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OC Schools Make Performance Gains

Although Irvine Unified is still No. 1, Laguna Beach and Los Alamitos are nipping at its heels. Meanwhile, a new charter school in South County has the area's highest score for an elementary. Fountain Valley Elementary also topped 900 points out of

School districts across Patch’s Orange County network all made achievement gains in the past year, according to the state.

One campus even had the best score among all Orange County elementary schools.

On Thursday, the California Department of Education released a metric it uses to measure schools’ success, called the Academic Performance Index, or API. An API of 1,000 is perfect but rarely attained. The state considers a school or district with a score of 800 or more as performing.

The API is based mostly on standardized tests, although it also takes into consideration graduation rates and attendance.

Orange County’s top-performing district was still Irvine Unified, which grew its API by 4 to 924. The top district in Patchland was Laguna Beach Unified, which clocked in just 2 points shy of Irvine’s score.

A year-old charter school in Capistrano Unified, the controversial K-8 Oxford Preparatory Academy, clocked in with the county’s highest API for an elementary school at 993. The school was beat out for overall winner by similar-sounding-but-unrelated Oxford Academy, a magnet high school in Cypress, with a score of 995.

Here’s how Patch’s districts performed from highest to lowest:

Laguna Beach Unified (922)

Laguna Beach Unified jumped 18 points since last year. Every one of Laguna Beach Unified’s four schools registered an API of 900-plus and all showed gains compared to 2011.

Two schools, El Morro Elementary and Laguna Beach High, advanced from the high 800s last year to achieve their goals, with El Morro gaining 29 points. Thurston Middle School had the highest API in Laguna Beach, at 944.  

Superintendent Sherine Smith said in a statement: "The results speak for themselves – our school district has far surpassed the state benchmark of excellence. We are extremely proud of our schools, our students, and our supportive community.”

Los Alamitos Unified (919)

Overall, schools in Los Al gained seven points since 2011. Jack L. Weaver Elementary had the district’s top score with 987. All district schools are in the “900 club” with the exception of Los Alamitos High School, which has a 2012 API of 885.

The district’s biggest winner was Los Alamitos Elementary, which gained 19 points over last year’s showing. McGaugh Elementary dropped the most, at 12 ticks.

Fountain Valley Elementary (911)

Fountain Valley’s K-8 schools gained 19 points compared to its 2011 API. The top school is Tamura Elementary with an API of 953. Its lowest performing school is Talbert Middle with a score of 868.

However, Talbert was one of two Fountain Valley schools that saw huge leaps this year. Talbert improved 56 points and Plavan Elementary jumped 45 points.

"We are very proud of our academic progress and credit our school district's laser focus on instruction," said FV Schools Superintendent Marc Ecker. "We continue to forge ahead with a powerful differentiated instructional initiative and remain committed to every student reaching academic proficiency. This is an extraordinary achievement at a time when resources to schools continue to be cut by millions of dollars." 

Capistrano Unified (879)

One of the larger school districts in the state, Capo improved five points, to have a district-wide API of 879. Its highest-performing school (excluding the various charters) is Ladera Ranch Middle School, which has an API of 950.

More Capo schools this year backslid this year compared to those making advances. While 26 schools did post a higher API this year, 27 retreated and two posted the same exact score as the previous year.

Among the big winners this year were San Juan Elementary in San Juan Capistrano, which posted a 33-point gain for a score that pushed it over the 800-mark to 813. Schools showing the biggest declines were R.H. Dana Elementary in Dana Point with a 45-point loss to 786 and Reilly Elementary in Mission Viejo with a 35-point loss to 868.

In a press release, Superintendent Joe Farley focused on Capo retaining the highest API among the state's large school districts.

“Our emphasis on instructional delivery and design has been proven effective by these scores. But this success has more to do with the dedication of our staff and the commitment of our families and students than anything else,” he said.

Saddleback Valley Unified (866)

Saddleback Valley saw a six-point gain this year to achieve its API of 866. Its highest-showing school was Portola Hills Elementary, which has a 2012 API of 937, increasing five points from the prior year.

At 25 points, Lomarena Elementary of Laguna Hills saw the biggest gain for the district, climbing past the 900-mark to 914.

Two schools had drops of 26 points, the biggest fall in the district: Lake Forest Elementary and Glen Yermo Elementary of Mission Viejo. Overall, 15 schools posted gains, 13 declined and two repeated last year's performance.

According to Tammy Blakely, assistant to the superintendent at SVUSD, the district has been implementing an initiative that focuses on making "data-driven decisions" about the instructional programs.

"Each school site is currently in the process of carefully analyzing the test score data that they received and teachers, principals, and district office staff are working together to develop school plans related to student achievement," she said. "As a district, we are looking forward to using data to build on our strengths and address areas of concern."

Newport-Mesa Unified (838)

District-wide, Newport-Mesa’s API improved 11 points over its 2011 score. Its highest performing school was Mande B. Davis Elementary in Costa Mesa, which posted a 43-point gain to reach 951.

Overall, the district had 20 schools show improvement, six decline and three remain steady with last year’s scores. Woodland Elementary, also of Costa Mesa, saw the biggest drop-off from the previous year, down by 23 points.

“Our overall test results are excellent news,” Fred Navarro, superintendent of the N-MUSD, said. “Our teachers and administrators have worked diligently in identifying academic areas for improvement as well as targeting individual skills for specific students. Their hard work can be seen in the growth demonstrated in the 2012 scores.”

Two Fountain Valley High Schools

Fountain Valley’s two high schools are part of two school districts. Individually, Fountain Valley High of the Huntington Beach Union High District clocked in with an API of 890, up six from 2011. Los Amigos High School, a part of Garden Grove Unified, gained 14 points for an API of 749.

Statewide, some 53 percent of schools scored at or above the state target of 800, an increase of 4 percentage points over last year, marking a decade of steady growth. Ten years ago, only 20 percent of schools met or surpassed the API target, according to a press release from Tom Torlakson, superintendent of public education for the state.

“While there’s still more work to do, California’s schools have earned a vote of confidence,” he said.

shelly October 18, 2012 at 05:44 PM
Proud mom, Was the lottery completed before you had your location?
shelly October 18, 2012 at 05:55 PM
Proud mom, Some of the sense of entitlement has come from OPA parents themselves. Read back on the comments of the various threads. If OPA parent want to create a atmosphere of accepting choice then don't comment negatively on others choices. One has to be careful to put an Obama 2012 sticker on one's car in South Orange County. I know because I am liberal living in a land of Republicans. But we should be proud and stand up for what we believe in.
Proud Mom October 18, 2012 at 06:39 PM
Shelly - Nice try!! You were hoping the site was chosen after the lottery, so that you can say that there should be more EL students in the lottery - because they didn't have a location yet. However, you are incorrect!! The Barcelona site was chosen at the end of January 2012. In other words, the families in San Juan would have known that the commute would be too far, hence, declining interest because of the far distance. At this point, I am officially done with your snide comments because you only hear what you want to hear. You have always blogged with a sense of "know-it-all" attitude and back-handedly put others down without knowing all the facts for yourself. You have not heard a word I said. You may call it a sense of entitlement, but in fact it is being on the defensive, talking up a school because we are proud of it and not allowing others to keep "attacking" our choice. It is called "protection". Our children are thriving, and many did not do that at the "regular" public schools, for different reasons. It is not a better school, but a better school for our children. It is our choice, so stop trying to undermine what we have chosen to be the best for our children. I'm done with you and your "know-it-all" comments. Have a nice "elitist", "holier than thou", life. Signing off for good, with Shelly!! See yah!!
Penny Arévalo October 18, 2012 at 06:43 PM
2011. Here's a story I did on the lottery. You can check out the photos.\ http://sanjuancapistrano.patch.com/articles/1259-students-vie-for-550-slots-at-charter-schools-lottery
shelly October 18, 2012 at 06:55 PM
proud mom, My friend signed entered the lottery without knowing where the school would be located. . OPA should exist.! I am not saying you should not have the choice. I am not saying it is not a great school. But (and here is that word that makes you giggle) it should not gain preferential treatment because of test scores like some of your parents stated. We all make choices for different reasons.

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