API scores continue to grow at schools

By Reggie Ellis

A little over three weeks ago the California Department of Education released the latest API rankings.

The Academic Performance Index (API) is a numeric scale ranging from a low of 200 to a high of 1000 that reflects the academic performance level of a school, school district or office of education based on the results of statewide testing. The statewide API performance target for all schools is 800.

This year, the rankings not only included a comparison of schools throughout the state, but a more telling comparison of 100 other schools with similar demographic characteristics.

The similar schools rank is a scale from 1-10, with 10 representing the top 10% of similar schools. In Exeter, each of the schools met its growth target and was in the top half of similar schools rankings for 2006. Lincoln Elementary School saw its API score jump from 749 to 813, meeting the statewide target and far surpassing its growth target of 752. Lincoln was also ranked in the top 30% of similar schools. Deputy Superintendent Diane Graziani-Orton said both the Exeter Elementary and High School districts have benefited from the coaching through the Springboard Schools, a non-profit network of educators committed to raising student achievement and narrowing the achievement gap. Founded in 1995 as the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative, Springboard has worked with 325 schools in 74 school districts in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, and Southern California.

&#8220We were one of the first schools to associate with SpringBoard three years ago and it has really helped us look more in depth at students needs,” Graziani said. &#8220It has really helped us take a broad range of data and look deep into what it means for each student.”

Graziani said Exeter teachers are doing a good job of spending more time with students on the areas where they need the most help, overall, that means English language arts in elementary schools and math in high school. One program includes afterschool classes of 12-20 students that meet for one-hour each school day. The program has paid off, as Exeter earned SpringBoard's Inquiry Award for using inquiry as a tool for improvement, from the boardroom to the classroom.

&#8220The quality of our teachers is the key,” Graziani said. &#8220Great teaching is happening in our classrooms everyday.

Steve Garvey Junior High School in Lindsay jumped 41 points, surpassed its growth target and was ranked in the top 20% of similar schools. Over the last two years, Lindsay Unified has seen over 40 points in API growth with each school increasing anywhere from 34 to 56 points. Every school except Lindsay High met its growth target and the high school was among the top rankings among similar schools.

&#8220The API is a tool in identifying trends,” said Tom Rooney, LUSD Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction. &#8220We don't look at the growth from one year to the next because you are dealing with a different group of students. One year the students might be well above average and the next year, just average. You have to look at a few years for a pattern.”

Rooney said Lindsay has always believed in teaching students to learn, not teaching them to pass a test based on the instructional strategies of Robert Marzano.

Part of Lindsay's success is its work with English Language Learners, students whose primarily language is not English, which represent 59-71% of the student population depending on the school. LUSD provides 30-45 minutes of direct instruction to ELL students and 30-60 hours of staff development under the instruction of an English Language Development specialist. In fact, every Wednesday, elementary students get out of school one-and-a-half hours early for professional development.

&#8220We invest a lot of our energy into the elementary school to catch the kids before they get behind in their reading and writing,” Rooney said.

Freedom Elementary School was the only school in the Farmersville Unified School District to meet its growth target but Snowden Elementary and the high school were only three and eight points short respectively and the high school being ranked in the top 40% of similar schools. Academic growth has flourished the last few years following a tumultuous period before that when the school board and superintendent's office seemed to turn over every few weeks in the wake of political power grab.

&#8220We would love for all the schools to be in the 90th percentile but Rome wasn't built in a day,” said Assistant Superintendent Helen Bauer.

Bauer said Farmersville qualifies for several federal programs such as Student Nest, which provides free in-home tutoring that would normally cost between $40 and $80 per hour. Farmersville students can also take advantage of the afterschool programs offered by the Boys & Girls Club of the Sequoias (Exeter and Farmersville) for a $15 annual membership.

&#8220There are more than 70 kids who are enrolled in that program at Freedom Elementary and at the Avery Church site across from Hester School,” said Bauer, referring to the two Boys & Girls Club locations.

The second part of the API reports are scheduled to be released in August in conjunction with the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) information, the federal-based academic assessment part of the No Child Left Behind Act. The 2007 Growth API reports will include information on how each of the subgroups, such as English Language Learners, did on the state standardized tests.

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