Tuesday, 23 July 2024

State set to decide on list of lowest achieving schools

UPPER LAKE – This Thursday, state education officials are expected to finalize a list of California schools that are considered “persistently lowest achieving,” with those schools facing remedies to improve performance.

The list of 188 schools, released Monday, identifies 5 percent of those lowest achieving schools based on a series of criteria derived from state and federal law, officials reported.

The schools are listed in three sections – tier one, tier two and graduation rate only.

On the tier two list – which includes middle or high schools that are eligible to receive Title I funds based on demographics such as above-average poverty – included one Lake County school, Upper Lake Middle School in the Upper Lake Elementary School District.

The only other school listed in the North Coast region was Kawana Elementary in Sonoma County's Bellevue Union Elementary School District. Tier one schools are elementary, middle or high schools that, among other things, are identified as being in Program Improvement in the 2009-10 school year.

Kurt Herndon, superintendent for the Upper Lake Elementary School District, received a letter dated Feb. 22 from California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O'Connell, a copy of which Herndon shared with Lake County News.

In the letter, O'Connell informed Herndon that the district may or may not have one or more schools on the list. Herndon later received a four-page explanation of the list and what it means.

“I'm in the awkward position of trying to explain something that doesn't make any sense,” said Herndon.

Herndon wrote a memorandum to his board of education to explain the situation, and also called board members.

Rachel Perry, director of the California Department of Education's academic accountability and awards division, said that identifying the 5 percent of persistently lowest-achieving schools in California is part of a multistep process that the state has to follow in accordance with three federal funding programs under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

Those programs are the Race to the Top, the School Improvement Grant and the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund, Perry said.

In addition, SB X 51 – state legislation authored by Sen. Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) – added additional rules to help California compete in the Race to the Top, she explained.

The State Board of Education will discuss the preliminary list at its Thursday meeting, Perry said.

Perry said the US Department of Education allows states to apply for waivers of certain provisions of the federal law. She said California can apply for a waiver from having to identify lower performing schools before identifying the higher performing schools as required under the federal programs.

The State Board of Education will vote on seeking that waiver this Thursday, Perry said.

“If they vote to seek the waiver, the list will resort itself,” she said, with tier two schools like Upper Lake Middle School possibly being replaced by lower performing schools from tier one.

However, “There's still a second layer of review,” with Perry noting that the US Department of Education must approve the waivers, with the possibility that the agency could rule California doesn't qualify.

That makes it even more troubling for local districts because of the uncertainty, Perry said.

Herndon pointed out that Upper Lake Middle School isn't amongst the lowest 5 percent of schools when it comes to measures like the state's Academic Performance Index.

The school's 2009 API was 666, 12 points below its target score, according to state records. In 2008 the school scored 678, with a 2007 score of 672.

One of the reasons Upper Lake Middle School landed on the list was its failure to increase its API score by 50 or more points over the last three years. Perry explained that schools that didn't make that growth target were identified as low performers according to state law.

“We evaluate performance and progress,” she said.

Any schools that increased their API by more than 50 points or were at or above the state's API target of 800 points were removed from the state's analysis used to identify low performing schools, she said.

The California Department of Education reported that the schools identified as persistently lowest achieving must engage in a school intervention model as required by state and federal law.

Schools that make that final list of persistently lowest-achieving schools are required to implement one of four school intervention models: the turnaround model, which requires major school improvements that can include replacing the principal and adopting a new governance structure; a restart model, in which the school is converted or closed and reopened; the school closure model, in which the school is closed and students are enrolled in other, higher-achieving schools; and the transformation model, which also can include replacing the principal and increasing instructional time.

Herndon said the school already has worked on remedies to address performance, including the turnaround model.

Upper Lake Middle School currently has a new principal following the retirement of the previous principal, Herndon said.

“It just sounds so bad,” he said of the school's inclusion on the list.

Now that the school knows what to shoot for, he said it won't be on the list in the future.

Herndon is sure of one thing. “We are not in the bottom 5 percent of schools in California,” he said. “It's not that simple.”

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Follow Lake County News on Twitter at http://twitter.com/LakeCoNews and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Lake-County-News/143156775604?ref=mf .

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