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La Jolla High and Muirlands Middle see API scores rise

By Marsha Sutton

Contributor

Recently released Academic Performance Index numbers by the state show that Muirlands Middle School grew by six points this year, to 882, tying for 14th place with Carlsbad’s Aviara Oaks Middle School.

The only other San Diego Unified School District middle school to score higher than Muirlands was Scripps Ranch’s Marshall Middle School, ranked fifth with a 924 API. There are about 97 middle schools in the county.

La Jolla High School’s API increased by 10 points this year, to 841, placing it 11th in the rankings of the top San Diego County high schools. The other high-achieving high schools from San Diego Unified were UCSD Preuss Charter at 885, Scripps Ranch at 875 and Mt. Everest Academy at 871 — ranked third, fourth and fifth. Scripps Ranch and La Jolla are the only large, comprehensive high schools from SD Unified on the list of top schools. San Diego County has about 94 high schools.

Chris Hargrave, principal of Muirlands, said staff at her school is “really working hard to help all students achieve. If you walked in our classrooms, you would see kids learning, (and) you would see teachers working with kids to engage them in that learning process.”

La Jolla High School principal Dana Shelburne said they are “gratified that we’ve moved up to 841.”

“I think for us the good news is we don’t do anything special relative to test preparation,” he added. “I know other schools do. We have so much to do with the regular curriculum that we don’t have time to stop learning material so we can try to do better on a test. So that test is a natural outgrowth of what we’re doing here.”

The state’s API numbers, which can be found on the California Department of Education Web site at www.cde.ca.gov, are compiled based primarily on the performance of public school students in grades 2-11 who take California Standards Tests each spring. The API is a number between 200 and 1,000 that rates each school’s academic performance. The statewide target, set 10 years ago, is 800.

In addition to county, district and school scores, API results released in September also included API numbers for each school’s demographic subgroups of students who are categorized by race, ethnicity and background. The purpose for this is to provide schools with data that can help close the achievement gap that typically exists between white and Asian students and students in other subgroups.

Federal standards

The federal benchmark, Adequate Yearly Progress, measures improvement based on a number of criteria which varies from school to school. According to the CDE, there can be as many as 50 criteria, and a school can fail to make AYP if even one of those criteria is not met.

Despite growth in API achievement at La Jolla’s middle and high schools, neither made Adequate Yearly Progress. To meet AYP, all criteria must be met.

Muirlands Middle School made 19 out of 21 AYP criteria. Two subgroups, Hispanic and economically disadvantaged students, missed their English/language arts proficiency targets.

La Jolla High School met 18 of its 20 AYP criteria, with English learners and the economically disadvantaged missing their math proficiency targets.

Of the 1,006 Muirlands students included in the 2010 Growth API calculations, 32 percent were Hispanic, 54 percent white, 28 percent economically disadvantaged and 23 percent English language learners. Although API scores for the white and English learner subgroups rose, API numbers declined for the Hispanic and low-income subgroups.

La Jolla High School reported 1,166 students included in the API calculations this year (12th-graders are not included in the testing), with significant, double-digit API increases recorded for Hispanic, white, economically disadvantaged and English learner subgroups. Hispanic students represented 28 percent of the total tested, white students 56 percent, low-income students 24.7 percent and English learners about 14.6 percent.

Criticism for the process

Both Hargrave and Shelburne said they were pleased with their schools’ achievement but criticized the testing process by which API numbers are calculated.

Hargrave said only about half of her students are neighborhood children, and the other half are bused in from other parts of the district. She said the kids who have attended La Jolla’s three elementary schools, whether they live in the area or not, have learned the necessary skills to be academically successful.

“The students who come to us from our feeder schools, they succeed,” she said. “They have high test scores, and these elementary schools do an outstanding job preparing them for middle school. But not all schools provide that same level of preparation.”

Hargrave is aiming next for 900 on the API.

“But more than the 900, we would like to see our subgroups get closer to the performance level of white and Asian students,” she said. “Closing the achievement gap is something that obviously greatly concerns us.”

Although Shelburne said he was pleased that all his school’s subgroups met their academic goals, he criticized the tests upon which the API numbers are primarily based.

Because students have no personal motivation to do well on the California Standards Tests, Shelburne believes the scores are neither reliable nor valid.

“And those are the two hallmarks of good tests,” he said. “This test doesn’t mean a thing to a kid who has a class in English, and that grade in English is not going to go up or down regardless of what the score on the CST is.

“There’s no incentive whatsoever. Why is the state — and the feds are right behind them — putting such a high value on an exam that the kids don’t take seriously?”

Shelburne supports the movement to make CST scores count as part of the class grade. “I think everybody statewide would support (that) because that’s a way to make it more valid and more reliable,” he said.