SMMUSD HDQTRS — Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District posted gains in a state indicator used to evaluate schools’ progress from year to year, but more than half of campuses — 10 of 17 — failed to achieve standards set by the federal government.

The California Department of Education uses a measure called the Academic Performance Index, which compiles scores from standardized tests covering English, mathematics, science and history.

Students’ scores are based not only on their performance, but how much better they did than the year before. More points are awarded to students that raise their scores from the lowest level than to those that go from proficient to advanced, said Dr. Maureen Bradford, the director of assessment, research and evaluation with the school district.

“It’s really about making sure all of the kids are moving up,” she said. “Once you get to the very high levels of performance, you focus on moving from the proficient level to the advanced level. That is, indeed, what our kids have been doing.”

According to results released by the California Department of Education Wednesday, the school district achieved a score of 855 the API. The state’s benchmark is 800.

That marks an 11-point gain over the district’s 2010 scores, and exceeds the state average of 778.

“The 2011 API report speaks to the professionalism and commitment of our classroom teachers, school administrators, support staff and district staff,” said Superintendent Sandra Lyon in a press release.

In contrast, the federal system, built into the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, creates a steadily climbing benchmark that dictates that all districts and schools reach 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

It measures schools and districts against an “annual measurable objective,” which for 2011 was 67 percent of students scoring proficient on English and math tests.

The district as a whole scored 75.9 percent proficiency in English and 71.4 percent in math, but that’s not the end of the story.

Districts that receive federal money for Title 1 schools, or schools with at least 40 percent of the student body considered economically disadvantaged, have an extra burden.

If they fail to achieve those goals two years in a row in any of 25 categories, they fall into a category called “program improvement,” or PI, that can allow for significant government intervention into the offending school.

Not all schools have to score in all categories. For instance, Franklin Elementary was judged out of nine categories, while McKinley Elementary had to achieve 21 different measures.

SMMUSD has four Title 1 schools, Edison Language Academy, McKinley, John Muir Elementary School and Will Rogers Elementary School.

All missed at least one measure in 2011. It’s the second year for Will Rogers, which is now a “PI” school.

That means that parents will be informed about the school’s status, and will have the option to pull their children out of the school and put them in another elementary school in the district that has room.

That’s nothing new, Bradford said.

“We have open enrollment. Parents can request a transfer to a school that’s not their neighborhood school. The difference with PI is that the district has to provide transportation to families that want to switch,” Bradford said.

Since the federal government doesn’t provide money to pay for the transportation it requires, the mandate means more money taken away from instruction and put into carting children from their neighborhood to a new school.

Given that the federal requirements will be higher next year than in 2011, other schools might fall into the PI category.

School officials across the state have risen up against the standards, which classified 913 schools, including Will Rogers, as “failing.”

“I have serious concerns about how the federal government measures success,” said Tom Torlakson, the State Superintendent of Schools in a telephone press conference Wednesday.

Despite nine years of continuous progress in API scores on the state level, as of this year almost 4,000 schools have been labeled as “failing” by the federal government.

With the state of the economy and the lack of funding coming from the government to meet the mandates, Torlakson has appealed to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to hold off on imposing the No Child Left Behind sanctions.

“We need a time out on No Child Left Behind’s unfair and arbitrary standards that can’t be met,” Torlakson told journalists.

Although SMMUSD officials hope that the act’s provisions will be postponed, they’re already taking action to inform parents and explain the new PI status.

Will Rogers Principal Steve Richardson, who is starting his second year with the school, announced that the school would be holding three informational sessions for parents in the coming weeks.

Although he doesn’t argue with using tests and measures to gauge performance, Richardson doesn’t think that the federal standard serves his school well.

“Accountability is a good thing,” Richardson said. “I just think it needs to really consider the advantages and disadvantages that kids have when they come to school, which this model does not.”

Moving forward, Will Rogers will continue to focus its attention on literacy and the social-emotional skills of the students to enhance learning by instructing the “whole child.”

The first town hall meeting is today, at 6:30 p.m. in Will Rogers’ library.

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