September 6, 2008

Lausd Test Scores Improve but Trail State, Federal Goals

By Jerry Berrios; George B. Sanchez

Its students made modest gains in math and English this year, but the Los Angeles Unified School District still lags behind the state average and remains on a watch list for falling short of federal goals, according to state exam results released Thursday.

LAUSD's score on the Academic Performance Index -- the state's academic benchmark -- rose by 21 points to 683 for the 2007-08 school year. The statewide average was 742, up from 728 in 2006-07.

"We did well," LAUSD Superintendent David L. Brewer III said at a news conference in Sun Valley. "We still have a long way to go."

The API scale ranges from 200 to 1,000, with a statewide target of 800. The score is one of several used to measure a district's progress toward federal targets spelled out in the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell praised the district's performance during Brewer's news conference at John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley, one of eight district schools to show the most improvement.

"It is clear the Los Angeles Unified School District is on the right track, moving in the right direction," O'Connell said.

But for the third year in a row, LAUSD sits on a federal watch list for districts that need to show improvement because some subgroups -- African-Americans, Latinos, low-income students and English-language learners -- did not reach their target scores in math and English.

Meanwhile, fewer California schools than the year before are reaching the proficiency targets set by No Child Left Behind.

About 52 percent of California schools made this year's federal growth targets, down from 67 percent the previous year.

Within LAUSD, eight schools targeted for improvement met federal standards for two years in a row, releasing them from close scrutiny. Five of those schools are in the San Fernando Valley.

And for the first time in five years, LAUSD met federal graduation requirements.

Educators used the release of this year's Accountability Progress Report to address recurring education problems, such as graduation rates, the achievement gap between Latino and African-American students and their white and Asian-American counterparts, as well as low scores for English-language learners.

"While we are seeing a positive trend in overall student performance, we are still facing a major hurdle in the achievement of all students," O'Connell said.

The Accountability Progress Report is based on the API scores and progress toward federal growth targets.

All student subgroups in California raised their API scores by double digits since last year. AllLAUSDsubgroupsexcept Pacific Islanders improved.

Graduation rates for LAUSD rose by 2.5 percentage points to 65.3 percent in 2008.

"The district met the graduation rate criterion for the first time since 2003," wrote Senior Deputy Superintendent Ray Cortines in a report summary.

Poly's interim principal, Gerardo Loera, said the school's improvement may be hard to duplicate in the future.

"We are celebrating exiting program-improvement status at a time when it is more difficult to meet the criteria," Loera said. "It is going to become increasingly difficult over the next several years."

The school's 4,427 students take only four classes, allowing students to concentrate on those subjects, Loera said. Students at the year-round school can also take preparation courses for standardized tests.

Leslie Zarate-Wise, principal of Lull Special Education Center in Encino, credited instructors for the gains.

"Each teacher worked individually with the kids on how to improve their test scores," Zarate-Wise said.

Teachers also met with parents during the school year 2007-2008, she said.

LAUSD board member Julie Korenstein, who represents parts of the San Fernando Valley, attributed the district's improvement to an eight-year reading program and reduced class sizes for kindergarten through third grade.

"So we invested a lot of time in the elementary school level hoping that it would lift students as those children went through the pipeline," Korenstein said. "It has taken awhile, but we are starting to see it happen now."

State and local education officials said the test results indicate problems with the federal proficiency goals.

"One of the flaws of the No Child Left Behind Act is that even when schools make progress, the bar continually moves higher," Cortines wrote.

Statewide, all high school districts were expected to increase their proficiency in English-language arts and math by 11 percentage points from last year.

This year was the first in the past three that federal standards increased, O'Connell said. They will keep rising by 11 percent per year until 2013.

By 2014, all state schools are expected to be 100 percent proficient by federal standards.

"I can tell you today there is not a school in the state of California that is 100 percent proficient or advanced, but that is the goal that we have," O'Connell said.

Brewer noted that the district was showing faster improvement than most in the state, and he predicted eventually it will hit the average.

"The mere fact that we are outpacing the state in terms of growth means that we will eventually catch up to the state average and eventually achieve the 800 goal," Brewer said. "The good news is that most of those 800 schools and above are out here in the Valley."

All student subgroups, including ethnic groups, English-language learners, disabled and poor students, must meet achievement targets for a school and the district to meet what federal officials call adequate yearly progress.

Scores are based on the California High School Exit Exam and state Standardized Testing and Reporting, or STAR, program.

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To find how your school did on the tests that make up the state's Accountability Progress Reporting system, go to

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