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September 21, 2010 > New Haven District's API scores climb

New Haven District's API scores climb

Submitted By Rick La Plante

For the second time in three years, students at Hillview Crest Elementary School recorded eye-opening gains, according to standardized-test results released today for the New Haven Unified School District, while Eastin Elementary continued its climb toward the top of the list of the state's highest-scoring schools. Emanuele Elementary and Alvarado Middle also made double-digit gains on the state's Academic Performance Index (API), and the District as a whole continued its steady ascent.

But in an example of the disconnect between the state's API standards and the federal Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards - and "a pretty good demonstration of one of the problems with the No Child Left Behind Act," in the words of Superintendent Kari McVeigh - New Haven has been labeled a Program Improvement district by the feds. New Haven is one of 45 districts across the state designated Program Improvement for the first time this year. A total of 341 California districts are now in Program Improvement, about one-third of the districts in the state. Eight of the other 18 districts in Alameda County have been in Program Improvement for at least two years, and another is pending.

"Our improvement over the past few years has been extraordinary, that's clear in the state results," McVeigh said. "But the federal requirements simply are accelerating each year at an unrealistic rate. That's why so many districts are being labeled Program Improvement. Unless something changes, it's a mathematical certainty that every district is going to be in Program Improvement at some point in the next couple of years."

The annual API results, released today by the California Department of Education, are scores of between 200 and 1,000 assigned to all schools and districts in the state, based on the results of standardized tests taken each spring. A minimum score of 680 is required to meet federal accountability guidelines, and the state's goal is 800.

The District's API score went up five points, to 777, well above the federal minimum, and now has risen 47 points over the past six years. AYP also continues to rise; the percentage of students scoring proficient and above increased to 57.8 percent (from 56.4 percent) in English/language arts, and to 56.4 percent (from 55.4 percent) in mathematics.

"That's the kind of steady progress that indicates our District-wide focus on literacy is the right strategy, that our teachers are doing the right work and that our classified employees and administrators are providing the right support," McVeigh said.

But scores for some sub-groups fell short of AYP cut points, McVeigh explained, "which is why the District has been labeled Program Improvement."

"The fact that our African-American and Hispanic students don't score as high as our Asian and white students isn't news to us, or that English learners and children from socio-economically disadvantaged families or with disabilities don't score as well," she said. "That's precisely why our Instructional Leadership Teams are working on issues of equity this year - both district-wide and at each of our schools. It's why we're working with Enid Lee (an internationally recognized expert on multi-cultural education) to identify our shortcomings and commit to making changes."

Improvement is already evident. Scores for the African-American and socio-economically disadvantaged sub-groups improved by 23 and 16 points, respectively, compared to the District's overall improvement of 5 points.

Among the individual schools, Hillview Crest, which two years ago recorded a remarkable 71-point increase in API, made another big jump, gaining 41 points, to 794. Ironically, Hillview Crest remains in "program improvement" under AYP criteria, even though it is very close to joining the elite "800 Club" of schools surpassing the state API goal.

Eastin, meanwhile, gained 32 points, up to 911, and continues to rank among the state's highest-scoring schools. Alvarado Middle improved 13 points, to 830, and Emanuele improved 10 points, to 781.

Alvarado Elementary improved 9 points, to 835. The "800 Club" also includes Pioneer (849) and Kitayama (828). In another example of the disparity between state and federal standards, however, Alvarado Elementary also will go into Program Improvement.

"I don't believe that label is indicative at all of the work going on at that school," McVeigh said, noting the reason Alvarado Elementary is in Program Improvement is that, for a second consecutive year, one sub-group missed the cutpoint in English/language arts.

"What people might find interesting - and some folks have argued that this is another problem with NCLB - is that it wasn't the same sub-group," the Superintendent said. "Socio-economically disadvantaged students at Alvarado, who missed the cutpoint last year, made it this year, but our Hispanic students didn't."

Alvarado Elementary and Hillview Crest are among 3,197 California schools now labeled as Program Improvement.

"Given the stigma that comes with the Program Improvement label, I think it's important to point out that the District as a whole is scoring quite well and that our schools as a whole are scoring quite well. We need to do some very specific work in some very specific areas, and we're doing it. But our teachers are doing an extraordinary job and our students are making tremendous progress, and that should be celebrated."

API scores by site: Alvarado Elementary 835, Eastin Elementary 911, Emanuele Elementary 781, Hillview Crest Elementary 794, Kitayama Elementary 828, Pioneer Elementary 849, Searles Elementary 761, Alvarado Middle 830, Cesar Chavez Middle 743, James Logan High 734, and Conley-Caraballo High 579.

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