: McSwain 2013 score: 861 Change: -16

School: Chenoweth Elementary District: Merced City 2013 score: 856 Change: 1

School: Allan Peterson Elementary District: Merced City 2013 score: 855 Change: 28

School: Charleston Elementary District: Los Banos 2013 score: 853 Change: 11

School: Frank Sparkes Elementary District: Winton 2013 score: 841 Change: 10

School: Peggy Heller Elementary District: Atwater 2013 score: 839 Change: -15

School: Ballico Elementary District: Ballico-Cressey 2013 score: 838 Change: -3

School: Hopeton Elementary District: Merced River 2013 score: 837 Change: 32

School: Plainsburg Union Elementary District: Plainsburg 2013 score: 835 Change: 1

Source: California Department of Education

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