In spite of brutal budget cuts, larger class sizes and mandatory furlough days, the Academic Performance Index (API) score for ABC Unified schools -- summarizing students' performance on a series of tests -- rose by 16 points in 2011-12, outpacing gains made by students across the state.
The API score for the ABC Unified School District went from 832 last year to 848 based on the 15,292 students in the 30 schools that were tested, according to figures released by the California Department of Education.
"We were celebrating the news all day," a very proud and happy Dr. Mary Sieu, ABCUSD superintendent, told Patch last week. "I am just so proud of all of our teachers and students."
API reflects growth in student achievement from one year to the next. It is determined by results on the California Standards Tests in English, math, history/social science and science, and the California High School Exit Exam. The scores range from 200 to 1,000, with a state performance target of 800.
Statewide, the API score increased by 10 points, from 778 last year to 788, according to data from the Department of Education. Ten years ago, only 20 percent of schools met or surpassed the API target.
"We've set a high bar for schools and they have more than met the challenge, despite the enormous obstacles that years of budget cuts have put in their way," state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson said. "The incredible efforts of teachers, administrators, school employees, parents and students should serve as an inspiration to us all. While there's still more work to do, California's schools have earned a vote of confidence."
Sieu: Despite Budget Challenges, Commitment to Teaching and Learning Remains Constant
In the ABC District, 20 schools met or exceeded the 800-point score, up from the 18 schools last year. Leal Elementary (967), Carmenita Middle School (946), and Whitney High School (995) earned the highest scores in the district in their respective levels. (To check your school's API results click here and type in the school name.)
The overall improvement made in ABC schools can be attributed to what Sieu says has been a collective focus districtwide.
"I think that despite budget challenges we have remained focused on teaching and learning, I saw examples of this at all the schools I've visited over the last couple weeks," said Sieu. "As a district, we've realized how important it is to have a uniform curriculum guaranteed to all students no matter the location of school. We've also established benchmark assessments to help determine how well students are doing -- this has helped us look at each school's progress over time. In addition, we've implemented interventions at each of our schools to assure that students are getting help if they are not performing on the level they need to be."
The results show the distirct's schools with the biggest jumps in API score were made at:
- Niemes Elementary, +35
- Burbank Elementary, +46
- Fedde Middle School, +56
- Artesia High School, +28
- ABC Secondary, +73
- Tracy High School, +104
Intervention and Targeted Strategies Make a Difference
Sieu praised the growth at each of the schools, noting that specific programs and strategies have helped spur the gains.
One of the biggest shifts took place at Fedde Middle School in Hawaiian Gardens, where API improved from 685 to 741 -- an increase partially aided by a $1.5 million School Improvement Grant received by the school three years ago.
"The grant has created important resources and opportunities for the students in terms of providing interventions and help during the school day or after school (through Fedde's "Fed Ex after school program"). Students can even get help on Saturdays and during the summertime," she said. "There is not a single time in the year that Fedde students aren't able to get the help or support they need if they are not learning at the level they need to be."
Other notable improvements were made at elementary schools located in the city of Artesia.
"Niemes, Burbank and Elliot are now all scoring over 800 -- those are big gains for those schools," she said.
Sieu said the implementation of the Swun Math Program, which trains teachers how to present math concepts in a non-traditional process, has helped both Burbank and Elliot elementary school students improve in math.
Aside from focusing on subject areas, at-risk target groups were also provided with the help needed.
"Artesia High School (788) and Gahr High School (790) are now almost neck-to-neck, but the demographics at each school are so different. This is attributed to the fact that at Artesia, a focus was made on students, of which English is a second language and those with learning disabilities -- so an effort was made to make sure those groups were provided with the essential interventions and elevating expectations."
"So basically each school has different needs and we really focused on special areas that needed improvement, which in turned helped elevate the district as a whole," Sieu added.
It's All About the Teachers and Students
But Sieu believes that at the core of the district's successful API growth is the simple desire for teachers to teach, and for students to learn.
"While I walking through the classes at each of the schools during their back-to-school nights, I heard teachers telling the parents that they were available and prepared to help the students before and after school and even during lunchtime, if they had any issues or problems. I saw this happening repeatedly from class to class," Sieu said.
"Even with furlough days and with teachers getting less and less because of budget cuts, they are still out there saying to students, 'I'm here for you' and 'I can give you help,' -- I think this has made a big difference in letting the students know they can get the help they need if they want it," she added.
But of course, Sieu says it is the students who at the end of the day must prove what they've learned on their exams.
"I am just so proud of all of our students," Sieu said. "My goal is to get into every classroom throughout district this year -- and I'm almost there having already visited 22 schools - but what's amazing is that when I go from class to class, I see an excitement for learning in our students. There is no question about it -- they are there to learn."
"And when I ask them 'what are you learning?', hundreds of hands go up -- they are excited to share what they've learned," she added. "I am just so proud of all of them."