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A look at how two Contra Costa County districts self-reported their state test results

By Theresa Harrington
Friday, October 12th, 2012 at 2:43 pm in Education, Mt. Diablo school district, San Ramon Valley school district.

In this country and state, school accountability is a moving target, with goals getting increasingly tougher to meet, as students are pressured to show proficiency on tests.

When test scores come out, school and district officials naturally want to celebrate their successes, while downplaying their failures.

This was very apparent Thursday, when the state released its Academic Performance Index, or API scores, along with data showing whether schools and districts met federal No Child Left Behind requirements.

The API data showed that the state and most districts made progress overall, with more than half reaching California’s proficiency goal of 800 on a scale of 200 to 1,000.

But the same data analyzed under the requirements of No Child Left Behind results showed that some children were still being left behind. This was news that the San Ramon Valley and Mt. Diablo school districts preferred not to highlight.

Both districts issued news releases to their communities that failed to mention they were identified for federal Program Improvement because some of their students did not make adequate yearly progress on standardized tests. Instead, they focused on the achievements of their top-performing schools, as well as those that made impressive gains from 2011 to 2012.

San Ramon’s message, which touted its very high API score of 921, stated, in part:

“These results continue to place SRVUSD as the 8th highest unified school district in the state and the highest among unified districts with more than 9,000 students tested.”

Superintendent Mary Shelton did, however, hint that some students were still struggling.

“It is amazing that a high-achieving district like ours can continue to improve,” she said. “While I am pleased to see that many of our subgroups improved again, a few did not, and we will continue to make that a primary focus in our classrooms.”

What Shelton didn’t say was that students in the following subgroups failed to meet federal requirements: African-Americans, Hispanics or Latinos, socioeconomically disadvantaged and special education students. Instead, San Ramon’s news release pointed out that the district’s English learners and African American students showed improvement, with API scores of 920 and 824, respectively.

But this improvement wasn’t enough to push African American students above the federal requirement that about 78 percent score proficient in English language arts and math. Even with their impressive API score, only 68.5 percent of African Americans in the district were proficient in English language arts, while 59.5 percent scored proficient in math.

Similarly, a community news release from Mt. Diablo schools Superintendent Steven Lawrence emphasized the district’s 7-point API improvement from 786 to 793. But, it didn’t mention that the district was entering its second year of Program Improvement for failing to meet 18 criteria related to adequate yearly progress. Lawrence did note, however, that about 61 percent of students districtwide scored proficient in English language arts and math, which was below the 78 percent federal requirement.

“While an achievement gap still exists for some of our subgroups,” he said, “our schools are committed to providing necessary support to ensure that every student achieves at the highest level.”

He did not say which subgroups he was referencing or reveal how they fell short.

While it’s commendable that the San Ramon and Mt. Diablo districts distributed some information about test scores to their communities, it’s unfortunate that they shied away from telling the whole story. A district’s Accountability Progress Report is similar to a student’s report card.

If your child’s teacher highlighted his or her accomplishments, while glossing over weaknesses, would you believe you were getting a balanced progress report? And would you feel you received the information necessary to help your child overcome weaknesses?

Although many educators criticize the No Child Left Behind law as being onerous, I haven’t heard any educator say that its ultimate goal isn’t one that every school should be working toward — ensuring that really, truly, NO CHILD should be left behind.

The only question, it seems, is: How can this best be accomplished?

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