Stanislaus County schools in middle of test score pack

Davis High School freshman are pictured on Tuesday morning (04-28-09) at the school before the start of Standardized Testing and Reporting. (Joan Barnett Lee / jlee@modbee.com)
Davis High School freshman are pictured on Tuesday morning (04-28-09) at the school before the start of Standardized Testing and Reporting. (Joan Barnett Lee / jlee@modbee.com)

When Stanislaus County public schools are ranked with others in the state, most local schools place in the middle, according to data released by the state Department of Education on Thursday.

Based on state test scores from spring 2008, many county schools match up with campuses across the state and those with similar characteristics. Nearly half of county schools stayed the same in the Academic Performance Index compared to last year and prior years.

The rankings divide schools into deciles and assign each school a number of 1 through 10. A rank of 10 means the school is in the top 10 percent. The report includes growth targets for schools that didn’t meet the state’s target API score, as well as updated school rankings that are closely watched by parents and school district officials.

Schools earn two rankings. The statewide score compares schools in each category — elementary, middle and high — with others across the state. The similar-schools score compares schools with 100 other California campuses that have similar demographic characteristics, like student enrollment, ethnicity and socio-economic status; percentage of fully credentialed teachers; and percentage of English Language Learners and students with disabilities.

For 2008, 18 county schools earned a 1 and 18 earned a 10 in one or both ranking categories. In 2007, 15 placed in the bottom decile while 24 received a 10.

More county schools earn a ranking of 10 in the similar schools category. Only Modesto’s Lakewood Elementary and University Charter grabbed the top spot in the statewide ranking.

Nearly half of Stanislaus County’s schools fall in the middle deciles — 4, 5, 6 or 7 — on one or both rankings. One-fourth place in the bottom with a rank of 1, 2 or 3. More than one-fourth take the top spots at rankings of 8, 9 or 10.When compared to 2001, a smaller percentage of schools place in the middle or top, with a slightly larger percentage are in the bottom deciles.Both rankings are based on state test scores and as scores have increased over the years, the same scores that earned a rank of 9 several years ago now earn a last-place 1 rank.

Jack O’Connell, the superintendent of public instruction, warned that the California budget crisis poses a serious threat to public education.

The statewide target API score of 800 was reached by 39.9 percent of elementary schools, 30.1 percent of middle schools and 17.1 percent of high schools, according to the report. That was a gain of 3.3 percent for elementary schools, 5.7 percent for middle schools and 2.8 percent for high schools.

But the report found the performance of black and Latino students continue to trail that of white and Asian students. The average score was 659 for blacks, 683 for Latinos, 814 for whites and 864 for Asians. “A majority of the schools’ students continue to lag behind,” said O’Connell, adding that the achievement gap bodes ill for the future of California and its economy.

O’Connell said recent gains in student achievement could be jeopardized by anticipated budget cuts to education.

Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting education funding by $5.3 billion, in part by reducing the 180-day school year by 7.5 days — a move O’Connell said would be extremely difficult for school districts to implement and hurt student achievement.

“The path we’re on will be providing a Third-World educational opportunity for our students,” he said. “That’s no way to get us out of the economic recession that we’re currently in.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.