EDITOR'S NOTE: Edited to clarify that Hidden Hills Elementary has three times the percentage of economically challenged students than the district as a whole.That demographic did not triple in the last year.
Although students learning English in the Capistrano Unified School District are seeing some achievement gains, special education, African American and Native American students took a dip, the school board learned Wednesday.
Julie Hatchel, assistant superintendent for education services, gave an overview of the district’s recent academic performance results.
“When you look at Orange County, we rank fourth, pretty much where we ranked last year,” she said, behind the Irvine, Laguna Beach and Los Alamitos unified school districts.
The district’s Academic Performance Index, or API, score has been steadily increasing for years, Hatchel said. Back in 2003, it was 791, under the state’s goal of 800, out of a possible 1,000. This year, it’s 879.
However, “our growth targets grow each and every year,” she said. “We’re not covering our growth targets.”
The district has put a particular emphasis on reaching English learners, and those efforts may be paying off, Hatchel said. English learners gained two points in their API.
An even more encouraging sign, she said, is that the number of English learners passing the California High School Exit Exam on the first try increased by 5 percent.
However, African-Americans, Native Americans and students with disabilities all saw dips in their APIs, Hatchel said.
Special ed students lost a point, while scores for African-Americans fell by three points and Americans Indians by nine.
Trustee Ellen Addonizio asked Hatchel what was happening at the elementary school level, where 24 of the district’s 36 grammar schools (not including charter schools) saw their APIs fall.
“It’s a small decrease, but it’s profound," Hatchell said.
But she noted many of the schools had extenuating circumstances. For example, Reilly Elementary in Mission Viejo, which experienced a 33-point decline, saw an influx of new special education students last year.
Likewise, with an API 12 points lower than the year before, the numbers at Laguna Niguel’s Hidden Hills Elementary may be explained by demographics, Hatchel said. That school has three times the percentage of economically challenged students than the district as a whole.
Because the district has not met all of its goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law, it is put on “program improvement,” a euphemistic label for failing to meet academic achievement goals set by the government. Most other Orange County school districts are also on program improvement.