Merced's elementary, high schools gain ground in state scores

10/11/2012 11:05 AM

10/14/2012 11:42 PM

In state scores released this morning, 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.

More than half of Merced’s elementary schools — 28 out of 51 — met that mark, many despite daunting demographics that predicted otherwise.

Three middle schools, Cruickshank in Merced, Mitchell in Atwater and Ballico Elementary hit that measure. Buhach Colony High stood alone above the 800 mark.

“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.

Merced Union high schools were all top performers, with Hilmar High posting the six highest scores among comprehensive high schools in the county.

Merced Union Superintendent Scott Scambray credited a focus on school activities with raising attendance and keeping teens connected to school.

“When you look across the valley and compare we’re doing we’re doing very well," Scambray said. "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."

The highest numbers in the county were chalked up by McSwain Elementary, with 874, and Chenoweth Elementary in Merced and Peggy Heller Elementary in Atwater tied for second with 854.

“We’ve set a high bar for schools and they have more than met the challenge, despite the enormous obstacles that years of budget cuts have put in their way,” State Superintendent Tom Torlakson said in announcing the scores this morning.

But even schools that made impressive gains fell short of federal No Child Left Behind targets, that this year demanded nearly 8 in 10 students be basically “B” students, including those with special needs and English learners.

Only 12 of Merced County’s 52 neighborhood elementary schools and not one middle school made all their federal goals. Among high schools, only a tiny charter and Dos Palos High made the cut.

“California’s request for a waiver from the requirements of NCLB is still pending,” Torlakson said. “While we’re waiting for the flexibility we need, we’re not going to allow a flawed system to distract us from the work we’re doing to help schools improve.”

Along with the annual scores, Torlakson also unveiled the California Department of Education’s School Quality Snapshot, at http://www.cde.ca.gov/snapshot, a free online view of academic results and other information about a school’s performance.

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