Union Democrat staff

With teacher layoffs, plummeting state aid, closing campuses and canceled programs, there's not a lot of good news on the education front lately.

But Tuolumne and Calaveras county schools have bucked that trend, posting good state test scores, exceeding the California average and showing improvement over previous years.

Consider the results below:

• In Tuolumne County, 14 of 19 schools improved their scores and 11 of them met federal progress standards, meaning test scores improved significantly over last year. In Calaveras County, 13 of 16 schools met the mark.

• Fourteen of 19 Tuolumne County schools posted scores exceeding the state average Academic Performance Index mark of 755. Twelve of 19 topped the California target of 800, and two (Pinecrest Elementary and the Connections Visual and Performing Arts Academy at Summerville High) were in rarefied air, scoring above 850.

• In Calaveras County, students at 13 of 16 schools exceeded the state average, six schools topped the state target of 800 and two (Avery Middle School and Hazel Fischer Elementary) exceeded 850.

Some schools showed dramatic improvement since 2008: Three Tuolumne County schools (Belleview Elementary, Black Oak Elementary and Dario Cassina High) upped their scores by more than 50 points. In Calaveras, Hazel Fischer skyrocketed 52 points to a county high of 879.

API rankings are based on Standardized Testing and Reporting exams given to students last spring, graduation rates and, for high schoolers, scores on state-required exit exams.

Although some criticize "teaching for the test" and argue that such focus can deprive students of a more complete and well-rounded education, it is hard to argue with success.

Yes, school scores have been known to fluctuate from year to year and - because STAR scores have no effect on grade-point averages - some students lack motivation. But tests are really the only practical gauge of knowledge and performance.

Also, administrators and teachers at schools that do well don't often knock the tests.

Belleview Principal Paula Maucere, for instance, said her school's 65-point API jump to 845 was no accident. "This is something that we worked for very hard," she said. "We try to have a solid core curriculum."

And that all 126 Belleview students participated in campuswide celebration of the school's success couldn't hurt future motivation,

Then there's the curious case of Sullivan Creek School, which scored an excellent 833 last year and an even better 847 this year. It was just named one of only 25 California Blue Ribbon schools by the U.S. Department of Education.

Except that Sullivan Creek doesn't exist anymore. The Curtis Creek School District Board year closed the K-5 Crystal Falls school for financial reasons. But just because there's no campus doesn't mean there should be no celebration.

Those 170 Blue Ribbon kids and their dozen Blue Ribbon instructors are all over at Curtis Creek School now, as is former Sullivan Creek principal Elizabeth Burr. As pretty as the Hidden Valley Road campus was, the teachers and students won the award.

They, as well as counterparts at the well-performing schools throughout Tuolumne and Calaveras counties, deserve high praise for their effort.