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SMMUSD HQ — Students in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District posted gains in a state indicator used to evaluate schools’ progress from year to year.

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.

The school district achieved an API score of 865, according to results released by the Department of Education last week. The state’s benchmark is 800. It’s a four-point gain over the 2012 base.

“When you look at our achievement on our test scores, we made some slight gains in some areas, but what helped us increase our API was a strong gain in our graduation rate,” said Maureen Bradford, director of educational services at the district. “I think what’s really important to remember [is] we’ve had steady, incremental growth in our student achievement data which is reflected in our API. It’s that kind of steady incremental growth that is sustainable.”

For the second straight year, a majority of schools statewide met or exceeded the state performance target of 800 points on the API.

“Despite the very real challenges of deep budget cuts and the ongoing effort to shift to new, more demanding academic standards, our schools persevered and students made progress,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. “These results should give us confidence as we start the new school year, and our efforts to make college- and career-readiness a goal for every student move into high gear.”

African-American, American-Indian, Asian, Filipino, Hispanic or Latino students and other ethnicities made significant gains in their 2013 district API scores, Bradford said. African-Americans posted a seven-point gain from 738 in the 2012 base to 745, while Latinos increased four points from 787 in the 2012 base to 791 in 2013, according to the results.

White students stayed the same at 907, while students of two or more races saw their score drop by one point, she said.

The federal measurement 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.”

The district as a whole posted a “very slight” gain, scoring 76 percent proficiency in language arts and 72.2 percent in mathematics, Bradford said. Last year, language arts was 75.7 percent and mathematics was 72.1 proficient.

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 make adequate yearly progress two years in a row in any of a handful of categories they fall into what is called “program improvement,” or PI, that can allow for significant government intervention.

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

All missed at least one measure in 2011. It’s the third year for Will Rogers as a “PI” school while McKinley, John Muir and Edison are in their second year, Bradford said.

She said each year a school is considered a “PI” school, there are additional actions the district needs to take. For example, in the first year for Will Rogers, families were notified and offered a choice for their child to attend another school, if there was space available. This year, in addition to providing a choice and supplemental education services like tutoring from an outside agency at Will Rogers, the district is implementing a new curriculum, which is the Common Core, or a set of expectations adopted by states across the country that emphasize a new style of learning that values critical thinking over rote memorization and application of concepts to real-world situations.

Common Core standards were adopted by the California Department of Education in 2010, and students will be tested on them as early as the 2014-15 school year, leading educators across the state to begin brainstorming on how to change classes to make sure their students can pass the exams.


On to graduation


In addition to gains in the API, there were also some improvements in proficiency on the California High School Exit Exam, which is required by law to show that students have a 10th-grade mastery of English and an understanding of math up to algebra by the time they leave high school. Students who do not pass the exam in grade 10 have two opportunities in grade 11 and up to five opportunities in grade 12 to pass the exam.

Statewide students in the class of 2013 passed the exam at the highest rate since the test was made a graduation requirement, with 95.5 percent earning a passing score, Torlakson said in a news release.

Bradford said 10th graders have had a pass rate of 90 percent or more since 2007.

In 2013 for SMMUSD, 10th graders had a pass rate of 92 percent in English and 91 percent in math, compared to the 2012 rate of 94 percent for English and 92 percent for mathematics, Bradford said.

The 2013 10th grade proficiency rates for the exam were 76 percent in English and 73 percent in math, compared to the 2012 rates of 73 percent for English and 74 percent in math.

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