At Grass Valley continuation school, a test success story |

At Grass Valley continuation school, a test success story

When Principal Mike Blake saw his school’s tests scores – by far the lowest in Nevada County – he knew it wasn’t an accurate reflection of his students.

“The scores were not in line with what they should have been capable of doing,” said Blake, who leads Silver Springs High School, a continuation school for about 140 students who had not succeeded at their previous school. “When we do the (high school exit exam), they have great pass rates.”

In 2009, Silver Springs scored 507 on the Academic Performance Index (API), which combines results from the California Standards Tests and California High School Exit Exam. The index gives lawmakers, educators and parents an easy way to evaluate individual schools and the state education system as a whole.

The state’s target for all schools is 800 on the 1,000-point scale; Silver Springs fell far short.

Before testing this spring, staff scheduled an assembly for the students.

“We said, ‘This is about you and what you are. … Show us what you’ve got,'” Blake said.

Students responded. API scores released Monday show Silver Springs earned a 610; the 103-point increase was by far the biggest in the county.

Getting students to take California Standards Tests (STAR tests) seriously is a challenge. The results have no bearing on students’ grades, and unlike the exit exam, a passing score isn’t necessary to graduate.

Schools can get in trouble for low scores. The state can subject a school to “program improvement” – a series of intervention measures that include replacing staff – if scores are persistently low.

Blake said it took teamwork among teachers and staff to get students to make an effort on the test, and to show up to class on test days.

The continuation school still posted the lowest score in the county, but Blake said this year’s results – the highest in at least the last four years – is cause for celebration.

“I’m just so proud of the kids and the staff,” Blake said. “We knew they’re winners – they’ve just got to believe they’re winners.”

California students made gains for the eighth straight year on the API, but fewer schools reached benchmarks set by the federal government.

The state’s annual Accountability Progress Report found that 46 percent of schools reached the target API score of 800, up from 36 percent the previous year.

The report found the statewide API score increased 13 points to 767 and the achievement gap among different racial and ethnic groups narrowed slightly. The average score was 685 for blacks, 715 for Latinos, 838 for whites and 889 for Asians.

“For the eighth year in a row, California schools made gains in academic achievement and in narrowing the achievement gap,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. “While we cannot be satisfied until the achievement gap is eliminated and all students are well-prepared for college and careers, this significant progress should be celebrated.”

California students showed continued academic progress even as many school districts laid off teachers, increased class sizes and cut academic programs in response to deep cuts in state funding.

O’Connell said this year’s progress demonstrated the school system’s resiliency and that students could make even bigger gains if schools received “adequate funding.”

Despite the API gains, fewer elementary and middle schools reached the annually increasing targets set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act. To reach the “adequate yearly progress” benchmark, schools had to increase the share of students scoring at or above the proficient level on state tests by 11 percentage points over last year.

That target was only reached by 40 percent of elementary schools and 26 percent of middle schools, down from 61 percent and 27 percent, respectively, according to the report. Data for high schools will not be available until November.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail or call (530) 477-4247.

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