Click photo to enlarge
Teacher Annalisa McHenry helps third grade student Emanuel Rivera with his reading fluency at Foothill Elementary School in Pittsburg, Calif., on Wednesday, Sept. 19, 2012. There has been a big gain in English arts STAR test scores at the school in the last few years. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Staff)

All but one East Contra Costa school district showed incremental growth on their California Academic Performance Index scores, released by the state earlier this month.

Though Knightsen's API scores dropped from 848 to 840, it was still among the four districts that met the state's proficiency goal of 800.

Joining Knightsen were Brentwood Union, Byron Union and Oakley Union -- with Oakley being the only district that had not cleared 800 the previous year.

The API rates a district's proficiency on a scale of 200 to 1,000 based on standardized tests given every spring.

Brentwood scored 855, Byron 831, and Oakley jumped 22 points to 812.

Of the districts that placed below the proficiency mark, Liberty Union scored 786, Antioch Unified 742 and Pittsburg Unified 737.

Antioch, East Contra Costa's largest district, showed a 12-point gain on its districtwide API score. This marks the seventh time in eight years that Antioch's score has increased, trustee Walter Ruehlig said.

Mary McCarthy, director of educational services, said all of the district's major subgroups increased their test scores.

Five schools cleared the 800 mark for proficiency: John Muir, Diablo Vista and Lone Tree elementaries, Orchard Park K-8 school and Dozier-Libbey Medical High. Three more schools are at 795 or above: Carmen Dragon, Mno Grant and Sutter.


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Of the four Antioch middle schools, Antioch Middle was the lowest at 687, a drop of two points. It was also the only one not to see increased test scores.

Both comprehensive high schools in the district went up slightly; Antioch High from 664 to 681, and Deer Valley from 716 to 737.

The district's three lowest-performing elementary schools, Marsh, Mission and Fremont, all jumped at least 44 points. Those schools also met their Annual Yearly Progress, or growth targets required by federal law, in all areas. That had not happened in Antioch since Antioch Middle School made it four years ago, McCarthy said.

"It's not where you're standing, it's where you're headed," Ruehlig said during a school board meeting earlier this month.

Pittsburg Unified came in at 737, up nine points from 2011. But while district schools overall fell short of 800, five of its eight elementary schools hit or exceeded that number.

"We had four more elementary schools cross that 800 threshold (than the year before)," said district Superintendent Linda Rondeau, referring to Foothill, Heights, Los Medanos, Parkside and Stoneman. Not only that, but Parkside and Stoneman also exited the federal program improvement designation given to schools that failed to meet the test requirements of No Child Left Behind.

In 2011, Los Medanos was the only one that met the target.

Foothill Elementary's 77-point spike was the largest of any East Contra Costa school.

"We definitely hit the jackpot," said Foothill Principal Ricardo Araiza. "We are very, very excited."

Araiza noted that Foothill's 825 score far exceeded the school's goal of scoring 777 or better.

That kind of improvement did not hold at the middle and high school levels, however. Pittsburg High School's score was 678, up one point from the year before.

A more systematic and focused approach in elementary schools that includes collaboration among teachers and evaluation methods to better address students' academic needs helps explain why the lower grades are doing better than the higher grades, Rondeau said.

"What we know we've done at the elementary level, is what we now need to make sure we do at the secondary level," she said.

In Knightsen, the district's API score of 840 remains well over the state's goal, although it dropped eight points from last year's results.

Superintendent Theresa Estrada noted that students who are nonnative English speakers didn't do as well on the tests as school officials would have liked, but couldn't pinpoint other reasons for the decline.

Nonetheless, she said 840 points is "still very healthy" and pointed out that this is the first time in seven years that Knightsen's API score has decreased.

Estrada said teachers are trying to turn the situation around by reaching out earlier in the year to children who are struggling and having them stay after school for extra help.

The district also will start administering a common literacy test to students in grades K-2 so those who are having trouble can get additional coaching before they take the state exam for the first time in second grade, Estrada said.

"Everybody's working on things to help them improve," she said. "I'm pretty confident that their scores will be higher next year."Brentwood and Oakley high school students did well enough on state standardized tests to send Liberty Union High School District's API score soaring 22 points to 778.

Mary Vinciguerra, assistant superintendent of educational services, credits the gain in part to the quarterly tests that students take in core subjects.

Teachers analyze the results, looking for signs that students are not grasping concepts the state expects them to learn -- areas they might have to go over again in class, Vinciguerra said.

"We just don't keep teaching whether they get it or not," she said.

Vinciguerra also attributes the improvement to the district's emphasis on training teachers to be clear and specific about what they want students to learn each day, to have them participate in class, and to ensure that they are understanding the lesson.

Oakley Union is "over-the-top pleased" about clearing the 800 benchmark, said Anne Allen, the district's superintendent of educational services.

"Everybody's been working really hard. It speak to the hard work of our teachers," Allen said.

Among the reasons for the improvement is that the district has a full-time math coach to help teachers with strategies in algebra and other subjects.

"We're starting to see that pay off," said Allen, noting that the improvement of student skills at the elementary levels from years past is helping build momentum in middle school scores.

Delta Vista Middle's score went up 52 points to an 802, while O'Hara Park Middle saw a 27 point gain, scoring an 801.

Allen said more resources this upcoming year will be focused at Oakley Elementary, which saw a 12 point score drop and was the only school below 800.

Brentwood Union's test scores remained at the head of the East Contra Costa class. As a district, its scores went up 12 points to 855. No school scored under 823, with the exception of Marsh Creek Elementary's 794 score -- and that school's score shot up 27 points.

Adams Middle School led the district with a score of 889.

Byron Union's API score increased five points to 831. Its two elementary schools, Discovery Bay and Timber Point, went up by 29 and 23 points to 900 and 863, respectively. However, its lone middle school, Excelsior, dropped 14 points to 777.

Superintendent Ken Jacopetti credits the staff and site leadership at the elementary schools and their focus on targeted intervention efforts for those students who need more help. As for the middle school, he said an action plan has been in place by the new principal since the beginning of the school year to address the drop in scores. Since kids move from class to class in middle school, the district has built in interventions during the day, Jacopetti said.

"We were already putting the plan into high gear as we started off the year," he said. The two elementary schools also met their subgroup growth targets.

Contact Paul Burgarino at 925-779-7164. Contact Rowena Coetsee at 925-779-7141. Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189.

East Contra Costa API Scores
2012 2011 Change Program Improvement Status
Antioch Unified
District 742 730 12 3
Elementary school
Antioch
Charter Aca. 815 840 -25
Antioch
Charter Aca. II 798 735 63
Belshaw 774 790 -16 3
Carmen Dragon 797 779 18 3
Diablo Vista 813 797 16
Fremont 726 679 47 5
Grant 795 802 -7
Jack London 731 745 -14
Kimball 764 748 16 4
Lone Tree 822 818 4
Marsh 715 671 44 5
Mission 773 721 52 3
Muir (John) 801 831 -30
Orchard Park 809 790 19
R.A.A.M.P.
Charter Aca. 689 643 46 1
Sutter 799 798 1
Turner 736 745 -9 5
Middle/junior high school
Antioch 687 689 -2 5
Black Diamond 750 741 9
Dallas Ranch 781 762 19
Park 726 717 9 5
High school
Antioch 681 664 17 5
Bidwell Cont.* 512 532 -20
Bridges* #
Deer Valley 737 716 21
Dozier-Libbey
Medical 803 795 8
Live Oak (Cont.)* 574 469 105
Prospects (Alt.) 625 630 -5
Brentwood Union ELEMENTARY
District 855 843 12 3
Elementary school
Brentwood 823 819 4 1
Garin 828 820 8 4
Loma Vista 863 856 7
Marsh Creek 794 767 27 1
Pioneer 849 828 21
R. Paul Krey 886 891 -5
Ron Nunn 859 846 13
Middle/junior high school
Adams (J. Douglas) 889 871 18
Edna Hill 856 849 7 4
William B. Bristow 861 845 16
Byron Union ELEMENTARY
District 831 826 5
Elementary school
Discovery Bay 900 871 29
Timber Point 863 840 23
Middle/junior high school
Excelsior 777 791 -14
Knightsen ELEMENTARY
District 840 848 -8
Elementary school
Knightsen 841 849 -8 2
Liberty Union High
District 786 764 22
High school
Freedom 778 756 22
Heritage 834 800 34
Independence 629 610 19
La Paloma (Cont.)* 518 473 45
Liberty 781 776 5
Oakley Union ELEMENTARY
District 812 790 22 3
Elementary school
Gehringer 842 848 -6
Iron House 826 796 30 1
Laurel 849 827 22
Oakley 774 786 -12 4
Vintage Parkway 816 825 -9 1
Middle/junior high school
Delta Vista 802 750 52
O'Hara Park 801 774 27
Pittsburg Unified
District 737 728 9 3
Elementary school
Foothill 825 755 70 5
Heights 804 795 9 3
Highlands 765 734 31 3
Los Medanos 860 875 -15
Marina Vista 764 774 -10
Parkside 809 775 34
Stoneman 815 767 48
Willow Cove 734 745 -11 3
Middle/junior high school
Hillview 733 737 -4 5
Rancho Medanos 734 727 7 5
High school
Pittsburg Senior 678 677 1
Riverside (Cont.)* 498 398 100