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Credit where credit is due: Hart district compares well

Myers' Musings

Posted: September 20, 2008 8:35 p.m.
Updated: November 22, 2008 5:00 a.m.

The Signal recently reported on the Academic Performance Index results for the William S. Hart District and elementary school districts in the Santa Clarita Valley, so it's time to once again tear into the numbers to see what really happened and how the Hart district stacks up against other suburban high school districts in Southern California.

First, some background on the API. The California Department of Education introduced the API to allow school districts to benchmark themselves both at a point in time and over time.

The Department of Education set an eventual goal for all schools in California to reach into the 800s on the zero-to-1,000 scale, with highly performing districts and schools in the 900 range. Scores on standardized tests represent the primary input into the API.

Each school in a district receives an API score and the district itself receives an API score. When one examines trends in API scores one notices quickly that scores trend down from elementary school through middle school generally reaching their bottom in high school.

This tracks with the standardized test results benchmarked against other industrialized nations, with the United States at or near the top at the elementary grades and then declining sharply through junior high and high school.

Amazingly, these increasingly "stupid" kids turn it around sharply in college with the U.S. public university system second to none.

Despite some conservative readers who might believe that decreased scores relate to some conspiracy of the teacher's union only perfected at the upper grades, one can find no scientific research that adequately explains this gradual decrease, though some now posit that unlike the European countries, where scores on standardized tests in the middle and high school years impact future educational placement and therefore more profoundly effect the lives of students, the standardized scores in the U.S. will generate little lasting impact on the individual students.

Some believe that American students from their bright-eyed, eager-to-please effort on the elementary school tests quickly descend into a cynical, noncaring mode, with the attendant depression of scores.

The SCV tracked this phenomenon exactly. At the introduction of the API, many local elementary schools initially received scores in the 800s and quickly rose to the high-performing 900s.

However, the middle schools and high schools languished in the high 600s and 700s, with Rio Norte the first Hart district school to penetrate the 800-mark when it first opened in 2004 with seventh graders, followed by Rancho Pico Junior High School in its first year.

So let me give credit where credit is due. At the last report date, the Hart district finally penetrated the 800 benchmark. Additionally, four of the six junior highs and four of the six comprehensive high schools penetrated the 800 mark.

I congratulate the administration and staff of the Hart district for dragging the dead bodies across the finish line!

But now for the comparison with other suburban school districts: This requires some adjustment since most public school districts unify K-12, and this elevates the scores of other districts since they include the input of the higher-scoring elementary schools.

We can, however, include the results of the feeder elementary schools' API scores in the SCV to derive a normalized average, which puts the entire SCV at an API score of 835.

How does the SCV stack up? As it turns out, pretty well. The SCV stands in the ballpark with Capistrano Unified, which includes the cities of south Orange County from Misson Viejo to San Clemente, which scored 837.

The SCV stands within striking distance of Conejo Valley, which includes Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village at 858.

The SCV easily beats Simi Valley and Ventura with scores of 808 and 789 respectively.

Some work remains, though, to eclipse the seemingly untouchable scores of the Irvine and Las Virgenes school districts at 898 and 876 respectively.

For the curious, I will break my own rule and issue the formerly common comparison of the SCV with the L.A. Unified School District and the Antelope Valley District.

LAUSD weighs in at a rather poor 683, and the Antelope Valley at an abysmal 660. But those are not valid comparisons, so pretend you did not read them.

Tim Myers is executive vice president and chief financial officer of Landscape Development Inc. in Valencia. His column represents his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.


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