SVUSD Report Card - Part 4. Is a "Distinguished School" Really Distinguished?

Dr. Jim Gardner
Dr. Jim Gardner

Last week in 4 articles we examined performance by students in schools in Lake Forest (and elsewhere)with regard to API scores as well as the broader OC Register gauge. In both cases, results indicate students who attend school in Lake Forest do less well than most of the students in surrounding cities.



The California Department of Education has a “Distinguished School” designation which they give to schools that “made progress in narrowing the academic achievement gap.” In 2013 they awarded 218 designations to middle and high schools on a county-wide basis, and 26 in Orange County.  In 2012 they awarded the designations to the elementary schools.

Here are the results for the 4 school districts serving South Orange County.



  • SVUSD – 3 (ETHS, Los Alisos, MVHS)

  • Laguna Beach - 2

  • Irvine – 1

  • Capistrano - 1



  • SVUSD – 4 (Foothill, Del Cerro, Santiago, Trabuco)

  • Laguna Beach – 2

  • Irvine – 6

  • Capistrano – 4

It appears that SVUSD has good representation in schools that receive the designation “distinguished school”. However, being a “distinguished school” is a mixed blessing. The finest schools that maintain an excellent record can never be “distinguished” because there is little room for improvement. By giving the designation to schools that demonstrate progress, schools with children who achieve less are favored because they have more room to improve. Of course making positive change is a good thing, and SVUSD is o be applauded for having so many "distinguished schools", but it’s clear that being designated a distinguished school is not a clear blessing.



In an not unrelated matter, Baker Ranch is advertising their 2,300+ new homes and referring to “the highly regarded Saddleback Valley Unified School District”. They don’t indicate whom this high regard comes from.  They claim that “SVUSD’s elementary, intermediate and high schools make frequent appearances on the list of California Distinguished Schools – in fact, more than any other district in the state” but when I checked the data for 2013, this was clearly not true. It is true that they make frequency appearances, as do almost ever other School District, including school districts than have little room to do better, but SVUSD did not have more than any other district in the state much less Orange County.


Tomorrow we’ll summarize the results and consider to what extent  the comparatively lower scores by students who attend schools in Lake Forest (and by extension SVUSD) are a function of the quality of instruction at the district or based on the demographics associated with Lake Forest (and by extension SVUSD) when compared to the other districts in South Orange County.

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Scott Hodson April 22, 2014 at 10:48 AM
I just wanted to thank Jim for collecting and providing all of this useful information. I didn't really research school districts when we moved into Portola Hills in 2000, though we heard good things about the elementary school at the time. Now as our children enter 9th grade next year (Trabuco Hills) I feel a little sad I didn't move into in a Capo or Irvine district. But I think demographics has more to do with it than the quality of school staff, but I guess we'll find out tomorrow. Also, what you get out of education is what you make of it so it's not always about the school, but about the family values about education and the student's individual ambitions about their future that help drive their success at education or any endeavor. The recent LA Times article about the challenges of admission into UC schools for california residents is also enlightening and shows it's getting harder and harder to get into the top schools. http://www.latimes.com/nation/la-me-uc-admit-20140419,0,3471945.story#axzz2zcuhjGAS
Kelly Gottus April 22, 2014 at 12:04 PM
Santiago being named distinguished is a joke when they were also given designation of Performance Improvement school the same year. So truly, distinguished means nothing, if perhaps even interchangeable with failing!
Craig Hermann April 22, 2014 at 12:20 PM
Blaming API test scores of Lake Forest students on the teachers and administrators badly misses the mark. If you were to carefully analyze the demographics of the test scores you will find that cultural influences play an overwhelming part in these results. High-ranking API schools do not have the ESL problem that Lake Forest has. In addition, high property values in other cities result in a higher dollar amount being spent on each pupil - with those schools offering significantly greater technological tools for teachers to use. When parents come for parent-teacher conferences in Lake Forest many bring translators with them. What kind of help do you think their kids get with homework and test preparation at home? Do you really think they even have computers at home? In some cultures, academic prowess is a top priority in families - but not in others. In many cases both parents (if there are two parents) work two jobs each just to survive. I will look forward to your specific comparisons so that you present a balanced argument. Going independent is not going to solve the social and demographic problems in Lake Forest. Craig Hermann, Lake Forest
Jim Gardner April 22, 2014 at 12:24 PM
Hi Kelly. It certainly isn't as good as it sounds. Baker Ranch is doing a big dis-service by trying to lure potential new buyers to their new 2,300+ home project with the nice sounding phrase that SVUSD schools "make frequent appearances on the list of California Distinguished Schools" which to a naïve person sounds excellent. Who wouldn't want to be in a "distinguished school" until you realize that it isn't as good as it sounds.
OldTimer April 22, 2014 at 01:32 PM
Of course it's not as good as it sounds. It's the equivalent of smothering lipstick on a pig. But that's their modern educational method used to ensure nobody's feelings get hurt. Just like the new Common Core curriculum. More lipstick on the pig to disguise underperformance and to lower the bar so no one fails. If this nonsense isn't stopped in it's tracks this nation is going to turn into a 3rd world hellhole. It's absolutely reprehensible what these so-called 'leaders' are doing to our society and to our children. Shame on them all! Oh, and thank you Scott and Craig for emphasizing the importance of CULTURE! To me this is plain old horse sense. But in this politically correct world you don't dare say it out loud. You'll be ostracized and called nasty names by the progressives who apparently have no problem selling out their own children.


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