SVUSD - Report Card. Part 1 API Scores By City

Dr. Jim Gardner
Dr. Jim Gardner

Saddleback Valley School District (SVUSD) has been in the news a lot lately. Only last week their President, Dennis Walsh, a Lake Forest resident, was arrested for resisting arrest when he refused to allow deputies to impound his car, that had been reported in a hit-and-run accident with a fire hydrant. Prior to that SVUSD was in a legal battle with residents of Lake Forest about the improper use of Measure B funds. And in a continuous two year monologue, Lake Forest residents, particularly those who live in Foothill Ranch and Portola Hills, have been critical of SVUSD’s failure to build any new schools even though the City has approved nearly 5,000 new homes which will inevitably bring more than 6,000 new children into the City.

These controversies led some people to question the advisability of teaming up with SVUSD, and the idea of a separate school district, for part or all of Lake Forest, has been bandied about in some circles. When the issue came my way, my immediate thought was to examine just how well SVUSD is doing the job of educating our children. If they’re doing an excellent job, the call for independence may be premature or even ill-advised. But if, on top of all the other problems that have been raised, the overall job of educating our children is found to be lacking, then the idea of independence, partial or full, may be a good one.

I spent the last few weeks looking at assessments of how well our schools and our district are doing, and here are the results of those investigations. Today we’ll look at API scores by City and tomorrow we’ll look at API scores by School district.



API scores refer to the Academic Performance Index which has been the cornerstone of California “Public Accountability” since 1999. According to the Department of Education, “API is a single number, ranging from a low of 200 to a high of 1000, which reflects a school’s…or a student group’s performance level, based on the results of statewide assessments. Its purpose is to measure the academic performance and improvement of schools. The state has set 800 as the API target for all schools to meet.”

API scores include results from English, math, history, and science tests.



When looking at individual school performance, the State Department of Education ranks schools in deciles from 1 (well below average) to 10 (well above average).  Here is the average ranking for schools in various cities surrounding Lake Forest. These are the 2012 API scores released in June 2013.

  • Ladera Ranch – 10.0 (4 schools/ 4 ranked 10)

  • Coto De Caza – 10.0 (1 school/ 1 school ranked 10)

  • Laguna Beach – 9.75 (4 schools/ 3 ranked 10)

  • Irvine – 9.70 (33 schools/ 26 ranked 10)

  • Trabuco Canyon – 9.7 (3 schools, 2 ranked 10)

  • Newport Beach – 9.2 (9 schools, 4 ranked 10)

  • Aliso Viejo – 8.7 (10 schools/ 5 ranked 10)

  • Laguna Niguel – 8.13 (8 schools/  1 ranked 10)

  • San Clemente – 8.0 (10 schools, 3 ranked 10)

  • Laguna Hills – 7.75 (4 schools/ 0 ranked 10)

  • CITY OF LAKE FOREST - 7.75 (8 schools/ 0 ranked 10)

  • Dana Point – 6.67 (3 schools, 0 ranked 10)

Of the 11 cities or areas (e.g., Coto de Caza) that are our neighbors, only one city is ranked lower than the City of Lake Forest.

For some archaic reason, the 8 schools in the City of Lake Forest do not include Foothill Elementary and Portola Elementary. If you include these 2 schools with the other 8, our rank improves considerably. Our average score goes up from 7.75 to 8.1 and we get the distinction of having 1 school with a 10 (highest) rank – Portola. Even with this boost, Lake Forest comes in 9th out of 12, which is an improvement from 11th out of 12, but certainly nothing to brag about.




Setting aside the school rankings based on API scores, another way to look at performance is to look at the API scores themselves. Looking at the top 100 individual schools in South Orange County, and listing them by City (along with the total number of schools for that City) shows that among cities in South Orange County, Lake Forest had only 1 school in the Top 100. 7 nearby “cities” had more schools in the top 100.

  • Irvine – 26 (33 total schools)

  • Newport Beach – 4 (9 total schools)

  • RSM – 3 (8 total schools)

  • Laguna Beach – 3 (4 total schools )

  • San Clemente – 2 (10 total schools )

  • Trabuco Canyon – 2 (3 total schools)

  • Aliso Viejo – 2 (10 total schools )

  • Mission Viejo – 1 (21 total schools )

  • Coto de Caza – 1 (1 total schools)

  • Ladera Ranch – 1 (1 total schools)

  • LAKE FOREST – 1 (10 total schools )

  • Laguna Niguel – 0

  • Laguna Hills – 0

  • Dana Point - 0

Look at it from another perspective – in terms of percentage.

Ladera Ranch and Coto de Caza had 100% of their schools in the Top 100, followed by Irvine (79%), Laguna Bach (75%), Trabuco Canyon (67%), Newport Beach (44%), RSM (38%), Aliso Viejo and San Clemente (20%) and then Lake Forest (10%) followed by MV (5%), and Laguna Niguel, Laguna Hills, and Dana Point.

The results are not terrible, but surely nothing to be proud of. After all, we are talking about the ability of our kids to perform well on standardized tests of English, math, history, and science. Surely these are important harbingers of future success, so mediocre results are not acceptable, and why should schools in Aliso Viejo, Laguna Beach, RSM, Newport and Irvine do better than we do?



Looking at student performance using API scores and concentrating on the scores for individual cities/areas in South Orange County, it appears that Lake Forest schools do poorly when compared to the cities or areas surrounding us. Compared to most other cities, our schools receive fewer high rankings, have an overall lower rank, and have fewer schools appearing in the Top 100. We are not the bottom of the barrel, but we are pretty close.


Tomorrow we’ll look at scores by District.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Ricardo Cabeza April 15, 2014 at 09:13 PM
The John Hopkins study says: "Children who immigrate to the United States with their families are likely to outperform kids with a "similar background" who were born here. And when they grow up, their own children are also likely to do better than their peers. But by the third generation, that advantage will be gone." Old Timer says: "Do you think there are more 1st generation immigrant children who attend the Santa Ana schools or the Laguna Beach, Coto, Irvine, Saddleback, etc.... schools? Now compare the test scores, Ricardo. Do they correlate with your linked study?" The study compares kids with a "similar background". There are few white kids in Santa Ana that live here illegally with two other families in one house. Whose parents are here for the sole purpose of increasing their income by several times. Compare that to a Vietnamese family fleeing the Communists where the parents might have been South Vietnamese bureaucrats. Where education was available and valued and the children probably spoke French as well as English. Anyway, the study seems to make your point about culture. After three generations, things tend to even out. Race and how and when you got here become less important. The values you get from all sources become more important.
OldTimer April 15, 2014 at 09:41 PM
Ricardo. Nice try. How could you possibly find the subjects that you are looking for to compare illegal immigrants or children of illegal immigrants with 'similar backgrounds' of children who are legally in the country and with legal parents? Are you referring only to immigrants who arrived in the country legally who were offspring of parents authorized to enter America? That's where it gets confusing. You need to differentiate between legal and illegal immigrants, or products thereof. Westminster is full of poor asians, many who are probably 1st generation immigrants. Why not compare those subjects with the hispanic immigrants in Santa Ana? Wouldn't that be a fair and valid comparison, based upon the model of your study? I could tell you how that study would turn out with my eyes closed. Oh, and most of the Vietnamese refugees were not former government officials or "bureaucrats" (your term) born with silver spoons in their mouths. Most were poor Vietnamese people who were forced out of their nation by war. Arrived here with basically NOTHING! Fled in rickety boats and many didn't survive their mode of travel. And many, if not most, had to receive welfare once they arrived in America just to survive. And look at the thriving business community those folks turned Little Saigon into. A laudable achievement! But to claim that 1st generation immigrants (legal or illegal?) outperform 3rd generation immigrants just makes me scratch my head in confusion. It makes absolutely no logical sense from a rational perspective. There must be much more to the picture than meets the eye (Neil Young's words) with that study of yours. But I think making a blanket statement that 1st generation immigrants outperform succeeding generations academically is strongly misleading and takes the reader down a crooked road. My opinion.
Jim Gardner April 16, 2014 at 09:59 AM
Old Timer. FWIW The % of older people in LB is 18.3% compared to only 9.2% in LF.
Ricardo Cabeza April 16, 2014 at 11:35 AM
Old Timer says: "But I think making a blanket statement that 1st generation immigrants outperform succeeding generations academically is strongly misleading and takes the reader down a crooked road." The study says that by the third generation many of the cultural tools that contributed to success were gone. Beginning with the third generation, the positive aspects of American culture combined with their native culture can lead to further success for subsequent generations.


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