Most Tuolumne and Calaveras county schools slipped this year in a marker of school quality known as the “Academic Performance Index,” though many still cleared goals established by the state.
As part of California’s system for holding schools accountable, the API assigns schools scores from 200 to 1,000 based on standardized test performance. The state has established a target score of 800 for all schools.
Scores for spring 2013 slipped at nine non-alternative Calaveras County schools and 10 in Tuolumne County, according to data released Aug. 29 by the California Department of Education.
The biggest drops at non-alternative programs were at San Andreas Elementary School, where the API slipped by 45 points, and Tioga High School, which saw a loss of 59 points.
Tuolumne County Superintendent of Schools Joe Silva noted many local schools are still “high performing,” meaning they scored at the state goal of 800 or higher.
Nine did so in Tuolumne County — all schools but Jamestown Elementary, Chinese Camp Elementary, Twain Harte Middle School and schools in Big Oak Flat-Groveland Unified School District and Sonora Union High School District.
Eight Calaveras County schools had APIs of 800 or higher, including all three schools in the Vallecito Union School District and both within Mark Twain Union Elementary School District. Bret Harte High School, Jenny Lind Elementary and Valley Springs Elementary came within only a few points of the goal.
But the drop in API scores helped set many Mother Lode schools behind on what the state defines as “Adequate Yearly Progress,” a system mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.
California calculates Adequate Yearly Progress from a combination of STAR test scores, participation rates, and graduation rates and High School Exit Exam results for high schools.
The benchmark, widely criticized as unrealistic and unfair, required about 90 percent of students to score at the “proficient” level or better on this year’s math and English STAR tests.
If parts of the standardized testing system weren’t being suspended, schools would need to have a full 100 percent of their students scoring at the “proficient” level in 2014 — or face penalties.
“That’s almost like saying all students in school will get A’s on every single test they ever take, and we know it’s not statistically possible,” said Tuolumne County Deputy Superintendent of Schools Margie Bulkin. “It’s our biggest criticism of this whole ranking system.”
Furthermore, the consequences of failing to make Adequate Yearly Progress only apply to schools that accept federal funding for disadvantaged students known as Title I funding.
The non-alternative Tuolumne County schools that made “adequate” progress in all subjects for 2013 were Belleview Elementary School, Chinese Camp Elementary School, Black Oak Elementary School, Summerville High School and the smaller schools also within Summerville Union High School District.
In Calaveras County, the non-alternative schools that met benchmarks were Mokelumne Hill Elementary, Rail Road Flat Elementary and Mountain Oaks Charter School.
When schools that accept federal Title I money fail to meet the annual targets established by No Child Left Behind, they enter what the law calls “Program Improvement” status and must take corrective measures — at least on paper.
The requirements get progressively more stringent if the school fails to improve. In the first year of Program Improvement, schools must offer families the choice to attend another school without that designation and pay for transportation costs.
Several local schools, including Sonora High School and Soulsbyville Elementary, are in their third year of Program Improvement. Curtis Creek is in its fourth, but the only Calaveras County or Tuolumne County school in its fifth year is San Andreas Elementary.
The school would have had to replace most of its staff, reopen as a charter school or take other drastic measures if the requirements were strictly enforced.
Calaveras Unified School District Superintendent Mark Campbell said that “realistically,” San Andreas Elementary is doing what it always does — examining data, not just the STAR tests, to identify and correct shortcomings in programs.
No Child Left Behind is “ill-informed legislation created by primarily non-educators,” Campbell said in an email. He pointed out that statewide, a “staggering” number of schools aren’t meeting the impossibly high Adequate Yearly Progress targets.
Bulkin said Program Improvement statuses will become moot next year because the Elementary and Secondary Education Act — which includes No Child Left Behind — must be reauthorized.
“In many ways, the consequences for program improvement have lost their steam because we’re transitioning to new state standards and new accountability standards,” she said.
She and Silva have both stressed that STAR tests and API scores leave out subjects like world languages, fine arts and other areas where many students and schools shine.
New standardized tests being rolled out next year, called the Smarter Balanced Assessments, will more fairly assess students and provide a more well-rounded picture of their abilities, Bulkin said.