“It’s certainly good news all around,” said Donald Gill, superintendent of the Antioch Unified School District, which earned a 16 point API increase to 732. “In our district we tripled the growth of the past five years. It puts things on a real positive note.”
API is the cornerstone of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act of 1991. It measures the academic performance and growth of schools through a point-based system determined primarily by the results of the California Standards Test, the California High School Exit Exam and graduation rates among students. An API score of 800 or better (out of 1,000) means that a school is meeting its academic requirements.
Forty-six percent of California’s schools hit the state target goal of 800 this year, reflecting an overall increase of 13 points to 767. The achievement gap among racial and ethnic groups was narrowed slightly. The average score for African-Americans was 685, Latinos 715, Asians 889 and whites 838.
East County’s API scores rose with the rest of the state this year. Knightsen and Brentwood districts showed the highest gains at 19 and 31 points, respectively.
Merrill Grant, Brentwood Union School District superintendent, expressed pride in the strides his schools have made, but added that the district’s success is more than the sum of its parts. “We definitely feel like we are on a nice (academic) track, and I think our scores are great news,” said Grant. “But our test scores are just one indicator of how well a district is doing.
“It’s not just about testing. We’ve spent a lot of time on other things like music, working on the social skills of our children and making sure we’re not just about improving test scores, but working toward the overall rounding of the student. And I think our teachers and our board have worked hard toward that goal.”
Positive growth continued in the Liberty Union High School District (LUHSD), where scores jumped 12 points this year to 747. But according to Mary Vinciguerra, LUHSD director of curriuculum and instruction, the district’s combined 57-point gain in the past four years is the real news.
“I believe that our combined point gain is the highest in the county,” said Vinciguerra. “So we’re doing OK; we’re extremely pleased. I think our success is a combination of things. Our intervention programs are kicking in for the kids that need that extra support; our district assessments have been implemented, and that is helpful; and just working to get the kids to take the tests seriously has made a big difference. Our teachers are doing a fantastic job, and we are very proud of them.”
Anne Allen, assistant superintendent of education services for the Oakley Union School District, is proud as well. This year, the Oakley district saw a seven-point gain in API scores, taking it to 779.
“Overall, we’re very pleased,” said Allen. “And the best part of what we’re seeing is that we are focusing on some of the sub-groups that have been struggling, and we’re seeing a difference. Some years we will have big gains and some years small gains, but through it all, our focus remains on the students.”
In the Byron Union School District, scores continued to improve this year, from last year’s 795 to 797 – putting the district just three points short of the 800-point goal.
In spite of the impressive local and state scores, opponents of the API system, who believe not only that the teachers teach to the API tests, but that administrators and teachers are feeding students both real test questions and their answers.
Vinciguerra vehemently disagreed. “Security is extremely tight on these tests,” she said. “Of the thousands and thousands of books we have in this district, if we are missing even one, we hear about it. There is no way anyone could have access to the final questions.”
Allen echoed Vinciguerra’s response. “My reaction to that is that saying you are teaching to the test is misleading,” he said. “There are sample questions that teachers use, but no one has access to the real tests. You sign your life away when you get them (the tests). You can’t open the boxes – you can’t do anything. I get the frustration of everything being based on one test, but I can tell you that no one knows the real questions in advance.”
But one thing the district officials do know for certain is that no matter how high the API scores soar, there is always room for improvement. “We had a great year. It’s all very positive,” said Gill. “But we’re definitely continuing to work hard on all fronts so we can continue to grow. Next year, we’ll set the bar even higher.”
To see a complete listing of the 2009-10 API scores by district and school, go to www.cde.ca.gov.