Valley school districts performed better on statewide standardized testing last school year and most met state growth targets -- but they still fell short of federal benchmarks, mirroring a statewide pattern.
Fresno Unified -- the Valley's largest school district -- continued to show overall improvement by climbing to 711 on the state Academic Performance Index, up from 699 the prior year.
The API is based on how well students perform on standardized tests and is considered a measure of academic progress. The index ranges from 200 to 1,000, with a statewide minimum target of 800.
Part of the data released Monday showed whether schools met annual state and federal growth targets. The scores are based on 2010 spring testing and compared to the previous school year.
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Overall, schools in Fresno County did well, said Larry Powell, county schools superintendent. "Only seven districts out of 34 districts in Fresno County did not make their [state] growth target," he said.
Michael Hanson, Fresno Unified's superintendent, said he was pleased with the district's double-digit gain, which follows a 14-point jump in each of the two previous years.
"Seventy-eight percent of our schools gained in API and 49 of the schools are above a 700 and 10 above 800," he said.
While several Fresno Unified schools showed major improvement, some saw significant drops. Roeding Elementary gained 53 points to reach a score of 778, but Homan Elementary fell from 726 to 690. Hanson said he would not discuss Homan and other schools that dropped until he had a chance to meet with school leaders at those sites.
Even though many Fresno Unified schools improved, more failed to show adequate progress as measured by the federal No Child Left Behind program. Sixty-three Fresno Unified schools are now identified as program improvement -- a sort of academic probation for failing to meet expected academic growth. The district had 60 such schools the prior year.
Michael Berg, Central Unified School District superintendent, said he was pleased his district reached an API score of 747 -- a 15-point increase. "Fourteen of our 16 comprehensive schools exceeded the state targets," he said.
But the district's high school tumbled to 697, down from 704 the prior year. For the first time, Central High was identified as a program improvement school.
Some small districts did exceptionally well. Riverdale Unified School District's API improved from 752 to 795. Riverdale High climbed 64 points -- from 705 to 769. And the district's elementary and middle schools both surpassed 800 this year.
"We are extremely proud, but also understand we have work to do at all of our sites," said Riverdale Unified Superintendent Pete Faragia.
Meanwhile, Clovis Unified saw its scores improve to 866 -- up from 855 the prior year. And 17 of its schools exceeded the 900-point mark, with Fugman Elementary reaching 961.
Madera Unified saw modest improvement from 728 to 733. And six schools surpassed the 800 mark, said district spokesman Jake Bragonier.
Embattled West Fresno Elementary School District -- which has been under state control for a myriad of problems -- saw a major jump of 41 points and hit 700 on the API.
Parlier Unified School District grew 50 points to reach an API of 670.
But higher test scores still weren't enough to meet federal benchmarks, which frustrates school officials at many districts. Statewide, fewer elementary and middle schools made the federal benchmarks than the previous year.
Clovis, Fresno, Riverdale, Madera, Sanger and a growing number of districts in the state fell short of the federal Adequate Yearly Progress targets -- the percentage of students expected to score at the proficient level or above.
School leaders say it's a moving target that is increasingly difficult to reach. The 2009-10 AYP increased about 11 percentage points across the board compared to the year before.
Clovis Unified -- which has the highest API scores of all the districts in the Valley -- did not meet the federal benchmark for district growth this year, although it did last year.
Even though Sanger Unified was at 805, up from 795 the prior year, it also did not meet the federal AYP goal. It met the federal benchmark last year.
The federal goal is an unfair, moving target, said Sanger Unified Superintendent Marcus Johnson. "If the target is a 10% increase and you get an 8% increase ... that's a good increase," but the target is missed, he said.
"What a parent should be looking at is, how did my child do this year compared to last year" in state standardized testing, Johnson said.
Even though Visalia Unified School District's overall API score rose to 759, it too fell short of federal benchmarks.
"It's time for the feds to review the target," said Craig Wheaton, Visalia Unified superintendent.
He said the federal goals are out of reach for schools that have English learners and other subgroups that struggle.
"They need to set more realistic growth targets," Wheaton said.
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