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Contra Costa County school districts vary widely in academic ratings

By Theresa Harrington
Thursday, May 5th, 2011 at 7:47 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, Theresa Harrington.

The state released Academic Performance Index (API) rankings today, based on STAR test results from last spring. It also released “growth targets” that schools are supposed to meet on tests students are taking now.

“Today signifies the beginning of a new reporting cycle of testing and reporting under the API, which gives us one measure of school’s academic performance,” said Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, in a news release. “This is the jumping-off point where, based on last year’s testing results, schools are given a number of points by which they must grow in order to satisfy the requirements of our state accountability system.”

The ratings also show how schools with similar demographics stack up against each other.

“This is constructive information that provides parents, schools, educators, and the general public valuable insight into how schools are performing when measured against others,” Torlakson said.

Here’s the state’s explanation of the scores:

“A school’s statewide rank is based on the school’s Base API and is calculated separately for three types of schools: elementary, middle, and high schools. Ranks are established by deciles. Each decile contains 10 percent of all schools of each type.

It is important to note that there will always be schools ranked 1 and schools ranked 10 because of the nature of the decile system. Ten percent of schools will always be in each decile.

The similar schools rank is similar to the statewide rank, except that each school is ranked relative to a group of 100 schools determined to be similar to the comparison school based on certain school, student, and teacher characteristics. The school’s similar schools rank is the decile where that school’s Base API falls compared with the Base APIs of the 100 other similar schools in the comparison group.

The release of the 2010 Base API denotes the beginning of the API reporting cycle. The Base API Report released today includes the Base API, growth targets, and school ranks. The Growth API Report, which will be released in early fall, includes the Growth API, growth achieved, and whether or not targets were met. It is the second of these two reports that determines whether a school met or exceeded its growth target and whether it may be identified for participation in state intervention programs designed to help a school improve its academic performance.

The Base API, including all new indicators and methodological changes, is merely the baseline against which to compare the next year’s Growth API. The Base API is calculated using the test results of the previous year, thus this is the 2010 Base API, and the Growth API is calculated using the test results of the current year, and it will be the 2011 Growth API.”

Contra Costa County schools ranged from 1 to 10, with all campuses in the Acalanes, Lafayette, Moraga and Orinda scoring in the top 10 percent.

Here are the highest and lowest-scoring Mt. Diablo district schools, including API score, statewide rank, similar schools rank and growth target. Schools with API scores of 800 or more are not required to increase their scores, since they have already met the statewide target for proficiency.


Bel Air: API 646, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 8
Meadow Homes: API 648, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 8
Shore Acres: API 659, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 7
Rio Vista: API 669, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 7

Walnut Acres: API 936, rank: 10, similar schools: 5
Valle Verde: API 930, rank: 10, similar schools: 4
Sequoia: API 921, rank: 10, similar schools: 5
Monte Gardens: API 918, rank: 10, similar schools: 7
Strandwood: API 917, rank: 10, similar schools: 7
Mt. Diablo: API 915, rank: 10, similar schools: 7


Oak Grove: API 642, rank: 1, similar schools: 1, growth: 8
Glenbrook: API 658, rank: 1, similar schools: 2, growth: 7

Foothill: API 900, rank: 10, similar schools: 3


Mt. Diablo: API 653, rank: 2, similar schools: 5, growth: 7
Ygnacio Valley: API 665, rank: 2, similar schools: 2, growth: 7

Northgate: API 865, rank: 10, similar schools: 4

The district includes six of the lowest-achieving schools in the state ranked 1, as well as eight campuses ranked 10 at the top.

Mt. Diablo received federal School Improvement Grants totaling more than $14 million over three years to “transform” Bel Air, Rio Vista and Shore Acres elementary schools, along with Glenbrook Middle School. But due to state budget cuts, the school board decided in February to close Glenbrook Middle School in Concord and forfeit about $1.2 million of its grant, which was providing teacher training, counseling, library services and other programs.

The district has implemented a districtwide focus on testing intended to help teachers pinpoint student weaknesses and strengths, then tailor their instruction to focus on areas for improvement.

I left messages with several administrators asking for comments regarding the rankings. Cindy Matteoni, principal of Sequoia Elementary, was the only one who responded.

She said the school’s “Academics Plus” program accepts students from throughout the district, but requires parents to place them on a waiting list at age 4.

I asked her to reveal her school’s “secret” of success.

“I think our secret is probably the secret of any school that is succecssful,” she said. “It’s really about the team.”

She said the school is lucky to have very engaged parents who support their kids both in and out of class. In addition, the staff supports students and the “academics plus” philosophy, she said.

“They’re committed to the rigor of what they do,” she said, adding that the school adheres to the same curriculum standards as all campuses in the district.

Yet, Matteoni acknowledged the school, which has an API score of 921, still has room for improvement. When compared to other schools with similar demographics, it was ranked 5.

“Across the district, we all could be doing a better job with our English language learners and students that have specific learning needs,” she said. “And on the flip side, we can always be looking at ways to better challenge kids as well, who are ready for more challenge.”

Although dwindling funding makes it more difficult to implement new programs to improve instruction, Matteoni said the Internet has a lot of good resources for students and educators. Also, schools in the College Park HS feeder pattern have begun sharing instructional strategies through occasional meetings, she said.

In addition, districtwide Curriculum Associates testing gives teachers “real time” information about their students’ progress and enables them to intervene before the school year ends, Matteoni added. If schools wait until they receive STAR test results in the fall, students have already moved onto another teacher, she said.

“Teachers can really tailor their instruction around the needs of their students that they have at that time,” she said. “So, I think it’s very valuable.”

What do you think the district should do to help low-performing schools improve?

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22 Responses to “Contra Costa County school districts vary widely in academic ratings”

  1. g Says:

    So, the District threw away $1.2million in Glenbrook SIG funds, and apparently is pretty much wasting the rest at the other schools; unless they consider a 7 or 8 point improvement adequate while they close a school that improved 50 points just on the power of dedication last year and without the aid of those funds!!

    Of course, if you are failing to educate them in grammar school, and then passing or busing those same failed kids right up through one feeder pattern, you are going to find the same results from grammar right up through high school.

  2. Theresa Harrington Says:

    Of the district’s six lowest-achieving schools, Glenbrook was the only one to earn a “similar schools” rating of 2 (instead of 1). This means it was doing better than Bel Air, Meadow Homes, Rio Vista, Shore Acres and Oak Grove, when compared to schools with similar demographics.

  3. Doctor J Says:

    @Theresa, thanks for the research. Another brillant move by the Board, closing the highest performing of the persistently underpeforming schools. Another “rush to judgment”.

  4. g Says:

    While we’re on SIG funds, I do not believe the government’s goal to “transform” the schools meant hire more people, train teachers that should know what they are doing before they ever take the desk, library service and “other” stuff.

    Somebody hands you a few million dollars, you need to keep your eye on the prize:
    I think the goal and the money was intended to TEACH the little buggers readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmetic! Period!

  5. Doctor J Says:

    @G, the simple solution for the district losing the Glenbrook funds is to apply for these “easy” SIG funds for Meadow Homes and Oak Grove. Essentially they can use some of the already approved grants as templates. However, they will have to meet the federal standards and probably require some significant staff changes. It will result in SASS growing more and more consultants.

  6. Doctor J Says:

    The most positive stat is the ALL eight of the MDUSD schools that scored “10” scored significantly higher than “similar” schools, some as high as 5 or 6 or 7 points higher. That is terrific and shows that strong leadership and a tight knit teaching team can make a huge difference. The worst stat is that the six worst schools in the district are, with the exception of Glenbrook, no better than the worst schools in the rest of the state, and the Board closed the one improving worst school. If a professional sports team persistently loses, do you trade the entire team or do you fire the coaches ?

  7. g Says:

    Dr J; Isn’t that (personality changing/more Sass/more consultants) simply spending the SIG money before the schools actually even see a penny of it? Isn’t that pretty much why the failing schools weren’t apparently helped by the last SIG funds—it was spent on back office and other glossy expenses instead of on concentrating teaching staff on drilling and more drilling and teaching the kids? Are memorization and rote dirty words now?

  8. Doctor J Says:

    @G, yes its the irony — most of the SIG money is to support the district administration and make teaching one size fits all. Few, if any, of the funds are focused on the particular school. These stats that came out today, as Thersa points out, are significant because they compare apples to apples, and you can tell if schools with similar demographics are doing better or worse. MDUSD is so pathetic, there are schools who ordered white boards in August that still dont have them installed. Who is in charge of that ? The lawyer, Greg Rolen. That’s why the Grand Jury is hammering him.

  9. 4Students Says:

    I attended one of the strategic planning meetings, actually a workshop. The draft includes “Optimal Operations and Infrastructure” and I suggested that resources should focus on classrooms as the first and final priority. Everyone who blogs should attend a strategic planning session and submit similar suggestions. Thanks to Cheryl and Sherry for their time, presentation and overall organization of the strategic planning process!

  10. Linda Says:

    If they are going to list energy costs as a savings for Glenbrook and Holbrook,then they need to remove that amount from their solar projections or they are double accounting. Quite frankly I find it hard to justify an energy savings from a school closure when we have already committed to a solar project at the site. We can’t save twice.

  11. Theresa Harrington Says:

    As far as I know, the district hasn’t positively decided to move forward with solar at the closed sites. They were originally intended to be included in the first phase, but were put on hold. Pete Pedersen told me it’s up to the board to decide whether to continue those solar plans.
    However, I believe the district would lose out on some of its CREBs funding earmarked for those projects if it abandons them.

  12. Doctor J Says:

    So the choice now is to put solar into the sites to be closed or lose CREBS’s funding ? Who is the GENIUS that is coordinating this in MDUSD ? And the Supt has his degree in applied mathmatics ? King Lawrence’s reign is short.

  13. Linda Says:

    If they decide not to do solar at the site then they need to remove the cost savings for both schools from the solar “analysis” and only count the savings from closing the school. If they go forward with solar… they should remove engergy savings from one or the other – the school closure figures or the solar analysis. It is double accounting if they don’t. CREBs are just bonds for energy projects. I could swear they had $55mil in CREBS. As long as the project is more than the amount of the CREBs aren’t they okay?

  14. Theresa Harrington Says:

    My understanding was that the district had to receive approval from the IRS for the CREBs, based on specific project costs at each individual site. If the project goes away, I believe the district can’t shift the money to a different site.

  15. Doctor J Says:

    @14 Who is the Captain of this ship ? One mistake after another.

  16. g Says:

    Dr. J: Your ship analogy is so apropos here. One thing for sure is that the motto of this ship is NOT women and Children first! The other sure thing is mutiny and the kids on deck will suffer the most.

  17. Billy Bob Says:

    They will pull the wool over our eyes, just like they do every time. I suspect the pressure is building on them though.

    Still haven’t gotten a response from the board or any other interested party as to how the Dr. B three day junket with friends in tow to Sacramento complies with the CDE order to ban all travel.

    Someone must be paying for this trip? I hope it wasn’t the MDUSD.

  18. Doctor J Says:

    BillyBob, you know if they were “presenters” — highly unlikeley since MDUSD is a repeat offender — they might have got their registration fee comped, but not the other fees. I think that was just made up. They had to pay their own hotel and meal expenses.

  19. Wait a Minute Says:

    The pressure is mounting for sure.
    You have a Grand Jury report.

    Hopefully someone made a complaint to the Federal Office of Civil Rights about the MDUSD decision to close Glenbrook (the highest scoring and most improved PI school in the MDUSD) and send those kids to lower ranking PI schools and throw away 1.2 million in SIG money!
    I say this because if the OCR comes in they will eat Lawrence and company alive.

    And then you have more inexcusable scandal like all this costly travel for district-level administrators and costly consultants.

    But the piece-de-resistance is the Clayton HS conversion charter.
    Once schools start to bail out of the MDUSD so they can keep the education dollars in their schools/classrooms where it belongs and avoid the chaotic incompetence of an unnecessary layer of district management it will be the end of people like king lawrence and cronies.

  20. mdusdmomx4 Says:

    The API is just a score to show who can teach to the test. Once they graduate out of high school, an API score means NOTHING! What matters are what the student puts into their education,what challenging classes they took and how well they do on the SAT’s and ACT’s. Sadly people put way to much emphasis on API rather than the academic classes, how rigorous are they, are they preparing the student for College, job training or vocational training? Just how does STAR testing and and API score help a person out of high school? Answer: It does NOT

  21. mdusdmomx4 Says:

    Great and true statement:

    As Alfie Kohn says in his new book Feel-Bad Education

    “The more time spent teaching students how to do well on a particular test — familiarizing them with its content and format — the less meaningful the results of that test. What those results mostly tell us is how well students were prepared for that test, not what knowledge and skills they have in general.”

  22. Theresa Harrington Says:

    The Contra Costa County Board of Education will recognize Dozier-Libbey Medical HS (Antioch) and Bristow MS (Brentwood) on Wednesday for their 2011 designations as CA distinguished schools:

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