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Though state test scores surged across San Diego County, school districts from Vista to Sweetwater failed to meet goals under No Child Left Behind, a federal law that sets a rising bar for schools.

Sweetwater Union High School District, for instance, saw test scores grow, winning applause. But because some subgroups at the school did not improve as much — including English learners, black students, Latinos and economically disadvantaged students — the school district missed No Child Left Behind targets. The same thing happened in San Diego Unified, Grossmont and Vista.

Here’s how it works: Last month, California schools learned what percentage of their students did well on English, math, science and social studies tests. California then took those scores, along with high school exit exam scores, and crunched them to create numerical scores on a scale from 200 to 1,000. The state wants schools to hit 800. It also broke out how different groups of kids did, such as economically disadvantaged students or Pacific Islanders.

Under No Child Left Behind, all students are supposed to meet testing goals over the next four years. To get to that target, states have set annual testing goals creep higher and higher each year. If students in one particular group, such as African American students or kids with disabilities, don’t improve enough or meet a set goal, the school misses No Child Left Behind targets, even if school scores go up.

Rolando Park Elementary, for instance, went from 712 to 758 on the 1,000 point scale. But because Latino students and English learners didn’t do as well, it missed No Child Left Behind goals. The idea behind the system is that schools can’t hide poor results for some students behind a good overall score.

Once seen as a blotch on a school district, failing to meet No Child Left Behind targets is now common for school systems. Across San Diego County, only five school districts and other educational agencies met the goals, while 37 others fell short and one is waiting to find out.

That is a drop since last year, when 18 met the goals and 26 fell short. And all of the urban school systems that San Diego Unified compares itself to, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, did not meet the goals either.

If school districts repeatedly miss their testing goals, they can face an escalating series of interventions, from setting aside 10 percent of their federal money for disadvantaged students for staff training to creating and implementing a plan to improve schools.

Sweetwater, for instance, has just gone into the third stage of monitoring under No Child Left Behind. It has already gotten help from the County Office of Education.

“They work with our principals. They look at instructional practices. They say, ‘If this is the goal that the school district has set, how it is being implemented in the classroom?’” spokeswoman Lillian Leopold said.

The scores also make it easier for parents and educators to tell which schools have improved and how much. Some of the most interesting results included:

• Three middle schools that were once among the lowest performing schools in San Diego Unified School District made big gains, outpacing other schools that they once lagged behind. Bell, Mann and King/Chavez Preparatory Academy, an independent charter school in Barrio Logan, saw scores jump by 67, 96 and 115 points respectively on the 1,000 point scale.

Burbank Elementary, one of six schools in the county to land on a state list of persistently low performing schools, also had remarkable gains. Under the gun to improve, Burbank decided to continue with reforms that it had already started, instead of seeking a shakeup. These results could be a sign that staying the course was a good move. King-Chavez Arts Academy, another school on the state list, also improved significantly.

Here’s the website where you can check out test scores and No Child Left Behind targets for your school. Spot something interesting? Please send me an e-mail or post your thoughts here on the blog.

Please contact Emily Alpert directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.550.5665 and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/emilyschoolsyou.

Emily Alpert

Emily Alpert was formerly the education reporter for Voice of San Diego.

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