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API scores a challenge for administration

 

Last updated 9/27/2007 at Noon



Dr. Janice Schultz and Jeff Felix, elementary school superintendents for Fallbrook and Bonsall, respectively, keep a sharp eye on the performance of their schools, but situations beyond their control can affect scores. Incorrect data tallies, changing demographics and demanding tests of children who may not be ready for the material worry them.

On August 27, when the state released its API test results, Maie Ellis and William F. Frazier in Fallbrook and Sullivan Middle School in Bonsall were named Year 2 schools, meaning the second year of program improvement for each, but program improvement is already in place, say both superintendents.

For example, in Bonsall they are focusing on mathematics instruction in all grade levels, with targeted professional development of the teachers and standards based learning opportunities for the students.

Fallbrook employs similar techniques.

Regardless of their efforts it is almost impossible to achieve the five-percent gains required to meet state objectives. Sullivan dropped one point from last year; however, other schools in the district did well.

Felix says the district managed this by having “personalized and differentiated instruction for all students in all subjects. We have also better aligned our curriculum with standards based materials that have been state approved.”

The Bonsall district has also made a change in the way each school communicates with one another by forming curriculum and instruction committees at each site to keep a focus on learning, Felix says.

California set a score of 800 as its goal for all school districts, and even though Maie Ellis grew by two points from 695 to 697 – which Schultz describes as a “bobble,” meaning scores at any one school can easily fluctuate minimally – they too failed to meet their goal of five percent.

A look at the data shows performance increases in the Hispanic, Socioeconomically Disadvantaged and English Learner subgroups and a decline of 62 percent in the White category, but it could easily turn the other way in the next set of tests. For example, although Mary Fay Pendleton and San Onofre schools both exceeded 800 in their API scores, both schools dropped 13 points over last year.

The changing demographics within the district relates directly to scores at each school. This is true throughout the state, if not the country. However, in Fallbrook, the district moves students around to fill classes where needed. “We’re fairly well balanced, ethnically,” Schultz says.

Still, schools cannot control Hispanic parents who enter their children late during the term or take them out midyear, only to return a month later than their peers. Further, being a community in which children of military families are enrolled, changes of living arrangements resulting from deployments impact classes. Every time a child misses a class, the likelihood of that student failing a question on the state API or federal AYP tests increases.

Moreover, regardless of attendance, in a class composed of several struggling English learners, achieving a high test score is almost impossible. To illustrate this, in a presentation to the Fallbrook Rotary, Schultz handed out a sample California Standards test with the questions in Korean and the multiple choice answers in English.

She also provided examples of the tests in English which included questions like this one from a fourth grade math test: “The estimated cost to build a new baseball stadium is ninety-four million dollars. What is this number in standard form?” Answer choices: A) $90,400; B) $94,000; C) $90,400,000; D) $94,000,000.

Schultz also included equally difficult English language arts and science questions, pointing out that curriculum difficulty has increased, too.

California and Texas have the highest academic test benchmarks in the country. So, never mind the student isn’t mature enough for the lessons, does not have perfect attendance, cannot read study materials or has a medical problem that interferes with learning; each student will be tested according to state and federal standards, and each score tallied into the aggregate for the school and district.

A “Year 2” designation means the schools must add extra tutoring and the district must offer transfers to parents who may want to enroll their students in higher performing schools. When tutoring is required, according to Schultz, Title 1 funds become available to pay for the instruction.

Title I is described as: “Improving the Academic Achievement of the Disadvantaged” and is the guiding principal of the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Like Fallbrook Union High School’s belief that incorrect exit exam data influenced its scores, so may be the case at Fallbrook Elementary.

This happened to Potter last year when it went into program improvement by one one-hundredth of a point. Schultz says they rechecked their data and found 12 students classified incorrectly. When they made the change, it brought Potter out of program improvement status.

Possible errors notwithstanding, Maie Ellis and Frazier will implement parent-teacher conferences immediately to determine specifically what an individual student’s needs are, involving the parents.

“We have to bring children to that point of readiness. That’s our challenge,” Schultz says.

 

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