MODESTO — Principal Theresa Finley marshalled everyone at Garrison Elementary out on the playground just before lunch. She had news big news and she wanted to tell them before they heard it anywhere else.
The state calculation of academic achievement for the little campus skyrocketed 72 points this year. Its new score is 807, comfortably over the state target of 800 "great hundred" as the Garrison gorillas call it, Finley said.
"No one knew," she said after telling her elated staff Thursday. "I just saw mouths drop. There were lots of hugs, lots of tears. And then, of course, I said, 'But we're not done yet,' " she said with a laugh.
She invited teachers to enjoy sparkling cider and candy Kisses in the staff room the topper in a tradition of celebrating even small steps Finley started when she took over as principal just over a year ago.
"We set a goal and we rolled up our sleeves, but I never dreamed we'd hit it in one year," she said. The Garrison campus, tucked away just off Orangeburg, serves special-education grade-schoolers and preschoolers alongside regular classes. The achievement was a whole school effort, tapping special-education aides and extra teacher time to help tutor kids.
"It really was a collaboration. This was a staff that responded and was willing and open to trying new things," Finley said.
Modesto City Schools Superintendent Pam Able cheered the jump. "We are extremely proud of the increases at Enslen, Gregori, Rob Road and Garrison 72 points wow!"
The California Department of Education on Thursday released 2013 school scores the Academic Performance Index showing a statewide slip that mirrors test results announced earlier this month.
Regionally, more schools lost ground than gained. For Stanislaus and southern San Joaquin counties, 54 school posted higher API numbers and 118 were lower.
The wide swings possibly the reflect move away from expiring standards as schools prepare for Common Core Standards. More than a dozen schools' scores fell 30 points or more; others made large gains. Denair High skyrocketed 61 points, moving to 755.
"In Waterford (Unified), we saw a significant swing at two schools: Waterford Junior High increased 20 points on the API, and Richard Moon Primary School decreased 35 points," said Superintendent Don Davis. Both schools switched grade levels, making a year-to-year comparison difficult.
The index averages schools' scores for all state tests. The top score is 1,000, with 800 the goal for all schools. Just under half of schools in the Stanislaus region topped 800 this year. Statewide, 56 percent of elementary schools, 50 percent of middle schools and 31 percent of high schools now meet that benchmark.
The state scoring system figures into the federal accountability system mandated by No Child Left Behind, a pass/fail measure demanding all students be at grade level by the end of this school year. For spring 2013 tests, about 89 percent of all students had to test as proficient.
In this area, only nine regular schools hit all the federal targets. Across Stanislaus County, 79 percent of all schools face federal sanctions for missing goals for at least two years running, said Mary Stires of the Stanislaus County Office of Education.
Statewide, only 14 percent of 9,861 schools passed the higher bar this year, compared with 26 percent last year.
English learners, poor kids and other students with challenges made progress in Turlock, said Turlock Unified Superintendent Sonny Da Marto. "The achievement gap is narrowing," he said.
It was the silver lining in overall lower numbers seen in the district. Only the magnet schools at the Walnut campus in Turlock met all the federal goals. However, Brown Elementary and Dutcher Middle School both saw gains.
Salida, too, saw progress in problem areas. Superintendent Twila Tosh said overall results showed "no glaring drops" for any group, and hikes where she took particular pride.
"We made gains with two of our most difficult subgroups," English learners and students with disabilities, she said.
Ceres Unified saw another school, Adkison Elementary, cross the 800 line, putting eight of its 11 elementaries above the bar, said Debi Bukko, director of curriculum and instruction for the district.
"For us, the real target is growth. We've been focusing on Common Core, so it wasn't really unexpected. Groups of our kids are moving forward. We were happy with that," she said.
Ripon, Oakdale and Hughson were the only K-12 districts in the area to get districtwide scores above 800. "Maintaining an above-800 API as a unified district despite the transition to the Common Core and the spiraling expectations of NCLB is a nice achievement," said Oakdale Unified Superintendent Marc Malone.
Hughson High tied Waterford High for second in the county behind Enochs.
All but one school in the Sylvan district sits comfortably above 800, despite dips at all but two campuses.
"Our results solidify our need to focus on implementation of Common Core," said Sylvan Superintendent Debra Hendricks.
Bee reporter Nan Austin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2339.
TOP 10 SCORING SCHOOLS
School: Lakewood Elementary District: Modesto City 2013 Score: 930 Change: 3
School: University Charter District: Aspire 2013 Score: 915 Change: -6
School: Bonita Elementary District: Newman-Crows Landing 2013 Score: 903 Change: -18
School: Paradise Charter District: Paradise 2013 Score: 901 Change: 42
School: Hickman Middle District: Hickman 2013 Score: 891 Change: 3
School: Park View Elementary District: Ripon 2013 Score: 889 Change: -9
School: Gratton Charter District: Gratton 2013 Score: 888 Change: -16
School: Walnut Elementary Ed. Center District: Turlock 2013 Score: 882 Change: 11
School: Knights Ferry Elementary District: Knights Ferry 2013 Score: 878 Change: 24
School: Vanguard College Prep. Academy District: Aspire 2013 Score: 875 Change: 39