Modesto high schools, under scrutiny because of poor test scores in previous years, demonstrated progress by posting solid gains in the latest round of test results released by the state Wednesday.
Modesto City Schools as a district gained ground at the high school level, even for students who are English learners, poor or have learning disabilities.
Within the district, Downey, Beyer and Modesto highs moved up, but Davis and Johansen highs slipped significantly. Gregori High, which opened a year ago in north Modesto, got its first state score, a solid 784.
Enochs took top honors with a score of 820 — "the highest of any comprehensive high school in the county," said Principal Mike Coats.
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The Academic Performance Index, or API, are scores of 200 to 1,000 the state gives to schools and school districts, with the bar to clear being a basic "B" score of 800.
Scoring starts with the student test scores and exit-exam pass rates released earlier this month, slicing, dicing and liberally saucing the numbers with statistical judgments known as weighting.
For example, schools get extra points when very low testers improve, but very little bump when good students do better. English scores count far more than math scores. History and science scores add only a fraction — and only in certain years.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson announced statewide scores were slightly up.
"At school, after school, and among every significant ethnic group, California's students are performing better than ever. The failure here is in our politics, not our public schools," Torlakson said.
Statewide, more than half of elementary schools, more than a quarter of high schools and better than four in 10 middle schools surpassed the state target of 800, according to the California Department of Education.
In Stanislaus County, elementary schools making the 800 target came close to matching the state, but only one in seven high schools and a quarter of middle schools surpassed that mark.
Elementary school scores generally were mixed, with some schools giving up much of the gains made last year.
A raft of high-achieving schools lost points this year. Lakewood Elementary dipped a little, but at 929, is still in solid "A" territory. Enslen Elementary slid but still earned a "B" grade. Wilson, Fremont and Beard elementaries dropped to
"B minus" this year.
The top spot is held by Aspire University Charter in northeast Modesto.
Robertson Road also gave up some of the impressive gains it racked up in 2010, a year after being put a list of especially low-scoring schools.
However, Tuolumne Elementary popped up, hitting all goals set for it and taking the first of two steps to get off federal watch lists, Modesto Superintendent Pam Able said.
Able said the district will focus this year on teachers working closely with principals to match teaching strategies to test results.
"We are focusing on all the components of what we know positively affects student achievement — parent involvement, best instructional practices, and collaboration at schools and the district office," she said.
In Salida, Dena Boer Elementary and Salida Middle moved up, but Salida Elementary went down, which Salida head of testing John Hall called "kind of a gut check."
Teachers had expected better news, he said. "We have to be humble, and recognize when something hasn't worked," Hall said.
Some major improvements were scored as well. Denair Elementary soared. Caswell Elementary in Ceres rocketed up. Coleman F. Brown Elementary in Sylvan and Osborn Two-Way Immersion Academy in Turlock made big gains.
Osborn Principal Ed Ewing said asking English learners to speak out more in class was working.
Turlock Superintendent Sonny Da Marto said districtwide scores are going up and the achievement gap for Latinos was narrowing, but still stands at roughly
20 percentage points. Wakefield School lost ground.
Spratling Middle School in Keyes made large gains that Superintendent Karen Poppen credited to extra help.
"I believe that one of the reasons why we saw good gains at Spratling is because they had intervention in language arts and math built into their school day last year," Poppen said.
Bee staff writers Kevin Valine and Patty Guerra contributed to this report.
Bee education reporter Nan Austin can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2339.