2011-09-29 / Schools

Success of local middle schools driving API improvement

By Anna Bitong

When the results of the latest standardized tests used to rate schools were released earlier this month, Conejo Valley Unified trailed only Oak Park Unified, which was the highest scoring district in Ventura County.

CVUSD students registered a cumulative 876 on this year’s Growth Academic Performance Index—whose scores range from 200 to 1,000 (800 is the benchmark)— 42 points behind Oak Park, a much smaller district with fewer students who speak English as a second language.

The district’s 876 was a ninepoint improvement over the previous year’s API. Driving the growth are CVUSD’s five middle schools, all of which raised their scores and surpassed 800 in this year’s results.

API scores are calculated using results of the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program, the California High School Exit Examination and the California Alternate Performance Assessment.

Los Cerritos (895) jumped 34 points, followed by Colina (892) which was up 28 points, Redwood (893) up 22 points, and Sequoia (880) up 12 points. Sycamore Canyon (941), which includes kindergarten through eighth grade, scored one point higher than last year. Its score is one of the best in Ventura County, putting it in the top 2 to 3 percent of all California schools.

More important, district offi- cials say, the schools also met all growth targets for subgroups set by the state this year. Subgroups in CVUSD are labeled socioeconomically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, white, Hispanic, and English learners. Students in these groups are also expected to improve their test scores each year according to the national No Child Left Behind Act.

Principals credited specific strategies with lifting scores.

Antonio Castro, principal of Los Cerritos, said the school focuses on teacher and student development, with special attention given to those still learning English.

“Last year we offered targeted instruction and homework help after school and during lunch for English learners,” Castro said.

Castro said the school’s partnership with Cal Lutheran University has also promoted consistent growth in API scores. Los Cerritos is the only school in the district and one of two schools in the county to place student teachers from the university in its classrooms. In exchange, the middle school’s teachers collaborate with CLU professors to improve their skills.

“The university benefits from having student teachers placed. The university professors are trained to do development with staff. Teachers pick things they want (to learn),” Castro said.

“Seven teachers are working on research with Cal Lutheran faculty members,” he added.

Redwood relied on a different approach to boosting academic performance. Principal Steve Lepire said that after the school’s API score dropped 20 points to 871 last year, staff implemented the Super Star program, which focuses on those students performing just below proficient standards.

“There were kids that were one to 15 points from jumping to the proficient range. We pulled a big group of kids that fell into that range. . . . They don’t need a lot of instruction,” he said.

Students were separated into six after-school classes divided by grade level, math and English starting in mid-November, Lepire said.

“We were pleased with the results. Some kids stayed the same. A couple of (scores) fell. But the majority of kids jumped from basic to proficient. That was the goal,” the principal said.

Despite all the effort Redwood’s put into meeting API standards, Lepire said he likes to remind his students and staff that it’s only one piece of the puzzle.

“We tell the students, ‘This test does not define who you are,’” Lepire said. “But it’s important. That’s why we want them to take it seriously and try their best.”

Improvement among English learners is also a priority.

“Looking at our (achievement) rate in terms of English learners, we dropped off a little bit . . . (but) we’re gradually climbing back up again,” Lepire said.

To maintain growth, Redwood will implement an intervention program for English learners. For four days a week, these students may receive additional homework help from a classroom teacher and instructional aide.

In addition to remedial programs, last year Redwood began offering an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) study skills elective that helps students with organization and focus.

“We found that to be successful,” Lepire said.

Vivian Vina, principal of Sequoia, said the school also relies on intervention to maintain a high API score. Sequoia’s Response to Intervention program provides daily lunchtime and after-school tutoring.

To support special education students, Sequoia offers a Rewards program “targeted at reading fluency and comprehension,” Vina said. The program was piloted last year.

And starting last year, parents of English learners met privately with teachers.

“Staff is thinking out of the box without a budget,” Vina said. “I’m very proud of students’ and staff’s commitment to work hard.”

Strong show

2011 Growth API scores for

CVUSD middle schools

(benchmark is 800)

Sycamore Canyon

941, up 1 point

Los Cerritos MS

895, up 34 points

Redwood MS

893, up 22 points

Colina MS

892, up 28 points

Sequoia MS

880, up 12 points

Courtesy of California

Department of Education

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