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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.

OC Parent October 13, 2012 at 04:55 PM
Fact checker - I believe the stats Penny referenced are based on grades 2-8 which are the grade levels that participate in the STAR test. For 2011-12 there were approximately 200 students at OPA grades K-1. As such their demographic information is not included in the above statistics. Also how do you know how many ELL kids were placed via the lottery? Not everyone who gets a placement in the lottery decides to attend the school. If there were ELL students placed or wait-listed and offered placement who declined then they do not get counted in enrollment or STAR test results.
Proud OPA Parent of 3 October 13, 2012 at 04:59 PM
Fact checker you describe OPA in many ways despite your efforts to condemn the school. OPA's curriculum is the CA State Standards in Education. Curriculum = Standards. The school teaches the Standards. The STAR test is a test of those standards. It stands to reason that the students perform well on the STAR test because they are taught their curriculum, the Standards. As for test preparation, I am bewildered as to why anyone thinks preparing students for test taking is a bad thing. High School students take prep courses for the SATs. College graduates take prep courses for the Bar and CPA exam. Doing so in no way negates nor minimizes their test results. Any time spent by students at OPA reviewing is a review of the Standards which is their curriculum! Seems to me that OPA has a formula for success that hundreds of students and their parents appreciate and support.
fact checker October 13, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I condemn test prep. If that applies to any school, including OPA, then so be it. And from what happymom (and others) have posted, it seems that OPA places far too much emphasis on the results of one test. And test prep certainly does threaten the integrity of a test. Look at the SAT which was designed to be an aptitude test and has turned into a prime example of how money can buy better results (from tutors and other test prep methods). A test should measure what a student knows and should be used to make curriculum decisions about students. It should never be used to compare schools. It is the responsibility of every citizen to do their part to make sure that every school serves the needs of its students. Schools should be supported to improve, not penalized and used as an excuse for segregation of any type.
Proud OPA Parent of 3 October 13, 2012 at 11:16 PM
Fact checker, I wholeheartedly agree with your last paragraph and see the inequity in attempting to compare school scores since so many variables can account for differences. Equality in teaching all children the State Standards in Education is important and should be the focus as well as equal access to the tools that will allow each child to reach his/her fullest potential in all areas of educatioin including assessments via the STAR test, SATs and beyond. I don't agree that OPA places too much emphasis on the test. OPA's curriculum is the State Standards in Education and the test is a test of those standards thus a test of OPAs curriculum. By default the children who have learned the curriculum succeed on the test, however that is not the only measure of their success and is not a component of their grades or report cards.
fact checker October 13, 2012 at 11:37 PM
As a parent at OPA would you agree with the posters here who say that instruction was interrupted at the school in order to prepare for the test? I think I read on another thread that instruction from April until the test was test prep only. Could you clear that up? I realize that many schools prep their kids for the tests in different ways. I think that it is inappropriate to waste instructional time in order to make sure kids score high so that comparisons can be made between schools. However the stakes are very high for these tests. That needs to change. Imagine how much money is used to test every student for the purposes of comparing schools rather than improving instruction. Test prep does not improve education for students. The test results are a snapshot and do not reflect the learning of individual students. The results are rarely used to address individual learning needs of students since the test is at the end of the year.
Frieda Wales October 14, 2012 at 03:36 PM
http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-1014-lopez-30-20121014,0,4690702.column As for the Prop. 30 tax increase that has so many folks screaming? Aside from an income tax increase for seven years for individuals who make more than $250,000 and for families who make more than $500,000, there'd be a quarter-cent sales tax increase for four years. That means that if you buy a cup of coffee and a doughnut for $4, you'll owe an additional cent. Six million kids, the future of the state, would appreciate the sacrifice.
shelly October 14, 2012 at 04:58 PM
I thought OPA was emphasizing a curriculum based on multiple intelligences not test prep?
Proud Mom October 14, 2012 at 05:58 PM
Shelly - OPA does emphasize on multiple intelligences. The state standards are also followed. Believe it or not, you can do both. As a matter of fact, if you would like to see it for yourself, please take some time to go to the school for yourself. My daughter's teacher has school work posted on the walls. and next to it is cited the state standard which is being covered by the work. In addition, every student has the state standards in their binders, so that the students and parents are informed. A lot of their homework even states which standard is being covered. I'm telling you it works, My daughter has always been a good student. But, when I asked her a few months into OPA to tell me what was so different about OPA compared to her previous schooling, she said in her own words, "Mom I'm learning, but this time I'm remembering everything." Wow!! - was that powerful!! Not only was she having fun and looked forward to going to school every day, but she was remembering what she was learning. I can tell you that at her previous school, there "may have been" some multiple intelligence teaching going on, but not often and not by everyone. That is a fact. So, once I again, OPA invites you to visit and see for yourself, so that your comments don't sound like you are uneducated on this topic.
shelly October 14, 2012 at 06:57 PM
Proud Mom, I believe you can do both. There are many schools that use a multi intelligence model to teach standards without STAR test prep taking over the lessons. I am happy your daughter is doing well and the choice is great for you. It sounds like a great school for those who chose it. What I think many fear is that people will see this as a one size fits all. I think that It is great for some but not for all. For example I would not choose it because I do not want my child to do 3 hours of homework a night as some OPA parent have stated. These children may happily be doing it and motivated to do it. But for me I am a big believer in the power of play for my children so I would not choose this school. It sounds like for your daughter the way she is learning at OPA is working for her. My children at their schools also retain what they are learning. It is a good fit for them.
OC Parent October 14, 2012 at 07:00 PM
To add to Proud Mom's comments, the state standards are the focus starting as early as 1st grade (standards were provided and placed in their binders and highlighted as they covered each standard). The Multiple Intelligence screening is done at the start of each year and the way(s) each child learns is then part of how the teacher goes about teaching the state standards. In addition part of the curriculum is science lab, computer lab, foreign language and music. Also OPA has students use Jiji math starting in 2nd grade which as you can see has proven successful at other (non-charter) schools http://www.ocregister.com/articles/students-331764-math-mind.html. These are just a few examples. We could certainly go on about all the things we believe make OPA different and that are helping to engage our children in their education in ways we didn't experience at our previous schools. As Proud Mom states come on by and see for yourself.
Proud OPA Parent of 3 October 14, 2012 at 07:15 PM
To be clear, 3 hours of homework a night is not what is expected nor is it the norm at OPA. While homework expectations vary by grade, my 3rd grader has never had more than about 20 minutes of homework plus 20 minutes of reading a night with no homework on Fridays or weekends except for occassional long-term projects. The use of multiple intelligences is a teaching method. What is defined as test prep is misleading. OPA's curriculum is th state standards and any instruction and review of those standards, thus the curriculum, is part of test prep.
randy October 14, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Good to learn each one's product. Take a note of it. I remember in 80's, the product of Reebok shoes were fantastic until I took note of the Air Jordan Nike shoes. It was about an emotion of competition of brand that I took the note. Bottom line, both brands are product of shoes to try on. Marketing, sales, materials & labor are byproducts for customers to choose from.
Proud Mom October 17, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Shelly - My 6th grader has about one hour of homework a night, which could include, a power point she is working on, chinese homework, a book report, a science diagram, etc.. Not all pencil and paper - a lot of variety. Could even be spelling out spelling words while chanting to a rhyme. In addition, there is 20 minutes of reading a night. My child has never complained about it being too much and she is very busy with extra curricular activities after school - every day there is something. The teachers keep the students very organized and have taught them time management. As I have stated before, the state standards are listed everywhere - on their homework assignments, classwork, etc., it is what is being followed to the "t". The students are well rounded and test taking skills are also covered. Why not? Tests are extremely important when it comes to high school and college entrance exams. I personally believe that it shouldn't be the only thing which is important, but as I've heard for years, many teachers around the state "teach to the test". As a matter of fact, my teacher friends have told me not to go back to teaching in CUSD because that is all they do - "teach to the test". I've been told that it is not fun anymore. A lot of the day is spent doing just that - "teaching to the test". The thematic lesson plans are out the window. So, I can honestly say that OPA does not do that. There is Tae Kwon Do, music, foreign language, PE, science and computer lab (k-8).
randy October 17, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Proud Mom, now I'm jotting yours down on my notepad. Good one. ;)
Proud Mom October 17, 2012 at 09:31 PM
Randy - Excuse me? Are you denying me the privilege of telling you something I've heard first hand from many of my teacher friends, or are you questioning the fact that my child has about one hour of homework a night, or are you questioning that I think tests isn't the only thing important at a school, or are you questioning your misinformed brain of yours. Better yet ... I'm glad you are taking copious notes, as a matter of fact, why don't you look at all my blogs, because I am sure you aren't educated on many topics. Once again ... jealousy breeds denial.
shelly October 17, 2012 at 11:19 PM
Proud Mom, And some OPA students do 3 hours of homework a night as stated by OPA parents. But some kids in traditional public schools also do 3 hours of homework a night. Homework is home work. Work done in the home and monitored by parents or not. Personally and this is my opinion I never have or would have allowed my children when they were in elementary school to do 3 hours of homework a night (and they were never assigned this much work) because this would not have been good for my children. So there is test prep and teaching and studying to and for the STAR test at OPA. Great My children go to CUSD schools. These schools also have music, a computer lab, foriegn languages etc. Not Tai Kwan Do but ultimate frisbee, volleyball, dance,video production, musical theatre, art, etc. You seem happy with your choice. Great. I am extremely happy with mine. I am sure that most OPA teachers are happy teaching at OPA. I am sure that most CUSD teachers are happy teaching in CUSD schools. Personally I feel NCLB and the emphasis on the STAR does no service to any child whether it be traditional public or traditional charter. And I do not believe that schools and parents should wield them as weapons It should be about learning not about test taking. I asked the above question about multiple intelligence because my friend was curious and asked me because that is her teaching methodology . My children do not go to OPA so I could not answer her question.
Proud Mom October 18, 2012 at 12:40 AM
Shelly - First of all, when you stated "What I think many fear is that people will see this as a one size fits all". I seriously busted out laughing when I read this. Are you kidding me? How many regular public schools are there in CUSD - there is one on every corner, and only ONE OPA charter school. And guess what? The union lovers think that these regular public schools are a "one size fits all". That is precisely the problem. That is why OPA has come about. Your regular public school is NOT a "one size fits all". So if you fear OPA, then that is your problem, not mine. In addition, guess what? My 6th grader was at a CUSD regular public school, and he EASILY had 2 - 2 1/2 hours of homework a night (sometimes even 3) - as I said, a 6th grader. You must have been one of the lucky ones. Just wondering why your Spanish immersion school isn't getting so much publicity like our charter. Is it because the union doesn't like it? Is it because it brings competition to the plate, therefore fear? I'm glad that you are happy, so am I.
shelly October 18, 2012 at 01:12 AM
Proud Mom, Your school has zero EL students. Chino has 3 out of a school of 1000 in Southern California. Almost every household at both schools has a parent who has either some college, the majority either have a college degree or a graduate degree. Your test scores had better be high especially when you are drilling for the test which comes from OPA parents not me. My friends child was one of the brightest kids in the class at a traditional school. And OPA did ask for this child's report card. At OPA this child is not the brightest but one of many. This person says this not me. Great you found a school that suits you. Your test scores are high. Great. I have no issue with this. You have Tae Kwon Do. Great. Go for it. When OPA parents started insulting my school and my friends school and saying things like "well, they should just move those kids out because of their test scores. OPA will do better so we should have the site." It made me defensive and I thought "Wow, these people are all about choice as long as it suits them." I had not one negative thing to say about OPA and still do not but when some OPA parents feel that they need to deride others choices because they want their site then it is offensive.
shelly October 18, 2012 at 01:15 AM
proud mom, This has nothing to do with unions for me. I am not a member or a teacher. It seems that if I don't agree with some people then the union is always brought up. I am a parent and have no association with the union. There is no need to put down other people's choices because of what you want for yourself. Read back on the comment boards. Read back on my comments.
Proud Mom October 18, 2012 at 02:03 AM
Shelly - I always seem to smile when you say, "I've got nothing against OPA but .." just don't say "but", because then it means nothing. I don't know if you recall Penny commenting to you personally that OPA has more socioeconomically disadvantaged families than Ladera Ranch elementary schools. I hope you haven't forgotten that, because I haven't. Trust me. There was great effort in having Spanish speaking students at OPA. As a matter of fact, I personally went door to door in San Juan and other areas, and spoke to the families in Spanish, inviting them to our informational meetings. However, because of the fact that the district did not put OPA in a centrally located facility, but the northern most CUSD school, it was impossible for some of them to commute. But, let me tell you!! About 80% of the people I spoke to, were very interested in the charter. When I said charter, their eyes lit up. Trust me, if there was an OPA charter in some of the disadvantaged areas, there would be a higher number of EL students. That's a fact. Unfortunately, there is only one OPA for now. When you made the comment "your test scores better be higher" then I also laughed because just this week, CUSD sent their newsletter stating that CUSD API remains the best among the large school districts. Really? You mean when compared to L.A.? Well, I would hope so!!
Proud Mom October 18, 2012 at 02:07 AM
Shelly - I will not take ownership of the fact that some have told you they want to take over your school, because I think that is wrong. N one should feel that way, and I apologize if you were told that. Your choice is your choice and I know you value your school, so hearing that must have hurt. I feel defensive because everybody has attacked us from the beginning and put us down for our choice of OPA. It is like walking up a steep mountain with no end. It was our choice. We aren't pushing it down your throats, we are just defending our choice. I'm done. Checking out. Have a great one.
randy October 18, 2012 at 02:30 AM
Proud Mom, as duly noted. Thanks for sharing as I have no further comments what you have said about me and respect your opinion. Good schools are good at their own. OC schools gain their performance this time, that's great. All I said that the STAR exams are worthless to assess each school performance in my book. STAR will be suspended and replaced soon. I'm not too happy to hear unnecessary accusation by the district, but I respect they wanted investigation. I hope OPA did not do anything wrong.
shelly October 18, 2012 at 06:19 AM
Proud Mom, And not one EL family entered the lottery for OPA after all that door knocking? And Chino either only a few.. El Rancho Elementary school which is now OPA in Chino was made up of 47% EL students. Where did all those neighborhood EL students go? Didn't they leap at the word charter? You do not have to take ownership of anything that anybody in your school community says but when they say things about others choices and insult others choices then they put others on the defensive.
Proud Mom October 18, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Shelly - It broke my heart when there weren't any EL students in the lottery. But, as I already stated, there was great effort put into welcoming these students to OPA. The district chose our school to be housed at the former Barcelona site - the northernmost elementary school in CUSD. I don't think I have to remind you that most of these families have difficulty driving 30 minutes one way to school. You do not know me, but as I stated before. trust me, most of the families I spoke to personally, were excited to hear about a charter school. They particularly loved knowing a second language would be taught in kindergarten through 8th grade. I don't know if you are aware that the students from San Juan are bussed into Newhart elementary - that is how these students are able to go to a school in Mission Viejo. That is not a luxury OPA has, but if they did, there would be more of an interest. In addition, at OPA Chino there is a lottery, just as in SOC. If you don't understand that concept, I invite you to our next one in the Spring. You can also view it on-line. It is random - you can't pick and choose. OPA has been under attack by hundreds of people, so I can't say I feel for you. Yes, you've had to be defensive towards a few heartless parents. However, I take offense to the fact that you would compare the two. One even has to be careful to put on OPA sticker on your car.
Proud Mom October 18, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Shelly - To this day, many people have a sense of entitlement, thinking they are judge and jury. All because hundreds of parents wanted a different choice in their child's education. People are heartless, immature, ignorant, uneducated, etc etc.. I could go on and on because I'm living it!! So, don't talk about having to be defensive in the past, because wherever one goes today, every day, parents who have chosen OPA, have to defend their choice. It stems from the top down. The fact that the board of trustees allowed this witch hunt from the very beginning at Barcelona, has given many people their "Deranged Bullying Mentality". By the way, if you can't tell, I am not the one to run to with stories of having to be defensive, because I can give you hundreds, literally hundreds, of stories. I'll leave it at that, because I could go on and on.
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 (Editor) 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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