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Majority of CA schools reach API test score goals: How did they do it?

 A student walks past a LAUSD school bus.
A student walks past a LAUSD school bus.

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Academic Performance Index scores for public schools are out Thursday. California education officials say that for the first time, a majority of schools reached the coveted 800-point goal.

The search for what’s working can lead to Benito Juarez Elementary School in Cerritos. Last year it fell four points short of the 800 API goal. This year the school scored 815. There’s no stopping now, says principal LuAnn Adler.

“Well, we just keep moving our goal up. So our new saying is ‘850 is nifty,’” she said.

Adler says getting to 800’s been hard. The school sets aside 90 minutes each week for teachers to talk about best practices, and the district has provided consultants.

“We moved our lunch hour back in the school day so we had a larger chunk of time in the morning where we felt that the children were fresher,” she said.

In recent years the API’s turned education in California into a numbers game. Charlene Green, principal at Ritter Elementary School near Watts, says the non-profit that runs her school has provided important training to examine test results. It even administers tests to prepare for…tests.

“Literacy periodic assessments, look at the math periodic assessments, look at the science periodic assessments, we have assessments of our own that we also use, also teachers create their own assessments to help students move along,” Green said.

Green’s school scored 763 this year. Although that fell short of the 800 goal her school’s celebrating a 99-point improvement over five years.

No principal should get too comfortable with this year’s scores. They rely mostly on multiple-choice standardized tests. UCLA researcher Joan Herman says that soon, California teachers will teach to a new set of standards known as Common Core.

“Those standards bring more reasoning, thinking, communication, and problem solving to the standards that have been there in the past,” Herman said.

State policymakers say the change is supposed to address the longstanding criticism that the API measures rote memorization, not critical thinking skills.

For more on API test scores:

API scores: An education horse race that will soon change

API: Scores up 10 points statewide, gaps between elementary and high school

API scores: School Quality in Snapshot Format