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While San Diego Unified schools are doing better than ever on state tests, more of them are falling short under the rising bar of No Child Left Behind.

Roughly 65 percent of San Diego Unified schools and charters fell short of the federal bar, a slight increase from last year’s 60 percent mark. Eighteen more schools were slapped with labels for repeatedly falling short of the No Child Left Behind targets.

How is that possible while test scores are rising?

States must ramp up the requirements over time, making it harder for schools to match. And if even one group of students at a school falls short, such as English learners, the whole school can be tagged for not making the grade.

Roosevelt Middle on the edge of Balboa Park saw its test scores rise from 734 to 772 on a 1,000-point scale, yet it did not meet No Child Left Behind targets because some groups of students did not improve enough. Hispanic students did not meet targets on math tests, for instance.

California released the results of state tests a few weeks ago.


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The scores that came out today make those complicated results easier for schools and parents to digest, crunching them into schoolwide scores that range from 200 to 1,000.

Schools that fall short of No Child Left Behind Targets have to undergo an escalating series of steps, from letting children be bused to other schools to rolling out a plan to improve. (There are 32 schools and charters in San Diego that don’t have to worry about these steps because they don’t get federal money for disadvantaged children.)

School districts as a whole can also be tagged for not meeting No Child Left Behind testing targets. San Diego Unified first got hit with the label of needing improvement two years ago. When school districts are first labeled for falling short, they have to inform parents, convene a team to analyze achievement data and address problems with a plan, and set aside some of their federal money for disadvantaged students for teacher training.

The district failed to make the grade this year, and the state could require it to take action.

It’s unclear exactly what action that might be, said Ron Rode, who oversees accountability in San Diego Unified. Last year California spurred school districts to get outside help, but it isn’t clear if the same rules will apply this time, he said.

The growing number of schools that fall short under No Child Left Behind despite striking gains has fueled calls to relax the federal law.

But the U.S. Department of Education has hinted that it will push for states to make other changes, such as tying teacher evaluations to student test scores, in exchange for loosening No Child Left Behind — a tradeoff that California may be reluctant to make. State Superintendent Tom Torlakson has argued that California should get relief from No Child Left Behind without those strings attached.

For more on the gap between state and federal systems for measuring schools, read this terrific blog by Louis Freedberg, co-founder of California Watch and executive director of the nonprofit EdSource, which explains this confusing phenomenon.

You can check out all the results at the California Department of Education. These are the same scores that were released a few weeks ago, but the newly crunched numbers make it much easier to compare how schools have improved this year.

Here are some interesting tidbits:

• Schools with historically low scores made some of the biggest gains in San Diego: Sherman Elementary, a school that immerses children part of the day in Spanish, part of the day in English, vaulted 95 points from a score of 671 to 766.

Gompers Preparatory Academy, a Chollas View charter high school formed out of Gompers Charter Middle School, made almost as big a leap. And the San Diego school with the biggest gains of all was Holly Drive Leadership Academy, a small K-8 charter school in the Ridgeview/Webster neighborhood. All three schools ranked in the lowest 10 percent across California on state tests last year.

• Despite the overall gains, test scores fell at almost a third of San Diego Unified schools and charters. One of those schools has gotten a lot of attention recently: Promise, a charter school in Chollas View that was wracked with controversy this year before the San Diego Unified board voted to shutter it.

Promise was not closed for academic reasons; its high scores last year among similar schools were one of the reasons that some parents pleaded to save it. The drop suggests the drama might have hurt it academically.

Emily Alpert is the education reporter for voiceofsandiego.org. What should she write about next? Please contact her directly at emily.alpert@voiceofsandiego.org.

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Emily Alpert

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

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