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API scores rise in North County

COAST CITIES — Recently released 2012 Academic Performance Index (API) scores reveal that all coastal North County school districts achieved higher standardized test scores than previous years, with a number of individual schools scoring within the highest statewide percentiles.While some districts have implemented new educational programs and others have honed in on individual student performance, many administrators say that their schools avoid focusing on test scores and instead center their efforts on assessed student learning.

“We focus on high quality instruction, so we don’t really focus on the test,” said Shelly Peterson, Del Mar Union Elementary Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction.

Yet, they also concede that the districts’ high performances on standardized tests and high academic achievement as a whole can be attributed to schools being located in affluent communities.

API scores are the state’s accountability measures used to determine a school’s performance level and growth. They are based on scores on standardized tests, including STAR tests and the California High School Exit Exam taken by grades second to twelfth.

The scores are measured on a 200 to 1,000 point scale, and the state target for all schools is 800.

According to the most recent API scores released by the California Department of Education on May 24, Cardiff Elementary, Carlsbad Unified, Del Mar Union Elementary, Encinitas Union Elementary, Oceanside Unified, Rancho Santa Fe Elementary, San Dieguito Union High, and Solana Beach Elementary districts all achieved higher API scores in 2012 than in 2011.

Districts’ 2012 API scores ranged from Del Mar Union Elementary’s 961 score to Oceanside Unified’s 788 score, though most scored around the lower 900s.

The majority of schools within these districts achieved scores in the high-800 to mid-900 range, reaching the top 10 and 20th percentile statewide, according to the data.

School administrators say that the secret to their API success is focusing on learning rather than standardized test scores.

“When you focus on test scores, it’s easy to fall,” said Encinitas Union Elementary Assistant Superintendent David Miyashiro.

Rather, the Encinitas district has focused in recent years on implementing its digital one-to-one learning program, which involves students using iPads for school work and having their answers being sent to teachers’ iPads.

“When the kids are working and learning on their iPads, the teachers are getting more data faster and getting which students are getting it and which ones are not,” explained Miyashiro.

He said that as a result, “The teacher can spend more time on intervention and on the next level of instruction, and has more time with kids.”

Other administrators echoed similar sentiments of emphasizing on developing educational programs and supporting school staff over working on test performance.

But administrators acknowledged that part of the schools’ high performances could be attributed to students coming from financially successful, educated families.

“Sure, typically the kids in our district come reading and writing with proficiency. They get support at home. They don’t struggle with poverty to a large degree like some other districts do,” Miyashiro said.

“Test scores tend to be a reflection of some degree of the community in which our schools derive,” said Mike Grove, Executive Director of Curriculum and Assessment for the San Dieguito Union High district.

“We reside in obviously an affluent community,” he said, explaining that as such most students have well-educated parents who provide a lot of academic support.

“The truth is we have exceptional students, but those exceptional students are being taught by exceptional teachers and they are being supported by a highly involved parents community. It’s a winning combination,” said Peterson about Del Mar Union Elementary.

Comparatively, Oceanside Unified, the lowest performing school district in coastal North County, works with a greater portion of students from lower-income families or families with a parent deployed on military duty.

Duane Coleman, Oceanside Unified’s Associate Superintendent of Educational Services, mentioned that some of the district’s lower-performing schools are located near or on Camp Pendleton.

Deployment of a parent “really has an affect on the family and the kids” and as a result can have an impact on students’ academic achievement, said Coleman.

Moving forward, district administrators said they will be working on teaching and assessment of the state’s new Common Core standards.

The coming 2013-14 school year will be the last time the state uses current STAR standardized tests, and in the 2014-15 year schools will instead use new Common Core assessment tests.

“We have been doing a lot of planning for how we go about that transition,” said Grove.