District celebrates students’ scores
By Rose Marie Scott-Blair
Ramona Unified School District (RUSD) has recorded its highest scores in the nine-year history of the state’s Academic Performance Index (API), which ranks schools on a numeric index ranging from 200 to 1,000.
The newly released scores put the district at 820 for 2011, up 11 points from a year ago. State standards call for schools to score at least 800 — a goal reached by 54 percent of schools in the county (up from 52 percent a year ago) and by 49 percent of schools in the state (up from 46 percent).
“By means of concentrated, strategic, focused efforts, the RUSD staff strives to create the optimal learning environment for each and every student,” said Cathy Pierce, assistant superintendent of education services. “Our data shows our plan is working. Students are learning. Our API scores are our evidence.”
Despite these record scores, the Ramona district and 38 others in the county (out of a total of 41) did not reach federal targets set by the 2001 No Child Left Behind act (NCLB). This act requires states to measure the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) of schools receiving federal Title 1 funds, which go to schools with low-income populations of at least 40 percent.
Using the same data gathered for the state API index, schools must meet AYP criteria, which escalate annually, in dozens of categories and subgroups, including special education, English learners, ethnic groups and economically disadvantaged students.
When a school fails to meet AYP criteria for two consecutive years, it is deemed to be in need of improvement and placed in Program Improvement (PI) status. The Ramona district and six others in the county, including Julian Union Elementary, Santee Elementary, Valley Center-Pauma Unified and Chula Vista, have just received this first-year PI designation, joining 18 other county districts that were given PI status in previous years.
The Ramona district was singled out because Hanson Elementary did not meet the AYP criteria for the third year. All other schools in the Ramona district did meet the criteria or do not receive Title 1 funds.
The PI status calls for reform and gives parents the right to move their child to a better-rated school. If PI status continues for five years, a school can be totally restaffed, reopened as a charter school or taken over by the state.
However, these federal AYP criteria and the PI designation are controversial and have been dubbed unfair and inaccurate by educators.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson recently called the NCLB policies “flawed” and asked U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to freeze the imposition of sanctions at last year’s level. In the past Duncan himself has said that NCLB is “far too punitive and prescriptive.”
“Schools and districts throughout California are anxiously awaiting Arne Duncan’s response for NCLB relief,” Pierce said.
She pointed out that only two districts in the county (Bonsall and Borrego Springs) met the AYP standards for 2011. Therefore, there are 16 other county districts, including Julian Union High, that could be headed for PI status.
Educators are united in believing that the focus should be on the rising API scores, instead of the controversial federal standards.
“Are students learning at a higher rate than last year?” Pierce asked. “In Ramona Unified, the answer is a resounding ‘YES!’”
Looking at the statewide scores, Torlakson praised students, parents and educators for working hard to improve “even in the face of severe cuts to school funding,”
“At school after school, and among every significant ethnic group, California’s students are performing better than ever,” Torlakson said. “The failure here is in our politics, not our public schools.”
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