Students at SCUSD ‘Priority Schools,’ middle schools make big learning gains
California Department of Education data released today validates district initiatives to increase student achievement

Press release

October 11, 2012 (Sacramento): State test data released today validates Sacramento City Unified School District’s aggressive efforts to transform low-performing schools and implement rigorous student achievement standards in every classroom.

For the second year, students in SCUSD’s Superintendent’s Priority Schools made almost across-the-board gains on state tests. In addition, SCUSD’s middle school students – adolescents often regarded as the hardest to teach – also made impressive strides, outpacing their elementary and high school peers in gains.

Overall, SCUSD moved 8 points up on the state’s Academic Performance Index (API) to 768. API numbers reflect student scores on various standardized tests taken in the spring of 2012.The API is a numeric index that ranges from a low of 200 to a high of 1,000. The state API target for all districts and schools is 800.

“I am proud of all our hard-working students, teachers, principals, staff, parents and community partners and gratified that reforms aimed at turning around struggling schools are successful,” said Superintendent Jonathan Raymond. “Despite state budget cuts, we are moving forward and improving teaching and learning in our schools.”

Superintendent Raymond launched the Priority Schools program in the spring of 2010 to accelerate the rate of student learning in low-performing, high-poverty schools. Six schools were initially selected for participation: Oak Ridge, Father Keith B. Kenny and Leataata Floyd (formerly Jedediah Smith) elementary schools; Fern Bacon and Will C. Wood middle schools; and Hiram Johnson High School. Rosa Parks Middle School was added to the program in June 2011.

Fern Bacon, once in the cellar in terms of achievement, led in 2012 API growth among the seven Priority Schools and all other SCUSD middle schools. In just two years, Fern Bacon’s API has risen a dramatic 99 points. In 2009-10, less than a third (31.4 percent) of Fern Bacon’s students scored at grade-level in English. This past spring, half (50.0 percent) achieved proficiency. In math, Fern Bacon students went from 25.9 percent proficiency to 47.4 percent.

Fern Bacon Principal Nancy Purcell credited her faculty and staff with changing the school’s trajectory. “Our greatest resource is human capital,” she said. “Our teachers and staff go beyond the call of duty every single day to get the job done.”

Other highlights of the 2012 state data regarding Priority Schools include: Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary School’s API has risen 139 points in three years. Because the school has met federal performance targets for consecutive years, it is no longer designated as a Program Improvement school under the No Child Left Behind act. Oak Ridge Elementary School, which had been in the lowest 5 percent of academic performance in California, has risen a dramatic 83 points on the API scale in the last two years. Last spring, Oak Ridge received a $1.5 million federal School Improvement Grant to continue its progress. The funding allows Oak Ridge to extend the school day by 45 minutes.

Hiram Johnson High School, the Priority School with the most students, has gained 93 points on the index over two years. Will C. Wood Middle School’s API rose 35 points in two years. Rosa Parks Middle School’s 2012 API is 52 points higher than 2011. Scores have been up and down for Leataata Floyd Elementary School, a campus on the edge of a sprawling federal housing project. The school improved its API by 28 points last year and decreased by 29 points in 2012, for a net loss of 1 point.

At six of the Priority Schools, 100 percent of the students meet the federal poverty threshold (at Hiram Johnson, 77 percent of students qualify for a free or reduced price lunch). Priority School teachers have been trained to use research-tested strategies for improving student learning and meet frequently to review data, collaborate on curriculum and lesson plans and develop assessments. Each Priority School has an extra administrator and a full-time curriculum coordinator/teacher trainer on staff. Because of their specialized training, Priority School teachers are protected from seniority based layoffs.
“This is difficult work,” Superintendent Raymond said. “Change is never easy, but we cannot allow some kids in some schools to exceed expectations while others fall behind their peers.”

In addition to the successes at the Priority Schools, SCUSD’s eight middle schools had a collective increase of 199 API points. The biggest increases were in English Language Arts scores, a rise credited to the district’s push to implement the more rigorous Common Core Standards in that subject. More than half – 55.3 percent – of SCUSD middle school students scored in the “proficient” and “advanced” ranges, an increase of 5.6 percent over 2011.
With Common Core Standards, we are pushing our students to be ready for college and 21st century careers,” said Superintendent Raymond. “We are holding them to higher levels of work and working hard to give our teachers the tools, strategies and content knowledge to help our children learn at these higher levels.”

Math scores remained relatively flat. Common Core math standards are being implemented this year.

Other API highlights include: Health Professions High School saw dramatic gains in language arts, world history, social studies, math and science scores. Student proficiency in science rose 20.1 percent, the biggest gain by any SCUSD school in any subject. HPHS also had the biggest API rise – a whopping 61 points. Four schools – Edward Kemble Elementary, William Land Elementary, Albert Einstein Middle School and California Middle School – climbed over 800 on the API. Demographically, SCUSD students categorized as English Language Learners made the biggest API gains, moving 15 points up the index to 739. Statewide, English Language Learners gained 10 points to 716. Six schools met all their federal improvement targets, meaning student scores improved across all “demographically significant” subgroups. Those schools are: Fern Bacon, Will C. Wood, West Campus High School, Theodore Judah Elementary School, Alice Birney Waldorf-Inspired K-8 and the Success Academy.

Sacramento City Unified is the 12th largest school district in the state, serving 44,000 students on 81 campuses. Residents within SCUSD speak more than 40 languages; 24 percent of SCUSD students are English Learners. Almost three-fourths – 73 percent – of SCUSD students qualify for a free or reduced price lunch, the federal poverty threshold.