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A closer look at API and Program Improvement in Contra Costa County and the Tri-Valley

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, September 2nd, 2011 at 6:00 pm in Alameda County, Contra Costa County, Education, Tri-Valley.

According to data released by the state Wednesday, East Bay schools are improving when measured by state Academic Performance Index (API) scores, but many are failing when evaluated by federal No Child Left Behind standards.

Why? Because the state rewards schools that make modest gains, while the federal government is expecting incrementally larger gains each year by students on math and English tests.

According to the No Child Left Behind law, the federal government’s goal is for all students to be proficient in both subjects by 2014. The goal for the state is for schools to keep making moderate progress, even though most educators seem to agree that proficiency for all students in the next three years is unattainable.

Frustrated, some administrators say the federal program appears to be setting them up for failure. Still, most agree the goal of proficiency for all students is laudable and say schools should strive to achieve it.

Here’s how East Bay districts stacked up against each other on their API scores:

(Scores range from 200-1,000, with target of 800)
Acalanes 903
Antioch 731
Brentwood 843
Byron 827
Canyon 888
John Swett 742
Knightsen 847
Lafayette 922
Liberty 764
Martinez 832
Moraga 955
Mt. Diablo 786
Oakley 790
Orinda 957
Pittsburg Not available
San Ramon 922
Walnut Creek 905
West Contra Costa 709
Alameda 842
Albany 881
Berkeley 790
Castro Valley 865
Dublin 885
Emery 702
Fremont 877
Hayward 715
Livermore 832
Newark 773
New Haven 775
Oakland 726
Piedmont 930
Pleasanton 906
San Leandro 738
San Lorenzo 741
Sunol Glen 939
Detailed school, district and county scores are at

Although these scores look pretty good overall, 66 percent of Contra Costa County schools and 60 percent of Alameda County schools are in federal Program Improvement for because students in various designated groups failed to made adequate yearly progress two years in a row. Student subgroups include: ethnic minorities, low-income students, English learners and those with disabilities.

Sanctions escalate each year a school fails to improve. In the first year, schools must notify parents of their program improvement status and set aside 5 percent of Title 1 funds for professional development. By year 5, schools must restructure their staffs and the district must offer alternative choices to students, along with supplemental services.

Districts entering program improvement must develop plans to address deficiencies and devote a percentage of Title 1 funds to professional development.

I and several other Times reporters spoke to local district officials about their scores to get a better sense of what they thought they did right and where they think they need to work harder.

Here’s a sampling of what they said:


ACALANES: Reporter Jonathan Morales told me the Acalanes district can no longer claim to be the highest-scoring high school district in the state. It was edged out this year by the Los Gatos-Saratoga Joint Union district in Santa Clara County, which received an API of 904, compared to 903 for Acalanes.
Here’s Morales’ story about the Lamorinda district school results:

Reporter Paul Burgarino reports that Antioch Unified saw its overall API score fall by one point to 731. While three elementary schools scored 800 or higher, only one increased its score.
Two schools — Orchard Park and Dozier Libbey Medical High — fell back below the 800 mark.
Though the district made little progress on meeting federal standards, no additional schools were designated for program improvement.
Antioch Superintendent Donald Gill said many teachers in the district were moved around last year because the district removed class-size reduction, which forced them to adjust to teaching new grade levels.
“I believe this year things will start to stabilize,” Gill said.
Schools that had specialized coaching for teachers showed improvement, while the district’s four-year data shows improvement in eight out of 10 subgroup categories, Gill said.
Three quarters of the teachers at Turner Elementary were new to their grade level last year. That school’s API score dropped 24 points to a 745.

Reporter Roman Gohkman reports that in the Brentwood Union School District, nine of 10 schools finished above 800. All three middle schools increased their scores; the largest jump coming at Adams Middle School, which increased its score by 17 points from 854 to 871.
All six elementary schools, however, saw their scores decline. The only school that finished below 800, Marsh Creek Elementary, had a growth target of 5 points. Instead, the school dropped 9 points.
“We had really great gains between 2009 and 2010, but our results this year are a mixed bag,” said Michael Bowen, district director of curriculum and instruction.
Bowen said the scores for the district’s six elementary schools dropped possibly because the district put more emphasis into increasing the scores of its three middle schools.
“We’ll be engaging our principals in diving into the data and addressing areas of need,” he said. “When we see drops we always want to dig deep and see what’s going on.”
All three middle schools, including Edna Hill, which is in the second year of program improvement, met their components in the AYP report, while four of the six elementary schools did not meet target goals on at least one component. Garin Elementary, which is in the second year of program improvement, did not meet the target in English-language arts or math.
“I think the targets are becoming unrealistic,” Bowen said.

Reporter Lisa White reports that Superintendent Rami Muth said a a teacher at Las Juntas Elementary (whom she declined to identify) did not follow the directions when administering the STAR test, so those students’ scores were declared invalid. Since those test results affected more than 5 percent of the student body, the test scores for the entire school weren’t counted, thus it was placed in Program Improvement.
The district hired a contractor to crunch the data, which found that every subgroup did make AYP, according to Muth. This, however, is unofficial and not recognized by the state.
So, technically the school is in Year 1 of Program Improvement and will have to do all the things the feds require. Parents will be notified at Back to School Night that they can apply to have their child transferred to one of the other elementary schools (all of which did make AYP) on a space-available basis.
“From our perspective,” Muth said, “the label — while not a good thing — we’re using it as a tool to grow.”

I spoke with Rose Lock, assistant superintendent for student achievement and school support. I will do a separate blog post looking more closely at the district, but here are a few of her comments:
She noted that many schools made good gains on their API scores, but said she wasn’t surprised by the district’s program improvement status:
“We knew it was coming, because we know that our subgroups are continuing to struggle,” she said. “Other school districts across the state are in a similar situation. If you look at the California API accountability, we are making gains. Unfortunately, it’s the federal accountabliity system that’s challenging. Walnut Creek is in program improvement too. We’re in good company.”
She pointed out that only a few districts met all the components of growth targets for all their schools. These included Moraga and Orinda.
“Even San Ramon didn’t,” she said. “Even Lafayette didn’t. But that doesn’t take away the work that we need to do.”
Lock said that being named a program improvement district requires the district to set aside at least 10 percent of its Title 1 money for district-wide professional development.
“We have been focusing on improvement,” Lock said. “Our department is really focused on really targeted and focused efforts — working with our schools in terms of using data and formative assessments — being more strategic in how we respond to the needs of students.”
She said the district hopes to complete its Master Plan for English learners by March, with the newly appointed Director of English Language Services.
“That’s a highest priority,” she said.
The district is also working on an Equity Plan to help narrow the achievement gap for black and Latino students.
In addition, Superintendent Steven Lawrence issued a News Update to the community about the district’s API and AYP results. However, he omitted the Eagle Peak Montessori Charter School from his list. Its score rose by 27 points to 918 and it met all federal targets.

Reporter Rick Radin reports that all Pittsburg elementary and middle school scores rose between 4 and 52 points, with one school — Los Medanos Elementary — scoring over 800.
Superintendent Linda Rondeau (a former MDUSD administrator) credited “a tight focus on teaching strategies and expository writing” in the schools for the improvement.
Pittsburg High and Riverside continuation school scores will not be available until October or November because of data errors by the testing service, Rondeau said.
Total test score increases at the Pittsburg elementary schools far outstripped those at the middle schools.
The elementary school curriculum is more aligned with state testing standards than the middle school curriculum, said Abe Doctolero, assistant superintendent for educational services.
“It becomes more difficult to get everyone aligned on the same instructional page in the middle schools because the teachers teach different subjects,” Doctolero said.

Reporter Eric Louie reports that the San Ramon Valley school district as a whole did not meet the standards because socioeconomically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities did not make the mark in math. Yet, Pine Valley Middle School in San Ramon was the only school that failed to meet its adequate yearly progress goal for math because too few Latino students achieved proficiency.
All other district schools did meet proficiency goals. However, like the majority of schools in the large district, Pine Valley is not a Title 1 school, so it will not be subject to No Child Left Behind sanctions.

I spoke to Superintendent Patricia Wool, who said the district did not meet its adequate yearly progress goals for English learners and Hispanic or Latino students.
“Overall as a district, we’re doing really well,” she said. “In fact our API is 905.”
Every year, the district prepares an Achievement Gap report, she said. The district will come up with a plan to address lagging students.
“We’ve got some work to do,” she said. “We’re trying to come up with varying ways to adjust the curriculum.”
Murwood and Buena Vista elementary are Title 1 schools. Murwood was newly identified as a Program Improvement school this year for failing to make adequate yearly progress in both English and math. Buena Vista failed to meet its math goals, but hasn’t been placed in program improvement yet. If it doesn’t improve, it could be headed for program improvement next year.
“We’re certainly committed to each and every subgroup,” she said. “We don’t rest on our laurels.”
I mentioned that the Cupertinto schools superintendent strongly objected to his district being singled out for “Program Improvement” this year, since that district also has high test scores overall. But Wool said she didn’t have a similar reaction.
“Am I up in arms? No,” she said, “because it’s going to take all of us in this district working together to figure out how to support all the subgroups.”

Reporter Shelly Meron reports that the West Contra Costa school district showed modest improvement overall this year, increasing its API score by 13 points to 709. School officials there say there were many successes this year, with several schools showing significant improvement since 2010.
“We’re in a better place than we were last year and we continue to see that movement in the right direction, and continue to focus on accelerating that growth,” said Nia Rashidchi, the district’s assistant superintendent for educational services. “Our teachers and administrators are working really hard. I think our scores are showing that effort.”
Title I schools in the district performed all over the map. Several campuses – including Stege Elementary, Dejean Middle School and Kennedy High, all in Richmond – dropped significantly. Others showed big improvements, including Bayview Elementary in San Pablo and Highland, Lincoln, Nystrom and Peres elementaries in Richmond.
Rashidchi said local schools have been tackling the job with close collaboration among staff, regular and in-depth assessment of student performance, pinpointing where strengths and weaknesses are, and figuring out how to replicate practices that are working and to weed out what’s not.
“Everyone’s working on that,” Rashidchi said. “Some of our schools have gotten more proficient at it.”
Rashidchi praised 60-point API growth at Lincoln Elementary to 719. The school met growth targets school-wide and for all subgroups.
Kennedy High, on the other hand, is still struggling. Its API score dropped by 33 points to 518 this year, and the school failed to meet its growth targets. It is also in year 5 of program improvement.
“There’s a sense of urgency with the (Kennedy) staff that we know we need to meet the needs of all our kids. We’ll be sitting down and talking with the staff, working with them and providing support to make sure we see the gains we see at other schools,” Rashidchi said. “We will have folks who are perhaps having more success talk with each other about what strategies they’re using. There is lots of energy and effort being put into Kennedy.”


Reporter Eric Louie reported that Frederiksen Elementary in Dublin entered its first year of program improvement, with the school as a whole and multiple subgroups not meeting proficiency targets. Latino and English learners missed their goals in both math and English. White, low-income students missed the English target.
Elsewhere in the district, Dublin Elementary and Wells Middle school — which meet all the standards in 2010 — did not in 2011. If they miss their targets next year, they could fall into program improvement.
Superintendent Stephen Hanke noted the district’s Academic Performance Index has been rising — from 878 last year to 885 in 2011 — far past the target of 800. He said while the district strives to have all students proficient and above, meeting the goal by 2014 as required by federal guidelines isn’t realistic.

Reporter Robert Jordan spoke to Superintendent Parvin Ahmadi about that district’s difficulties keeping campuses out of program improvement. Pleasanton Middle School entered program improvement last year, followed this year by Valley View Elementary.
“We have to do something,” Ahmadi said. “We have been waiting for NCLB reauthorization for a couple of years. We know we have to take a look at a different set of criteria to look at proficiency — a growth model rather than 100 percent by a specific date.”
If the law doesn’t change soon, he predicted even more dire consequences in the next three years.
“By 2013-14, 100 percent of every sub group has to be proficient,” he said. “I would say that most districts in California will be in program improvement.”

What do you think local school districts that are struggling should do to help boost student achievement?

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