City, Peninsula schools move up

The new annual Academic Performance Index rankings of California public schools — tracking students’ collective scores on statewide tests — delivered more good news than usual, especially for San Francisco and San Mateo counties. San Francisco Unified Schools continue to be No. 1 among California’s large urban districts. SFUSD in 2007 improved to 764, bringing the district just below the state’s target score of 800 out of a possible 1,000.

All three Peninsula school levels scored well above the state average. For the first time, more than half of San Mateo County’s elementary schools reached the 800 target — 51 percent, compared with 37 percent statewide. And 48 percent of middle schools achieved 800, nearly twice the 25 percent state average. High school scores improved the most, with 41 percent meeting the 800 benchmark — up from just 8 percent in 2006 and far ahead of the 15 percent statewide average.

<p>Unfortunately, the heartening news that more California public schools last year made bigger improvements than ever must be seen against the dismal realization that an overwhelming majority of schools are nowhere near a minimally acceptable 800 score on standard tests of basic knowledge. Results get worse as students spend more years in school. Overall test scores for blacks and Hispanics remain hundreds of points below the scores of Asians and whites. And high school dropout rates are still epidemic.

Yet on the other hand, a mere |5 percent of California high schools could meet the 800 target in 1999, and that total is now tripled to

15 percent. Throughout the state’s public school system, improvement continues inching forward yearly.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom summed up the overall situation for The Examiner on Wednesday, saying “We’re doing better than our peers, but the bar is relatively low. I’m proud of our progress, but we need much more audacious goals.”

SFUSD Superintendent Carlos Garcia plans topinpoint trouble spots and respond quickly with extra help. Another promising new program would analyze and replicate the methods of those district schools showing most success at helping low-performing students improve.

On the Peninsula, two countywide programs are credited with helping raise the API scores. The free Preschool for All has expanded in recent years, helping many lower-income or English-learning children who need an early boost to handle their first classroom experiences.

County educators also expanded a program supporting and training new teachers who tend to start their careers at underperforming schools and too often quit in discouragement.

A movement has developed this year to include career-technical education courses as an optional API category along with English, math, history and science. This makes sense to us, considering that qualified technicians of all types are much needed in California and these career courses include algebra and other science classes.

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