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Nine Merced County schools make the grade on state's Academic Performance Index

Sometimes it isn't just all work and no play.

Around 10:45 Thursday morning, principal Tara Bright at Donn B. Chenoweth Elementary School surprised her students with an all-school recess.

The reason? Chenoweth became the first school in the Merced City School District to score above 800 on the state's Academic Performance Index.

Eight other county schools also surpassed the magic 800 number.

The Academic Performance Index, or API, is a number from 200 to 1,000 that shows a school’s performance based on state test scores. API scores serve as the main accountability measure for the state.

The No Child Left Behind Act is the federal accountability standard, and API scores are only one of the standards in that reckoning.

Eight hundred is the goal set by the state for all schools to strive toward. Chenoweth scored an 821.“We are very proud of Chenoweth, obviously,” Superintendent Terry Brace said. “We have a really hard-working, focused group of teachers there.”

Across town at Alicia Reyes Elementary, former Chenoweth principal Teresa Saldivar-Morse was thrilled. “I am celebrating right along side them,” she said. “I am just so excited.”

Reyes saw a 20-point increase in its API since it was last calculated in May 2007. Now, every elementary school in the district is in the so-called 700 Club.

“The key component to any improvements is teachers,” Brace said. “And we have some incredible teachers in the district.” Julie Chambers is a second-grade teacher at Chenoweth and spends the year preparing her students for their first standardized test. She attributes the school’s success to an active team-teaching approach at the school.

“We are always reflecting on how we are teaching, and if kids seem confused, we adjust,” Chambers said. “I think you can never give up on kids, and that is why we are where we’re at.”

Starting in third grade at the school, each student has an individual conference with a teacher or Bright about the previous year’s scores. Together they analyze the students’ strengths and weaknesses and identify the areas in which the student needs to concentrate hardest.

Since the state began figuring API scores in 1999, Chenoweth has shown the second-highest increase in scores in the city — to 821 from 528.

Despite a growing API and rising test scores at the school, the state and national standards will continue to rise - and at a sharper curve than in the past. Bright said her school will continue to work together to maintain growth. “It is not one person or one student or one thing,” she said. “It is everybody working together all the time.”

Other schools in Merced County that surpassed the 800 mark include Elmer Wood Elementary in Atwater, Elim Elementary in Hilmar, Charleston Elementary in Los Banos, Volta Elementary in Los Banos, McSwain Elementary in McSwain, Hopeton Elementary in Snelling, Snelling-Merced Falls Elementary in Snelling and Pioneer Elementary in Merced.

The reports released this week are preliminary. Schools and districts have until Sept. 30 to correct any reporting errors they find. The final report will be released in October.

Reporter Danielle Gaines can be reached at (209) 385-2407 or dgaines@mercedsun-star.com.

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