API shows schools slipping: Demographics, transfers can cause change in scores

Gilroy
– The school scores and rankings released by the California
Department of Education Tuesday are seen by school officials as a
fairly accurate snapshot of student achievement, taken at the time
of testing.
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – The school scores and rankings released by the California Department of Education Tuesday are seen by school officials as a fairly accurate snapshot of student achievement, taken at the time of testing.

That snapshot, the Academic Performance Index, shows that consistent improvement proved a challenge last year for Gilroy Unified School District.

As Gilroy incorporates neighborhood schools for the third year, and more students attend schools nearest their homes, the “similar schools” to which they are compared can change drastically. That fluctuation in the student population from school to school district-wide can have an effect on maintaining consistent API progress, although under the state ranking system, schools here still will be compared against 100 like schools state-wide – albeit different ones than the year before.

Compared with all California schools and given a ranking from one to 10, with 10 being the highest, seven Gilroy schools scored five or above, and five scored below. Compared to those with similar characteristics – including ethnicity, socio-economic status, percent of English learners and number of teachers will full credentials – just three Gilroy schools scored five or above, and nine were below.

“Our schools are changing their rankings yearly,” Superintendent Edwin Diaz said.

When the results of the Standardized Testing And Reporting program (STAR) were released last fall, many schools in GUSD had lower-than-expected scores, so a drop in the rankings Tuesday was not unexpected, Diaz said.

Similar schools rankings are still a good indicator of how schools are comparing to their counterparts, Diaz said. Principals will pick out local, successful similar schools and visit them to pick up some of their best strategies.

“You pay attention to (the similar school ranking), you understand it, but it isn’t the only indicator of success at a school,” he said.

As much as similar schools can tell about where Gilroy stacks up, they cannot be compared over time, so the district must monitor individual student progress through the grades to gauge its own progress, he said.

The impact of neighborhood schools’ attendance areas varies from school to school. Las Animas Elementary School, for example, has the fewest attendance area students, partially because one-third of its population is enrolled in the Dual Immersion program for English Language Learners, regardless of where in the city they live.

Eliot Elementary continues to acquire more English learners, and by next year – when students return to their Seventh Street campus – will be one of the schools nearest having 100 percent of students from within its attendance area. South Valley Middle School is going through a similar demographic change.

Some elementary schools lost their sixth grade classes last year, when Ascencion Solorsano Middle School opened. At Rucker Elementary in North Gilroy, half of it’s sixth grade class had been high-achieving students enrolled in Gifted And Talented Education. Others have left or chosen other schools, Principal Steve Gilbert said.

“Part of what happened is this year, we did not fill up any of the GATE classes – I think in large part because of the transportation” when the district stopped busing, Gilbert said.

There could be even more of a flux when next year’s test scores are released: The district had an overwhelming number of school-to-school transfers this fall, when it all but stopped busing students to schools outside their attendance areas. By phasing in the attendance areas, nearly all second-graders are at their neighborhood schools (Kindergarten and first grade do not administer standardized tests). Most of the transfers made within GUSD were in the third, fourth and fifth grades.

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