Despite widespread gains in test scores, San Diego Unified failed to meet the rising bar of No Child Left Behind, the federal law that sets targets for annual improvement in schools.

The calculations are based on the state test scores released last month, along with the exit exam for high schools. The state scales those results on a range from 200 to 1,000. The magic number that California has set as a goal for schools is 800. San Diego Unified now has a 767. The federal government uses the same standardized test scores to make its call — but it judges them by a different standard.

To make the grade for federal standards, school districts also have to show enough growth among all groups of students, including students with disabilities and English learners. Scores rose overall, but San Diego Unified fell short among several groups: African American students did not make enough progress in math, poor students fell short in English; and Latino students, English learners and students with disabilities struggled with both.

Sixty percent of schools met their growth targets, 22 percent of schools had growing scores but didn’t reach their targets, and 19 percent had scores that stagnated or fell.

In the past, San Diego Unified had kept pace with the rising federal requirements, making it a rarity among urban districts in California, and keeping it out of federal monitoring or penalties. This is the first year that it has fallen into monitoring, called “Program Improvement.” Ron Rode, who manages federal and state accountability programs for the school district, said it will now be required to set aside 10 percent of its federal dollars for disadvantaged students for retraining educators.

Notable results among individual schools include:

  • Birney Elementary had the biggest jump in its No Child Left Behind scores across the school district. This was interesting to me because I singled out Birney in a story about the debate over whether to judge principals based on test scores, which had dropped at the University Heights school over the past two years.
  • Lincoln High, which has been in the spotlight after its reconstruction two years ago, saw its scores jump too. It is still one of the lowest performing high schools in the district, but the trend is a good one.
  • Scores fell significantly at Iftin Charter School, which underwent a tumultuous bid to expand into a high school this year. Big gains in test scores last year were one of the selling points for growing the charter. The drop does not wipe out its earlier gains, but it does raise questions about the volatility of scores at so small a school.
  • The school with the biggest drop in test scores was Garfield High, an alternative high school. It is also a small school, however, and alternative schools are often difficult to test accurately because so many students come and go during the year.

You can search the scores yourself here. Find something interesting? Help me out and send me your observations and questions about the data at


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