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School District Passes State Test with Honors

By Ann K. Williams
Staff Writer

September 2 -- The State Department of Education released its 2004-2005 report cards for California’s schools Wednesday morning and the Santa Monica-Malibu School District passed with high marks.

“We are ecstatic.” “I’m just blown away.” “It’s really amazing.” These were some of the off-the-cuff comments by top administrators when asked about the State’s evaluation of local schools.

“Our district’s growth of 19 points is remarkable for a district that continues to score well above state and county levels,” District Superintendent Dr. John E. Deasy said in a press release.

He was referring to the District’s 2005 Academic Performance Index (API), which topped the 800 mark -- the “ultimate goal” for schools and school districts -- at 806 points.

The API ranges from 200 to 1,000 points and is largely based on student performance on an array of standardized tests.

Nine schools posted API scores of more than 800 points. Point Dume, Roosevelt, Webster and Franklin elementary schools had API scores of more than 900 points.

Eleven out of 14 local schools showed double-digit API gains this year. McKinley Elementary School topped the list with a gain of 42 API points.

“We were just so thrilled,” McKinley Principal Irene Gonzalez said. She credits “an incredible group of dedicated teachers working collaboratively to make sure they have a strong program for the kids” for her school’s success.

McKinley is “one of the most diverse schools in Santa Monica,” with “18 different languages represented,” Gonzalez said.

In addition to achieving high API scores, the District also exceeded all 34 of the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) 2005 targets required under the Federal No Child Left Behind Act.

AYP scores for grades two through eight are largely based on student performance on English language arts (ELA) and mathematics tests administered by the State. High School AYP scores are based on the performance of sophomores on the California High School Exit Exam.

The scores are based on performance, not on a curve, and are assigned by percentages within ranges called “far below basic,” “below basic,” “basic,” “proficient” and “advanced.”

No Child Left Behind mandates that 100 percent of all the nation’s students must score at the proficient level or above in 2013. The AYP target for student proficiency increases year by year to meet the federal law’s ambitious goal.

This year’s AYP target was 23.0 per cent proficiency in ELA and 23.7 per cent proficiency for mathematics.

According to data on the California Department of Education’s website, 65.3 percent of Santa Monica-Malibu students tested proficient in ELA and 61.8 per cent tested proficient in mathematics.

All subgroups of students taken as a District-wide whole, including students with disabilities and English language learners, scored above AYP targets, according to the State website.

The success story of the day was Santa Monica High School, which has been in the throes of an experimental and controversial reorganization during the past three years.

The “redesign” organizes the school into six “houses,” each with its own administrators and counselors. Redesign advocates claim it creates a more personal environment in which each student’s progress can be monitored over time.

The State’s analysis of SAMOHI’s test scores seems to vindicate the school’s redesign, according to Chief Educational Officer Dr. Ilene Straus.

“We are so proud,” Straus said. The school has gained 47 API points in the last three years thanks to “strong focused redesign, good strong teaching practice... and long-term focused support” for students and teachers alike.

Straus was particularly pleased that SAMOHI scored 741 API points this year. “Our population is so diverse, it’s really amazing.”

Deasy agreed, calling the gains “an incredible achievement” that “reflects the power of redesign and smaller learning communities.”

“I think it’s going to get even better,” Straus said. “It’s a lot of tough work,” but “we are well along the road” of the five year redesign plan, she added.

“We’re not satisfied,” Straus said, alluding to the gap in scores between socioeconomically disadvantaged and more affluent students, but “we’re narrowing the achievement gap.” (See related story)

While the overall tendency in the District was for scores to go up, there were variations in achievement among schools and subgroups of students, seeming to prove that a rising tide lifts all boats -- but some are lifted higher than others.

For instance, John Adams Middle School, where more than 41 percent of students are labeled socioeconomically disadvantaged, failed to meet its AYP goals in large part because of insufficient improvement in mathematics by African American and Latino students. But it did gain 2 API points, indicating overall improvement.

Across town, Lincoln Middle School showed an impressive 30 point API gain and met its AYP goals handily. Its population includes 17 percent socioeconomically disadvantaged students.

“JAMS has made progress,” Director of Educational Services Maureen Bradford pointed out. Their API has risen from 736 to 767 in three years, she said.

“They’re on the right track, they just need support in order to deliver instruction to all students,” Bradford said.

The District is helping the middle school set up a new program that has as its goal “getting to know the kids well over time so no one falls through the cracks,” Bradford added.

Santa Monica Alternative School and Olympic High also failed to meet all of their AYP targets, but District officials pointed out that these are “alternative school settings” and will be evaluated under a different set of rules.

For more detailed information, visit the California Department of Education website at http://ayp.cde.ca.gov and click on “reports” and then on “District List of Schools and District Level Reports” to see the District’s 2005 Accountability Progress Reports. Individual school reports can be seen at the same site.

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