Academic performance scores for seven Del Norte County schools have increased, with Uncharted Shores Academy and Pine Grove Elementary School making the most progress.
USA's Academic Performance Index score rose by 74 points, Pine Grove's by 50 points, in results released last week.
The API ranks schools based on results from the California Standardized Test and the California High School Exit Exam. Scores range from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000. The state's goal is for all schools to have received API scores of 800 by this year.
USA's API score went from 628 last year to 702 this year, Pine Grove's from 749 to 799. As a whole, the Del Norte County Unified School District's API score average rose from 751 last year to 756 this year.
"We're very excited that we have grown more than anybody else in the county," said USA Director Margie Rouge. "We thought that would happen because we knew we had been doing a good job of teaching the kids. We hope to continue that trend."
This year 53 percent of schools statewide scored at or above the state target of 800, an increase of 4 percent over last year, according to a press release from the California Department of Education. Fifty-nine percent of elementary schools, 49 percent of middle schools and 30 percent of high schools are now meeting the state benchmark, according to the release.
In Del Norte County, although district officials are pleased with the API score increase, they aren't totally satisfied. Even though API scores at most of its schools increased, four schools experienced declines. Of particular concern is Beth Maxwell Elementary School, according to Steve Godla, the district's assistant superintendent of instruction and educational services. Beth Maxwell's API rating dropped by 33 points from 774 last year to 741 this year.
District officials hope that a recent change in school administration at Bess Maxwell and a renewed focus on student achievement, including the implementation of data teams districtwide, will turn the API scores around at most of the schools whose rankings decreased, Godla said.
"We think (the API score) will go up this year," he said. "But a lot of the benefits won't be for two to three years. Learning to be a Professional Learning Community is a process."
The district is implementing Professional Learning Communities as part of its new Del Norte Engaged Learning Model. PLCs use data teams and data coaches to focus on student achievement and encourage collaboration amongst the district's schools.
"We need to increase focus on (state) standards and what students need," Godla said. "Teachers made incredible progress in focusing on standards. That's why we've made the growth we have."
Pine Grove Elementary's principal, Lara Hirt, credited a focus on the state's core standards and the implementation of data teams for her school's positive API growth.
"Every two weeks we would meet and we would discuss where do we see strengths and weaknesses in our students, what can we do to address it and how can we measure whether they're getting it or not," Hirt said.
Pine Grove's API scores have been steadily improving, Godla said. He pointed out that the school's API rating increased by 20 and 50 points in Hirt's first and second years as principal.
Although this year's growth wasn't quite enough for Pine Grove to reach the state's benchmark of 800, Hirt said she's satisfied.
"Eight-hundred is a great mark to reach, (but) I was just hoping for growth and that's becoming more the focus of school testing," she said. "Any growth is extremely exciting and to make this much growth was really gratifying to my staff. They did indeed work hard on focusing on the standards not just focusing on the curriculum."
Rouge credited USA's improvement to an increase in credentialed teachers. Another reason for the increased API score might be because the school groups students according to their ability level rather than their grade, Rouge said.
"That has really helped both the high achievers and the low achievers to be successful," she said. "The test scores have advanced. We want to see that continue."
Academic Performance Index results can be found at http://www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/ap/.
Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar at triplicate.com