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Sonoma schools STAR scores drop

Sonoma's API scores.

Sonoma's API scores.

Lorna Sheridan/Index-Tribune Education Editor

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Last month, the State of California released the school-by-school STAR standardized testing results for 2013. And last week, the office of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson finished crunching those numbers to tabulate each school’s API (Academic Performance Index). Sonoma Valley’s scores were markedly lower in 2013 than 2012 by both measures.

The STAR tests measure the academic proficiency of students in grades 2-11 in English-Language Arts, and in grades 2-7 in math. Set in place by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, California’s goal was for 100 percent of students to achieve proficiency in those subjects by 2014. In Sonoma Valley, in 2013, no more than 53 percent of students in any grade showed proficiency in English and no higher than 52 percent in math. In some grades the numbers were much lower. In third grade, for example, only 21 percent of Sonoma Valley students showed proficiency in English and only 27 percent of Sonoma’s seventh-graders scored proficient or above in math.

School by school scores are available online at: star.cde.ca.gov/star2013/index.aspx

The annual Academic Performance Index (API) for each school is based on how well students do on tests, most notably the annual STAR tests and the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam).

At both the statewide and county levels, API scores showed a downward shift this year. The Sonoma County API was 793 in 2013, lower than last year but still higher than the statewide score of 789. Almost three-quarters of Sonoma County schools posted lower API scores in 2013 than 2012. The average API score for the Sonoma Valley Unified School District as a whole this year was 715, down 22 points from 737 in 2012.

While the majority of schools statewide met or exceeded the state performance target of 800 points on the state’s Academic Performance Index, only two out of the 10 schools in Sonoma did so.

Nine of the 10 schools in Sonoma Valley posted lower standardized testing scores in 2013 than 2012. At four schools – El Verano Elementary School, Flowery Elementary School, Sassarin Elementary School and Woodland Star Charter School – the scores were significantly lower.

In the last decade, the number of schools meeting the state target of an 800 API has increased by 30 percent. This year, however, three-quarters of all schools saw some decrease.

Only two of Sonoma Valley’s 10 schools currently exceed the state target API score of 800 – Prestwood Elementary and Sonoma Charter School. These are also the two schools with the lowest number of English-language learners and the fewest socio-economically disadvantaged students. Sonoma Valley scores ranged from a low of 643 at El Verano Elementary School and a high of 834 at Sonoma Charter. Sonoma schools scoring under 700 are El Verano, Flowery Elementary and Sassarini Elementary.

There are marked distinctions by racial demographic. According to SVUSD, in 2012, Sonoma Valley’s average Hispanic/Latino API was 676; average white API was 811; average API for socio-economically disadvantaged was 676 and average API for English-language learners was 658.

When asked about the apparent correlation between increasing non-English speaking (ELL) and/or socio-economically challenged (SED) students and decreasing test scores, Sonoma Valley Unified School Superintendent Louann Carlomagno, “These students simply need more learning time. Academic English is a second language to many of these children. Preschool is the best intervention we can now offer. Thanks to Impact100 grants and generous community donations, SED and ELL students will have the chance to walk into kindergarten better prepared for the rigorous language demands in their classrooms, and to receive additional learning time each summer to keep up with their peers.”

A handful of schools facing the same demographic challenges have managed to improve their standardized testing scores over time. Carlomagno’s team has visited some of them and examined their best practices. Nearby Roseland School District in Santa Rosa has unique action plans for English-language learners. “For example,” said Carlomagno, “Daily Five, a Common Core-aligned lesson structure used by them and others with great success, has been added to our summer reading academy and many of our elementary classrooms.

At the high school level, 943 of Sonoma Valley High’s 1,343 enrolled students were tested. The school’s base API was 712 in 2013, down from 723 last year and down from 735 in 2008.

Carlomagno said some of that drop reflected a change in curriculum. “We have been focused on our students becoming college and career ready since early in 2010. We changed our graduation requirements to be reflective of this change and we look forward to a broader accountability system which also takes into account the percentage of students who are graduating college and career ready. In 2012, 40 percent of our students met the A-G requirements compared to 26.3 percent countywide).”

District officials expect 2013-2014 to be the last school year Sonoma Valley Unified students will take the STAR test. Sonoma Valley hopes to be a pilot test site for the new Smarter Balanced testing that accompanies the new Common Core State Standards in spring 2014.

In a press release announcing the scores, Dr. Steven Herrington, Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools, attributed the lower scores to budget cuts. “I am not surprised that test scores are less positive than in the past,” he said. “Over the last six years, school district budgets have been cut dramatically and we were bound to see this financial stress take a toll on student learning. With the passage of Proposition 30 and the revised budget formulas for this school year, I expect to see our county’s scores recover in short order.”

Carlomagno added that lower tests scores could be due in part to the increased focus by district teachers this year on the new Common Core State Standards. This was a transition year for that process, and she looks forward to new tests aligned with the new standards, and accountability systems that take into account multiple measures for student success.

And state superintendent Torlakson said in a statement last week, “It’s time for a clean break from assessments that are out of date and out of sync with the work our schools are doing. It’s simply wrong to expect schools to prepare our students for the future while continuing to ask them to use tests that are products of the past.”