Peninsula schools still strong, but state gaining ground

San Mateo County schools, once lauded for far exceeding the state’s average test scores, have remained static in recent years — and the rest of California’s schools are catching up.

According to data released by the California Department of Education on Thursday, San Mateo County students, while performing well on state standardized tests overall, have not made many advances in the past three years, while schools across the state have leaped forward. The news deflated education leaders in a county where people spend a lot to live and send their children to school.

On Thursday, the Department of Education released two sets of information: a numerical state ranking and whether or not enough students were proficient in math and English to make the federal benchmarks required under the No Child Left Behind Act.

The accountability model, known as the Academic Performance Index, or API, gives each school and district a score on a scale of 200 to 1,000, with a target statewide of 800.

The state data showed that San Mateo County has leveled — in 2006, county schools’ average score was 807; in 2007, it was 801. This year, it’s 809.

Meanwhile, state scores have gone up from 720 in 2006 to 727 in 2007, and have now increased to 742 in 2008.

“They’re closing in,” said Cheryl Hightower, associate superintendent for instruction services for San Mateo County’s Office of Education.

The federal report card reflected a similar trend. The Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, requires each school and its ethnic and socioeconomic subgroups of students to meet proficiency benchmarks.

Of San Mateo County’s 177 schools, about 61 percent made their federal AYP goal, down from 76 percent, according to county officials.

Schools that fail to meet the federal benchmarks for two years in a row are labeled in need of “Program Improvement” and face sanctions ranging from parental notification to state takeover.

About 15 percent of San Mateo County’s schools face these sanctions. Four schools improved their scores enough to get taken off of the Program Improvement list this year, but five others were assigned that status.

Redwood City Elementary District saw significant improvements in some schools but slides in others. Two of its schools that previously had Program Improvement status were able to boost their test scores on state standardized tests enough to lose the designation.

Eight other schools in the 17-school district, however, remain on Program Improvement.

Superintendent Jan Christenson, who has led the district for two years, said Redwood City Elementary District has implemented a plan teaching core curriculum that she’s hopeful will turn things around. She said the plan was successfully implemented at schools that were taken off Program Improvement status.

It’s unclear how the district might progress in years to come, she said, because the percentage of students required to reach proficiency in math and English is getting higher in order to reach a goal under No Child Left Behind to have all students reach the bar by 2014.

“Achievement scores are going up but the goals are going up too, so it’s a question of which goes up the fastest,” said Dr. Porter Sexton, a senior administrator at the county’s Education Office.

Yearly sanctions

Schools not meeting yearly federal benchmarks that determine whether they have made progress are assigned “program improvement” status. Each year a school remains on such status, it receives additional assistance from the state — but faces heftier sanctions.

* Parents notified of PI status
* School must set aside funds for professional development
* Parents allowed to transfer children out of school
* County schools:
Garden Village Elementary, Jefferson High, Allen (Decima M.) Elementary, Spruce Elementary and Edison-McNair Academy

* Year 1 guidelines apply
* Students receive supplemental educational services
* County schools:
Farallone View Elementary, Costano Elementary, Stanford New School, Henry Ford Elementary, Newcomer Academy, John F. Kennedy Middle, Belle Air Elementary, Fiesta Gardens International, George Hall Elementary and North Shoreview Elementary

* Year 1-2 guidelines apply
* District must do one of the following:
Replace school staff, implement new curriculum, decrease management authority at school level, appoint outside expert, extend school year or day or restructure school
* County schools: Thomas R. Pollicita Middle, Hoover Elementary, McKinley Institute of Technology, Hillcrest and Roosevelt Elementary

* Year 1-3 guidelines apply
* District must prepare plan for alternative governance of school
* District must do one of the following:
Reopen school as a charter, replace all or most staff including principal, contract with outside entity to manage school, state takeover or additional restructuring
* County schools: Alvin S. Hatch Elementary and Green Oaks

* Year 1-4 guidelines apply
* District must implement alternative governance plan developed in Year 4
* County schools:
Manuel F. Cunha Intermediate, Pescadero Elementary and Middle, Belle Haven Elementary, Willow Oaks Elementary, Cesar Chavez Elementary, Forty-Niners Academy, Fair Oaks Elementary, Garfield Elementary Charter, College Park Elementary, Bayside S.T.E.M. Academy and Parkway Heights Middle

Source: California Department of Education

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