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With the release of statewide test scores today, San Diego Unified has been forced to relinquish a much-mentioned point of pride.

Out of the 10 largest school districts in the country, it was the only one last year to meet every standard under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and state regulations. But when those standards rose this year, San Diego Unified wasn’t able to keep pace.

Under the federal law, test scores are expected to rise annually among all student groups, including students of different ethnicities, students who are learning English, and students with disabilities. Individual states decide how high to set the bar each year, though all groups of students must meet 100 percent proficiency by 2014.

If schools or school districts falter, they can be labeled as needing improvement. Schools that repeatedly fall short may be forced to restructure — a catchall term that describes any major reform, from becoming a charter school to replacing teachers to changing grade configurations.

Test scores for students with disabilities and English learners were not high enough for San Diego Unified to make “adequate yearly progress” under the law, though all other groups of students made the grade. Its graduation rate was also a problem.

In the coming years schools in California will face increasing difficulty meeting those standards because the bar, which has gradually risen year by year, will leap dramatically higher until 2014. As we reported in February:

States set their own timetables for reaching the high standard required by No Child Left Behind. California delayed putting big demands on schools until 2008. Between 2001 and 2007, goals crept up slowly, jumping only 10.8 percent over six years.

(Administrator of the district’s Parent, Community and Student Engagement Office Edward) Caballero attributed the late-rising standards to California lawmakers resisting No Child Left Behind. The hope was that federal legislators would squelch the law before schools had to grapple with higher targets, Caballero said. That never happened, and now schools are faced with a staggering gauntlet of testing goals, each year more severe than the next.

That means that while 80 percent of San Diego Unified schools boosted their test scores, only 53 percent met the No Child Left Behind standards. The numbers closely correlate with statewide statistics for California schools.

Here are a few other testing tidbits from around the school district:

  • Major strides were made by the City Heights school that teaches primarily East African and refugee students, Iftin Charter School. When we wrote about the school in April, its test scores were among the lowest in San Diego Unified. In a single year its scores vaulted 114 points, one of the highest leaps in the school district, bringing it closer and even exceeding other nearby elementary and middle schools.
  • King/Chavez Arts Academy, the Barrio Logan charter school that fired nearly all of its teachers this summer, ostensibly for mediocre academic gains at the school, kept pace with No Child Left Behind standards this year and boosted its scores while other schools run by the King/Chavez nonprofit lost ground. State testing scores released earlier this summer also reflected gains at the school.

You can find the details on test scores for individual schools, school districts and the state at the California Department of Education website.

EMILY ALPERT

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