Thursday, September 11, 2008

Only 48% of California Schools meet federal standards

Only 48% of California high schools meet federal standards, even with easier measure
New results show about 300 of the schools met the goals only because their marks were based on the exit exam, much less demanding than tests that help determine the state Academic Performance Index.
By Howard Blume and Ben Welsh
Los Angeles Times Staff Writers

September 5, 2008

Hundreds of California high schools met this year's federal academic targets released Thursday only because the state uses easier standards for high schools than for elementary and middle schools, a Times analysis has found.

But even with this boost, just 48% of the state's high schools met the federal standard of "adequate yearly progress" in this year's results.

The Times analysis identified about 300 high schools that were reported as meeting all federal standards even though their combined proficiency scores in math or English language arts on the California standards tests fell below proficiency levels required for federal compliance this year. Their passing marks were based on much higher scores registered on the easier high school exit exam.

In practical terms, this means that high schools are not being consistently evaluated on what their students are supposed to be learning. The situation exemplifies California's complex, uneven and often competing state and federal accountability systems.

State education officials emphasized the positive Thursday: an incremental narrowing of the achievement gap that separates the much higher performance of white and Asian students from that of blacks and Latinos.

State officials also pointed to widespread gains on California's Academic Performance Index, which the state developed to evaluate schools and set improvement goals.

But there's also a second rating system that the state developed to comply with the federal No Child Left Behind law. And within that framework, high schools get a break.

Unlike elementary and middle schools, high schools are not rated on whether students master course work intended for their grade level. Instead, the accountability measure is the high school exit exam. It's one of California's high school diploma requirements, designed as a minimum standard for confirming what students have learned. The exam's math section, for example, is based on seventh-grade standards with portions of first-year algebra.
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