By Julie Samrick
Despite lingering budget woes, Rescue Union and Buckeye Union School Districts are celebrating the fact that every one of their schools is far exceeding the state standards as measured by the Academic Performance Index .
API is the cornerstone of California’s Public Schools Accountability Act of 1999 and it measures the academic performance and growth of schools on a variety of academic measures, including the California Standardized Testing And Reporting test all public and charter school students in grades 2-11 take each spring.
When 2012 STAR results were released late last summer, the state’s average API score was 788 — a 10 point improvement over the previous year but still below the benchmark score of 800 on a 200- to 1,000-point scale. The average scores in the Rescue and Buckeye districts, in comparison, were 907 and 897 respectively.
Every school in Rescue Union made positive gains this year, among them Lake Forest Elementary, which achieved a historically high score of 937 — the highest in El Dorado County besides Latrobe Charter (which has fewer than 100 students).
“This is unprecedented,” said RUSD Superintendent David Swart. “We’ve never seen such consistent growth across all schools. We don’t want to toot our own horn, but it’s important for parents to know when we do well.”
To maintain a high API, all students need to be taken into account. Swart said he is particularly proud of his district’s socio-economic group, or students who receive free or reduced lunch. They saw their API score rise 45 points since 2011 and the Students With Disabilities subgroup boast a 48-point gain.
Rescue Elementary and Pleasant Grove Middle School each saw a 40-point rise, which puts them over 800 and on their way to losing their previous status as “Program Improvement” schools if they can keep up the good work for the next two years.
Buckeye Union School District’s API increased by 6 points to its all-time high of 897 and has risen 73 points since district API was first calculated by the state in 2002.
“An API score is a general barometer of how kids are doing and what the quality of the education program is like in their school and district,” BUSD Superintendent David Roth explained. “A high number is the mark of a district that’s doing well.”
Roth notes Blue Oak Elementary, which gained 34 points, is the most improved in the district.
Swart credits school principals and the daily work of teachers as key. “Where principals used to be managers, they are now instructional leaders,” he said. “And teachers have veered from lectures to engaging learning experiences with students.”
Roth echoed the sentiment that it all begins with high quality teachers. “Gone are the days of teachers being isolated within the four walls of their classroom. Best practices are shared as well as challenges. We have a culture of collaboration at Buckeye and we’ll keep that up,” he said.
Swart says it does get harder to make already high numbers continue to grow, and that API doesn’t mean everything. “API reflects the common core curriculum,” he said. “We still make room for enrichment opportunities like music and P.E. It’s also a priority to reinforce the importance of responsibility, respect, and good citizenship.”
Roth agrees, and said each school site’s PTA and the Buckeye Foundation have been vital to keeping enrichment opportunities available to students when those things are being cut across the board statewide. “This great community has prevented us from making cuts,” he said. “Despite the economy we have been able to keep library associates, technology, intervention specialists, and the Accelerated Reader program thanks to PTA and The Buckeye Foundation.
“API doesn’t measure culture, school climate, or community support, but it’s a good starting point,” he added.
API scores for schools of the same type (elementary, middle and high) are ranked into “deciles,” with 1 representing the lowest-performing 10 percent of schools and 10 the highest-performing 10 percent. So a school that earns a 9/10 is in the top 90 percent for schools of that type.