SACRAMENTO -- Academic performance scores fell in a majority of East Bay school districts this year, mirroring a trend throughout the state but signaling a reversal of last years' upward trajectory, according to test results released Thursday.
Tom Torlakson, state Superintendent of Public Instruction, said the state's overall Academic Performance Index, or API score, declined this year from 791 to 789, reflecting drops in students' scores on standardized tests taken last spring in grades 2-11 in math, English and other subjects depending on grade level. He attributed the declines to a shift in some districts to new Common Core curriculum standards that encourage critical thinking and less rote memorization, which were not assessed on the current exams. He also pointed to budget cuts that have reduced per student funding in California far below the national average.
In addition, several East Bay schools joined hundreds statewide that have been newly identified as failing under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
"It is unfortunate that officials in Washington continue to enforce a program they have acknowledged is deeply flawed, and that paints too many high-achieving schools with the same broad brush," Torlakson said. "As an elected official, I'm obliged to comply with the law. But as a teacher, I'll continue to urge Congress and the administration to get to work, change course, and replace No Child Left Behind with a workable law that fosters rather than hinders the progress California's schools are making."
The state's API requires schools and districts to score 800 on a scale of 200 to 1,000 in standardized tests to meet California's proficiency target.
In the East Bay, 22 out of 36 districts met the state goal. And two charter schools located in lower-performing districts surpassed the state targets for the first time this year.
Richmond College Prep, located in the Iron Triangle area of Richmond, scored an impressive, 33-point jump in its API score, from 795 to 828.
"Our population is 100 percent students of color -- 50 percent African-American and 50 percent Hispanic," said Founder David Rosenthal. "Why is this school's API 828, with African-Americans scoring 833, when other schools in the area are scoring in the 600s? The answer is leadership and a complete focus on educating children."
While most schools are open 180 days a year, Richmond College Prep is open 205 days a year, with activities including jiu-jitsu, Gospel Choir and mindfulness training to help educate the whole child, and the school also offers tutoring and Saturday school for struggling students, he added.
Clayton Valley Charter High School in Concord. which converted from a traditional high school to a charter last year, similarly recorded dramatic improvement, with its API jumping 62 points from 774 to 836.
Clayton Valley offers summer school and online programs. The administration promotes a culture that includes taking tests seriously, placing students in appropriate classes and stresses rigor, relevance and relationships, said Pat Middendorf, director of operations and special education.
"Teachers have tutoring hours now after school and we have the 'failure free zone,'" she said. "You can't hand in a bad paper. If it's an F, you do it over."
The San Ramon Valley, Martinez, Walnut Creek and Brentwood districts in Contra Costa County highlight the contrast between state and federal standards.
Although the districts' API scores are well above 800, all four failed to meet federal thresholds of subject proficiency and have been placed in what is called Program Improvement status. The federal guideline requires that nearly 90 percent of all students in each school and district score at grade level in English language arts and math or be subject to sanctions. Last year the threshold was about 80 percent.
Test scores for African-American students in the San Ramon Valley district improved in math, but declined in English language arts, said San Ramon Valley district spokesman Terry Koehne. Overall, low-income students saw gains in both subject areas, he said.
The Antioch, Mt. Diablo, Oakley and West Contra districts are among six in Contra Costa County that failed to meet the state API goal of 800. West Contra Costa's scores are on the rise, however, with its API growing two points to 715. The district is training its teachers in the new Common Core curriculum standards and expects to receive more money under a new state funding formula, which should help speed up academic growth, said Nia Raschidchi, assistant superintendent of educational services.
Torlakson also released California High School Exit Exam results, noting that 95.5 percent of students in the class of 2013 passed both the English language arts and math sections.
Staff writers Paul Burgarino, Rowena Coetsee, Ashly McGlone, Elisabeth Nardi and Lisa P. White contributed to this story.
What's an API score?
API stands for Academic Performance Index. It's a score from 200 (low) to 1,000 (high) based on how students at a given school or district performed on a series of standardized tests and other measures during the previous school year. The statewide goal for all schools is 800.
What's Program Improvement?
Program Improvement, also known as PI, is a category of schools and districts that for two straight years have missed at least one of the goals set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The federal goal, expressed as a percentage, rises every year.
Detailed Academic Performance Index, Adequate Year Progress and California High School Exit Exam results, including school scores, are available at http://www.cde.ca.gov.
A searchable database is at www.contracostatimes.com/education. More information about Contra Costa County results is in the On Assignment blog at www.ibabuzz.com/onassignment.