Strong scores needed for award, as well as lots of spare time

The state's Distinguished School award goes to schools that have strong standardized test scores as well as the time to apply for the honor.

Of the state’s 5,555 elementary schools, 2,043 were deemed eligible to apply, according to the California Department of Education, but less than half, 998, applied for Distinguished School status. After evaluation of the applications and site visits by state representatives, only 377 schools received the award.

To apply, elementary schools must have reached a score of 800 on a scale of 200 to 1,000 on the state’s school ranking system, called the Academic Performance Index. Schools could also qualify with an API of 731 or above, if all of their subgroups — such as economically disadvantaged students and students from different ethnic groups — made significant progress on their state-designated growth goal. Schools must have also met their federal growth goal under the No Child Left Behind act.

Usually individual schools submit applications for the program, according to Mary Gomes, who oversees the Distinguished Schools award for the state Education Department.

The complicated application process keeps some schools from applying. “You have to do alot of work to put an application together, so it’s up to the individual schools that have the motivation to do it,” said Matt Kelemen, chief development officer for the San Francisco Unified School District, where 30 of the district’s 75 elementary schools qualified to apply but only seven went through the process. Only two of those won the award.

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